All of a sudden, everything hits everywhere at once: The week after Labor Day, virtually every venue in town started hosting the kind of high-quality literary events that make Seattle the best book city in America. On September 10, former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni read from his new memoir to a packed room at Elliott Bay Book Company (the internet bubbled over the next day with cell-phone photos of—and declarations of love for—the formerly anonymous Bruni) and Pansy Division guitarist and new author Jon Ginoli played a set at Bailey/Coy Books.
Also that night, Hugo House hosted its first Cheap Beer and Prose event, in which four authors read to a huge crowd drunk on $1 cups of beer. ("Ladies and gentlemen, the keg has been blown!" shouted the bartender 45 minutes into the reading; a beer run became necessary after the $1.50 cans of Rainier sold out, too.) The drunks howled at the bawdy thrills: Highlights included Cienna Madrid reading a scene from her still-in-progress novel about an awkward discovery of 54 hand-whittled dildos and Ryan Boudinot reading a brand-new short story titled "News" about three asocial, obsessive siblings (one brother uses the phrase "I'm going to kill myself" as a calming mantra) who discover a tender secret about their parents.
As we head into fall, every day brings some sort of essential literary event: The next night, author Lorrie Moore read from her new novel, A Gate at the Stairs, to 200 adoring fans at the Central Library, and she charmed with her quietly aw-shucks Wisconsonian method of dealing with uninspired audience inquiries. All the questions were basically "What does it feel like to be so great?" All of Moore's answers were elaborate, gratefully humble variations on "I don't know." At the end of the reading, Moore affirmed that coffee was the "key to literature" and that it should not be "wasted on friends."
On Saturday, a few dozen people crowded into the sweltering mezzanine at Barça for the latest installment of local poet Doug Nufer's Barroom Writer's Initiative. Nufer wore a park ranger's outfit and introduced the readers. (In a staccato, authoritative voice, Nufer claimed: "We all live in a world of menace. And as the ranger, I am here to guide you through.") Davey Johnston's two hilarious stories, about time travelers queuing up to murder Hitler and about Christ returning in the middle of a parade honoring the Philadelphia Flyers, had at least one slightly toasted person in the crowd literally falling out of his chair with laughter.
This was just the first salvo, of course. The transition from summer to fall has Seattle in a bookish state of mind again, and this is going to be a legendary year for it—from Nick Hornby to Margaret Atwood to Richard Price. It's time to get excited again.