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


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


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


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

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


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