Every time Stacey Levine reads her work aloud, entire rooms full of people fall in love. The 2009 Stranger Genius of Literature read last week at Hugo House's "Mother Knows Best" group reading, and her story was heavy with beautifully weird phrases that sound like truisms from other planets. A house is rich with "the sweetness of cabinetry, or maple syrup." Her narrator remembers, "At the time, nothing strangling had ever happened to me," and she notices a grieving friend's "cheek curdle with a little smile." Levine hugged close to the theme of the reading; her characters were (sometimes literally) haunted by their mothers. "It's true—my mother was a commie," the narrator explains. "'Production' was my first word."

Cartoonist David Lasky read (and showed projected panels from) a gentle-hearted short story about a young man whose mother produced a Superman fanzine for three decades. (Lasky sold a replica of the fanzine—titled Rocket from Krypton—in the lobby; for only a dollar, the loving reproduction of an old-school fan culture artifact made a great case for why fan blogs are a sorry replacement for the old, earnestly mimeographed collections of fan fiction, poetry, and reported essays.) The story showcased Lasky's encyclopedic knowledge of comic history and his impeccable cartoonist's sense of timing and rhythm.

The headliner, Lauren Weedman, was a manic delight; even the asides to her asides had asides. Her story was the only nonfiction entry of the night, and the only one written by a real-life mother. That might explain why, despite the fact that it was far and away the funniest piece of the night, it was also the most depressing—soaked in booze, stippled with petrified cat shit, and for the most part blissfully unaware of the deep-rooted trauma being hand-delivered from one generation to another. After the laughter died down, as the audience wiped the tears from their eyes, most everybody agreed that the evening had to have been one of the best readings of 2010.


Speaking of theme anthologies: 826 Seattle has produced a book (written by "famous and not-yet-famous adult and young writers") titled What to Read in the Rain. It's a collection of poetry, recipes, fiction, and essays by names including Tom Robbins, Megan Kelso, Michael Chabon, Stranger writer Eli Sanders, Tom Douglas, and many more in an attractive, square-bound book that now sits on bedside tables in Seattle-area hotels for visitors to peruse and buy. And in many ways, it's a more useful informational tool than a straight-up travel guidebook; it's a love letter to a certain kind of melancholy hope that hits town right around this time of year, a travel resource for people who don't care where the trendy restaurants are but just want to get to the heart of the city. recommended