Sherman Alexie is the best reason in the world to cram yourself into a bookstore basement with the entire population of Seattle. He’s funny as hell—“like a standup comedian,” I’ve heard Alexie virgins exclaim—and he understands that readings are performance. An Alexie reading is not just about communication, it’s about empathy...
Trollfic, as pop culture-annotation site "TV Tropes" would call it, spans many years and many genres: wherever there were fans, there was room for stories that spurned all laws of grammar, character building, and canon in order to rile those fans up. But 2006 would prove a turning point: it was the year of Harry Potter fan fiction "My Immortal," written by a teenager named Tara Gilesbie. Tara was a self-described "goff" who liked My Chemical Romance, Hot Topic, and Evanescence — the latter so much that she named her story after one of their songs. She also seemed to be in the midst of an extremely awkward adolescence.
In Gilesbie’s less-than-capable hands, the struggle between good and evil in the wizarding world became a pitched battle between "goffs" and "preps," frequently interrupted by detailed physical descriptions of protagonist Ebony (variously called Enoby, Evony, Egogy, and Tara.) But the real star of "My Immortal" was its author. From the beginning, Tara was telling insufficiently gothic readers to "get da hell out," and she soon started using copious author’s notes to defend her spelling, dialogue, and bizarre reworkings of major characters.
You should read the whole thing—especially the lengthy excerpt from "My Immortal." I almost wouldn't mind reading this thing in book form. It goes from terrible back around again to fascinating—not in an entertaining Ed Wood so-bad-it's-good sort of way, but more like a public grooming sort of way.
Charles Mudede already told you about the Birkensnake reading happening at Vermillion tonight. It looks like it's going to be a really good time, with readings from Maged Zaher, Charles, Ezra Mark, Matt Briggs, and Robert Mittenthal. But it's not the only thing happening tonight, by a long shot. To start with, there's another group reading happening just down the street from Vermillion at the Hugo House. It's called "The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two." It features local poets Kelly Davio, Nicelle Davis, Maggie MK Hess, Sierra Nelson, and Alexis Vergalla reading new work about Miller's Law, which says that we can only retain so much information in our memories. I like these kinds of theme readings, which are kind of like one-night-only anthologies.
But if you're looking for non-fiction, you should head north. At the W.H. Foege Building Auditorium in the U District, Tom Reh will give a lecture titled "Restoring Sight to the Blind: the Future Looks Bright" as part of the UW Graduate Program in Neurobiology & Behavior-sponsored NeuroTalks public lecture series. And at University Book Store, Daniel James Brown will be reading from The Boys in the Boat, which is subtitled Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. It's about the UW rowing team that fought the Nazis, which makes it a very interesting piece of overlooked Seattle history.
And the Central Library is hosting Nicola Griffith tonight. Griffith is a local novelist who has received accolades from all over the friggin' place, including from 2013 Stranger Genius shortlister Neal Stephenson. Here's Stephenson's blurb on Griffith's newest novel, Hild, which is about a king's rebellious niece in 7th century Britain:
You will never think of them as the Dark Ages again. Griffith's command of the era is worn lightly and delivered as a deeply engaging plot. Her insight into human nature and eye for telling detail is as keen as that of the extraordinary Hild herself. The novel resonates to many of the same chords as Beowulf, the legends of King Arthur, Lord of the Rings, and Game of Thrones—to the extent that Hild begins to feel like the classic on which those books are based.
When Neal Stephenson congratulates you on your historical fiction, you know you're doing something right. Find out more about everything else happening tonight in the readings calendar.
The thing you realize after getting a few pages into Tristan Donovan's Fizz: How Soda Shook Up the World is that the book is basically a history of America's dominance in the 20th century. It's all here: The wretched excess of soda fountain culture in the Gilded Age (the Arctic Soda Water Apparatus, a device created in 1876, "stood thirty-three feet high, weighed thirty tons, and measured twelve feet in diameter. It could dispense twenty-eight types of water and store seventy-six different flavoring syrups and was capped off with hanging ferns, a chandelier, and a device for spraying perfume into the air") which gave way to the Henry Ford-style industrialization of the soda-making process, followed by the attempts to win new territory in post-World War II Europe and eventual global colonization.
