This, Still

by Rick Simonson

Rick SimonsonTo this day I haven’t seen anything written that really describes what was in the air then—here and elsewhere. The early 1970s, the Vietnam War winding down, Richard Nixon being both re-elected but also beginning to be undone, so much beginning to be undone. In and through that a certain coming along, as young people will, growing into an adult place, trying to figure what to do in the world. The impetus, in some critical mass way, was not to go the prescribed way.

Not that the former choices were still there. In Seattle Boeing went from over 100,000 to 40,000 in a heartbeat. From that time, from the various impulses—notions of change, community, making something, possibly this, not that—several things would happen. A generation of independent bookstores and small presses, many still with us, would be born.

From that time, too—Microsoft, Starbucks, and Nike were all started, not driven by MBA visions or venture capital. Seattle, politically, was opting for community by saving the Pike Place Market, keeping Pioneer Square and the International District from being razed to provide parking or mall-like development to suit the newly-built Kingdome.

That was some of what was in the air, things I was affected by, taking classes at the University of Washington, working in the kitchen and waiting tables at Das Gasthaus Restaurant on Occidental, when Walter Carr’s intentions to open The Elliott Bay Book Company first became apparent. Architect Dick Dunbar’s blueprint drawings hung on the windows of what had been an art gallery run by Jim Manolides. I’m affected by them, still.

Spring Booknotes from our Staff – Fiction

By Blood
by Ellen Ullman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

In 1970s San Francisco, a neurotic middle-aged professor rents a small office as he awaits investigation for improper behavior. Discovering he can hear conversations from the psychiatrist’s office next door, he becomes obsessed with one particular patient, a young lesbian, adopted, and anguished about finding her real mother. He decides to become involved researching her possible history, falsifying papers, perpetuating the belief that she was born a Jew and relinquished at the end of the war by a woman now living in Israel. Intense and compelling, this psychological drama, haunted by stories of the Holocaust, is as atmospheric as the foggy, eccentric city in which it is set. -Erica

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Drifting House
by Krys Lee (Viking)

Postwar era Koreans and Korean Americans, living in the old country and the new, reinvent themselves in surprising ways in the face of loss, catastrophe, love, and changing families in Krys Lee’s debut short story collection, Drifting House. Alternately spooky, touching, realistic, and fantastical, Lee’s work invites readers to re-examine preconceptions of home, affection, return, and belonging, reflecting on the reach of mothers and motherland as family members move on, die, and are reborn. -Karen

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The Loss Library and Other Unfinished Stories
by Ivan Vladislavic
illus. by Sunandini Banerjee (Seagull Books)

From its base in Calcutta, India, Seagull Books has been winning increased notice for its beautiful books and commitment to literary excellence. The publication of South African writer Ivan Vladislavic’s new book stands out for reasons above and beyond; these linked pieces ruminate on stories and books, primarily on pieces not written–abandoned, set aside, let go. How the loss of these unwritten worlds is to be comprehended is made manifest in exquisite form here, with both Vladislavic’s elegiac writing and brilliant collages by designer Sunandini Banerjee. A book for those who love books–real, physical books–and where they take us. -Rick

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The Mirage
by Matt Ruff (HarperCollins)

Imagine that the United States is not a superpower but an antagonistic rogue state. Seattle author Matt Ruff takes you on an intense and brilliantly plotted journey into this new reality, a fun-house mirror world in which the United Arab States wield the political and military might, and the US is an occupied terror state responsible for the destruction of the Tigris and Euphrates World Trade Towers on 11/9/2001. A war on terror rages, and Christianity, not Islam is the religion shrouded in suspicion. Ruff has forged a mind-bending portrait of a world gripped by fear where nothing is as it seems. -Casey S.

Booknotes, the newsletter of The Elliott Bay Book Company, is written entirely by bookstore staff. It represents a sampling of recently published books that we have enjoyed reading. We appreciate every opportunity to assist in finding books to meet your interests.

Rick’s Pick: Mistaken Identity

Mistaken Identity
by Nayantara Sahgal (New Directions)

This 1988 novel was “rediscovered” here this summer when its 84-year-old author came to Seattle for an evening at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. This beautifully written story, set in 1929 and much turbulence, tells of a man whose world is turned upside down when he’s arrested and put in prison by mistake. His complicated life – love life and otherwise – comes to the surface as part of his ordeal. A novel of subtle surprises and delights.  - Rick

Summer Booknotes from Our Staff – Fiction and Poetry

The Good Muslim
by Tahmima Anam (HarperCollins)

Writing of her Bangladeshi homeland, Tahmima Anam follows her exquisite, award-winning 2007 debut A Golden Age with a no less powerful tale of a nation on the brink of civil war and violent reinvention of itself, of a harrowing time of supposed peace. A young woman and her brother find different means of healing—she trains to become a doctor; he, after having fought in the war, withdraws into fundamentalist religious practice. Benign enough, until his young son is put in peril. One family’s small story illuminates larger questions of faith, belief, practice, and empathy in a novel both telling and beautiful. -Rick

Turn of Mind
by Alice LaPlante (Atlantic Monthly Press)

The unsolved murder of an aging surgeon’s best friend is just the first layer of many stories explored within Alice LaPlante’s debut novel. As dementia erodes this once brilliant and always difficult woman’s personality, her struggle to hold on to her sanity (and her daughter’s efforts to connect with an increasingly elusive, unraveling parent) reveal painful truths about familial love, friendship, and sacrifice in the context of one of life’s most difficult challenges. How much of the person remains as her illness progresses and the essence of who she is becomes more elusive? LaPlante is hopeful, but realistic in the end. -Karen

Illuminations
by Arthur Rimbaud
trans. by John Ashbery (Norton)

For translators, few books pose as formidable and seductive a challenge as Rimbaud’s unpaginated, fevered masterpiece, Illuminations. Here, seasoned translator and Pulitzer prize-winning poet John Ashbery answers that call and succeeds splendidly. Presenting each English translation alongside its French original, this dazzling edition breathes new life into the nineteenth century voyant’s kaleidoscopic world while still preserving its intense vision and incomparable immediacy. The results are incandescent. Proof-positive that more than a century after he put down his pen and abandoned writing forever, our little Arthur is still miles ahead of everyone else. -Matthew



Booknotes, the newsletter of The Elliott Bay Book Company, is written entirely by bookstore staff. It represents a sampling of recently published books that we have enjoyed reading. We appreciate every opportunity to assist in finding books to meet your interests.

Booknotes from Our Staff

Montecore by Jonas Hassen Khemiri, translated by Rachel Wilson-Broyles (Knopf)

Structured as emails between Jonas, the Swedish-born son of a Tunisian émigré named Abbas and Abbas’s long lost best friend, Kadir, Montecore immediately endears its reader with its humor and linguistic bandying. Kadir urges Jonas to write the story of Abbas, and his rise to fame. But soon the two come to verbal blows about truth and memory, identity and betrayal. The author takes the book’s title from the white tiger that attacked Roy of Siegfried & Roy and by doing so, lets us know that this is about power, role-playing and the intimate choices made in defining oneself. Montecore is both a serious and witty personal narrative, and a sober but provocative social indictment. Ultimately, it is big in heart. -Shannon


The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht (Random House)

Téa Obreht has written a fabulous, wondrous book, and—perhaps unusual to say of a genuinely artful novel—a wise one. Set first in a present-time era of Balkan strife and war, it’s a time-traveled and truly timeless tale. There is war, displacement and ruin. Making sense of it is what Natalia, the young doctor at the center of this heartfelt book, is doing, even as she tends to the pain and travails of others. By way of this, she also relates her late doctor grandfather’s story, sending the reader into a past that feels palpably present. It becomes a mystery of the deepest kind, of life and death, faith and betrayal, with something of a larger power looming or hovering nearby. The sensibility of the narrative voice is old-souled, incredibly assured. A one-of-a-kind debut. -Rick


BOOKNOTES, the book review of THE ELLIOTT BAY BOOK COMPANY, is written entirely by bookstore staff. It represents a sampling of recently published and forthcoming books that we have enjoyed reading. We appreciate every opportunity to assist in finding books to meet your interests.

Booknotes from Our Staff

The Last Brother by Natacha Appanah, trans. by Geoffrey Strachan (Graywolf)

This is one of the most beautiful, contained portrayals of devastating loss and profound longing that this reader has ever encountered. An older man gives voice and remembrance to his younger self, bringing to vivid life a childhood marked by brutality, separation, and death, but also cunning, connection, and survival. It’s based on a historical incident—a ship of captured Jewish exiles imprisoned on the island of Mauritius during World War II. With the lightest of touches, the author movingly conveys a child discovering his own mysteries, then navigating those of a baffling, larger world. -Rick

 

BOOKNOTES, the book review of THE ELLIOTT BAY BOOK COMPANY, is written entirely by bookstore staff. It represents a sampling of recently published and forthcoming books that we have enjoyed reading. We appreciate every opportunity to assist in finding books to meet your interests.