Donovan keeps things snappy and informative the whole way through. Nearly every page brings an interesting piece of trivia about how soda changed the world. Pepsi introduced the first thirty-second advertisement with a radio jingle that many stations at first refused to carry. (Most radio ads were five minutes or longer at the time.) Eventually, the thirty-second ad became so popular that stations were dying to play the song, and tens of thousands of people were happily buying the jingle on record:
Soda pops up in the strangest places: Richard Nixon, for example, was a Pepsi man. When he finally won the presidency, he took back the Coca-Cola CEO's White House access pass. Soda brands have influenced diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union and China, they've battled over access to outer space, and they've tried as hard as they can to keep their health risks underreported. It's a fascinating story.
Even though soda consumption has declined for nearly the past decade, our love affair with soda seems rock-solid. This 1936 speech delivered by a Coca-Cola executive to his employees on the fiftieth anniversary of the company seems to be truer than ever:
There may be war. We can stand that. There may be revolutions. We will survive. Taxes may bear down to the breaking point. We can take it. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse may charge over the Earth and back again—and Coca-Cola will remain.
To celebrate the launch of issue 6 of literary journal Birkensnake, Seattle writers Maged Zaher, Charles Mudede, Ezra Mark, Matt Briggs, and Robert Mittenthal will read from the work of pseudonymous stranger Kinton Ford.
Reading hosted by Diana George at Vermillion gallery and bar, December 10, 7 pm.
Birkensnake 6 was edited in seven versions by seven pairs of strangers. Twenty letter-press editions of the Diana George/Hedy Zimra version will be given away at this reading.
Interviewing Hannah Arendt must have been tough work. She questioned even the most basic premise of a question, as in her very first exchange with journalist Günter Gaus in a 1964 interview newly published in Hannah Arendt: The Last Interview. Gaus nonchalantly calls her a philosopher, and Arendt immediately (but politely) takes him apart:
I am afraid I have to protest. I do not belong to the circle of philosophers. My profession, if one can even speak of it at all, is political theory. I neither feel like a philosopher, nor do I believe that I have been accepted in the circle of philosophers, as you so kindly suppose.
Arendt is now perhaps best remembered for her book about World War II war crimes, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. It's controversial in part because Arendt tries to strip Eichmann and other Nazis of their bogeyman status, revealing them as nothing so much as bland bureaucrats. She didn't absolve them of their evil deeds, but she did strenuously make the case that they were ordinary people...
If you're still unsure what you're doing this weekend, you should bear some things in mind.
First up, tonight at Town Hall, Ellen Forney and David Montgomery will be giving a performance. Montgomery is a prominent local geologist. Forney is a Stranger Genius Award–winning cartoonist. They've both been artists in residence at Town Hall for the last few months. Tonight, they'll talk about their work, what they've been up to, and where they're going. It's $5.
This is the cover to the 2013 edition of What to Read in the Rain. Nobody knows what the cover to the 2014 edition will look like.
Saturday afternoon, there's a lot of stuff to do. 826 Seattle is hosting a release party celebrating the new What to Read in the Rain anthology collecting local writers and writing students. Proceeds from the book benefit the very good local youth writing organization. The event features a reading, a signing, and "Northwest-themed refreshments." Also, Ada's Technical Books is hosting an e-textiles workshop with author Fay Shaw demonstrating how to create and sew an LED cuff bracelet.
Tomorrow night, there's only one event you need to know about. Bruce Pavitt is reading at the Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery in Georgetown. The SubPop muckety-muck and author of Experiencing Nirvana: Grunge in Europe, 1989 discusses a very important time in Seattle history. The book contains 200 photographs of Nirvana by Pavitt and Steve Double, along with diary excerpts from the tour.
Sunday, you should skip the readings and go to Urban Craft Uprising and finish your goddamned Christmas shopping.
For more information about the readings I talked about above, along with so much more, visit the readings calendar.
Something strange happened on my way to work this morning. It happened just like this: I was reading a new book by Costas Lapavitsas called Profiting Without Producing: How Finance Exploits Us All, when I began to suspect that a man sitting across from me in the back of the bus was trying to make out what I was reading. But when I confirmed from the corner of my eyes that this stranger's eyes were indeed locked on and scanning the back of my book, I began to feel odd. Why feel this way? What was wrong with this situation? Was it the icy sunlight hitting his round face? Was it the bumpiness of the turn the bus was making—rotating behind me was the Douglass-Truth library? Then it suddenly dawned on me: I almost never read actual/hard books on the bus or train but instead PDF files or e-books presented on the screen on my phone (a Nexus 4). But why would this create an odd feeling in the first place? Because this kind of situation—a reader and a stranger curious about what the reader is reading—is almost completely lost with an e-book. A change in a technology (public visibility/sharing in the case of a hard book) never occurs without an unexpected gain or loss.