 

Holiday Recommendations from Our Staff

Poetry

One Big Rain: Poems for Rainy Days by Rita Gray and Ryan O’Rourke (2010 Holiday Gazette)

If you live in Seattle, you know how gloomy the winters can be. This year, gather your whole family around One Big Rain, and these playful poems will brighten your day and warm your hearts. From the sweet, simple haiku to the beautiful, vibrant illustrations, this book is a wonderful winter gift—kids of all ages will embrace poetry and feel better about those gray, wet days. -Hilary

 

A Spicing of Birds: Poems by Emily Dickinson, Jo Miles Schuman and Joanna Bailey

Emily Dickinson wrote birds as no one else ever has—or will. For the poetry lover, bird lover, bird-art lover—this beautiful collection of Dickinson’s bird poems with facing prints of classic avian paintings is a gift that will be cherished and enjoyed. -Peter

 

Migritude by Shailja Patel

This captivating, beautifully made volume of performed poetry introduces readers to one Shailja Patel, a third-generation Kenyan of Indian descent. She explores the historical, literary, personal, and political terrain of colonization, empire, and migration to powerful revelatory ends. -Rick

 

The Poets Laureate Anthology by Elizabeth Hun Schmidt, The Library of Congress, Billy Collins (2010 Holiday Gazette)

What do Gwendolyn Brooks, Joseph Brodsky, Stanley Kunitz, Robert Pinsky, and William Carlos Williams have in common? They’re among America’s finest poets; they’re generally underread and underappreciated, even among the slim subset of American poetry-readers; and each is a former poet laureate (or consultant to the Library of Congress, the prior designation) and therefore represented in The Poets Laureate Anthology. With a fine and generous sampling of each, this handsome volume is well worth its $40 price tag for these poets alone. In addition, you’ll have a selection of poems from every other holder of the chair, comprising a broad spectrum of noteworthiness and accomplishment ranging from the obscure to the splendid—all for free! -Peter

Holiday Recommendations from Our Staff

Essays

An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris by Georges Perec

The premise is exactly as it sounds: Georges Perec, on a bench in a Parisian square, methodically recording everything he sees, attempting to capture “that which happens when nothing is happening.” On paper, it appears so simple. In practice, absolutely impossible. Which is precisely the point. A desperate and hilarious meditation on the unstoppability of time. An elegant reflection of the everyday and all its complexity. -Matthew

 

A Seventh Man by John Berger and Jean Mohr

First published in 1975, this book at first glance appears to be a study of male migrant workers in Europe, illustrated by photographs.  It is much, much more. As in all of the collaborations between Berger and Mohr, the photos and the text carry equal weight. These glimpses into the struggles and predicaments of the immigrant worker illuminate the complex and often brutal relationship between market forces and personal survival, and also, as Berger says in the new introduction, has now become a kind of “family album,” which has taken on new meanings over time. An arresting and elegant work of art. -Casey O.

 

The Etiquette of Freedom: Gary Snyder, Jim Harrison, and “The Practice of the Wild” by Gary Snyder and Jim Harrison

Whether considered a book accompanying a film or a film shadowing a book, this is a deeply companionable project featuring esteemed poets, each a veritable living treasure, walking, talking, breaking bread. The greater focus, in talk and images, is on Gary Snyder’s life and work. Now eighty, the child of a farm in Seattle’s Lake City, he has helped articulate an ethos of place, purpose, and poetry that is deeply ingrained in Seattle and the Pacific Coast. Jim Harrison, a marvel in himself, is a splendid, often jocular partner, parrying poems and fragments with Snyder, exploring the roots and shoots of work, philosophy, the particulars of plants, animals, paying attention. This “etiquette” is life being lived so fully, so far. -Rick

 

The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time by David L. Ulin

This book begs all of its readers to devote time throughout the day to the full and deeply pleasurable act of reading. Remember the authors you’ve cherished throughout your life? The characters you’ve admired, emulated, or even loathed? Reconnect with them. Books serve as markers of certain periods of our lives. When revisiting an old favorite, not only will it be a different experience than that of the first reading, but memories from one’s own past will bubble up and mingle with the text. The Lost Art of Reading is a short and gentle reminder to avoid being overwhelmed and distracted by all the information that is at our fingertips. So sit down, breathe deeply, and enjoy this delightful book. -Jillian

Isabel Wilkerson Discusses The Warmth of Other Suns 

…and Meets Hall-of-famer Bill Russell.

One month ago, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson came to Seattle’s Northwest African American Museum for an evening co-presented by Elliott Bay. The occasion was her magnificent, bestselling book, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (Random House). An epic story it is; at once vast and broad while also telling on a very human-scale, it’s a story of how people’s lives and life decisions are part of history, and how history is part of all our lives.

The evening at NAAM came on a tour that had seen Ms. Wilkerson come west, then go north: Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle. With its central exhibit depicting the times and means of African Americans coming to the Northwest, NAAM was the perfect setting. The place was packed to overflowing. A large sliding door was opened, and seating was set up outside under the light of a rising moon.

Upon arrival, Ms. Wilkerson seemed a bit overcome at the response. The audience in Seattle was the largest she’d had on her book tour. She gave an eloquent, articulate, moving talk, threading some Seattle parts of the story (the family of rock legend Jimi Hendrix) with a story she’d told the previous night in Oakland. One of the three major characters in The Warmth of Other Suns, Dr. Robert Foster, was part of a diaspora that left Monroe, Louisiana for California. Most went to Oakland, but Robert Foster would choose Los Angeles following an epic drive west through a country divided by thoughts on race.

Other families that did choose Oakland included the family that brought young Huey Newton to Oakland. Newton would later co-found and lead the Black Panther Party. Another story she told—and wrote of in her book—was the fascinating story of Charles and Katie Russell, who brought 9-year-old Bill Russell out of Monroe to Oakland. There, given opportunities he would have been totally denied in the South, he attended college, became a dominant, game-changing basketball star in the amateur and pro ranks, and a major cultural and social figure as well. While telling the story, Ms. Wilkerson wondered aloud if Bill Russell might be there in the audience this night—she’d heard word of him possibly being in attendance. He was—as subtly as someone 6-10 could be in a room—among the the rapt crowd.

Sure enough, after her talk, there was a meeting…

Isabel Wilkerson and Bill Russell

In attendance with Bill Russell were two other generations of Russells, including daughter Karen, a Seattle attorney who graduated from Harvard Law School. None of them would likely have been there were it not for Charles and Katie Russell’s difficult, fateful decision to move from Louisiana in 1943. The initial meeting and greeting at NAAM then led to another meeting in New York, where on Monday, October 18, Bill Russell appeared alongside Ms. Wilkerson on a moving segment of Lawrence O’Donnell’s The Last Word.

All said and done, basketball wouldn’t quite give Elliott Bay an assist on the connection (soccer or hockey would) in a box score. The important thing is to read The Warmth of Other Suns, one of the most beautiful, vital, eloquent books this reader has read in a long time. -Rick

Isabel Wilkerson read from The Warmth of Other Suns at the Northwest African American Museum on September, 24 2010.

Honors and Awards: a 5 Under 35 Selection Reads at Elliott Bay this Thursday, October 7

‘Tis the season for book awards, honors, and distinctions. This week is scheduled to include the Nobel Prize in Literature announcement on Thursday, October 7, and Friday, October 8 will see the presentation of the Washington State Book Awards at The Seattle Central Public Library.

First things first: what has been announced is the National Book Foundation’s annual “5 Under 35″ list of writers and their most recent books. This year’s honorees include Tiphanie Yanique, who will be reading at Elliott Bay this Thursday, October 7 at 7 p.m., from her captivating debut, How to Escape from a Leper Colony: A Novella and Stories (Graywolf Press), along with Jessica Kane. This is a book of stories set mostly in the Caribbean; it’s a beautifully-written work.

Others to get the “5 Under 35″ nod include Téa Obreht, who was also selected for The New Yorker’s “Best 20 under 40″ issue, and who is due here in March 2011 when her debut novel, The Tiger’s Wife (Random House), is published; Grace Krilanovich, author of the Northwest-set novel, The Orange Eats Creeps (Two Dollar Radio); Sarah Braunstein, author of The Sweet Relief of Missing Children (W.W. Norton); and Paul Yoon, whose 2009 book is Once the Shore (Sarabande). -Rick