Reading Seattle #9 — Capitol Hill Library

Date of visit: February 3, 2018

Ah, the Capitol Hill branch, my old stomping grounds — so close to the (big) QFC and CorePower Yoga, such a usefully located public bathroom.

I had to get a key cut and decided to go back to the ancestral (big) QFC; I tried selling some clothes at Crossroads (to limited success); I got a hamburger from Dick’s; I got some books from the library, and then had a flight of red wines at Aluel Cellars, where I asked no fewer than three questions per 1 oz pour.

The books:

Rubyfruit Jungle (Rita Mae Brown): The protagonist seems like such an excellent human being. She is fearless, confident, and brilliant; most of all, she refuses to take the easy way out of anything. I think I take the easy way out most times.

The History of Great Things (Elizabeth Crane): A mother and daughter write biographies and possible biographies of each other. I think the mother is dead. Again, two very cool-sounding people — the mother pursued a career as an opera singer despite all expectations to the contrary, and, eh, I can’t remember what the daughter does. I thinks she becomes a writer (so maybe this is autobiographical)?

Willful Disregard (Lena Andersson, translated from the Swedish by Sarah Death): And now, for a woman who seems all too-familiar and not at all cool — she’s a cerebral writer who lives a simple life until she gets a crush on one of her assignment subjects. The rest of the book is her willful disregard for all signals that he is not interested.

Terribly inconvenient that the story wasn’t Danish — then it could be Willful Disregård.

The fourth book in this batch was The Red Badge of Courage; which I’d first heard of through The Brady Bunch. It seems like a book that got assigned to middle schoolers.

Can’t wait for the next library visit!

Reading Seattle #8 — Wallingford Library

Date of visit: December 27, 2017

Wow, this was a tiny library! I had trouble finding it at first because the sign outside was for Solid Ground, a social services organization. Half was it was shelves for holds pickup — the browsable section was so small that I thought I had made a mistake. For the sake of my project, that wasn’t a problem: I did manage to find four novels (plus one non-fiction book).

I thought about going to Ramen Man, the tiny ramen restaurant that I heard gives you as many soft-boiled eggs as you like, but I decided to go home instead.

The first book that I spent most of my long weekend reading was The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee. I couldn’t believe my luck that this book was available — it seems like the type of celebrity book that will always have a waitlist, but even then I hesitated a little to get it because 1. it was non-fiction and thus, did not qualify for the project, and 2. it was a pretty large book.

I’m glad I got it: I had a great holiday weekend with lots of time spent outside or with friends, but I was always thinking about the book a little bit. Don’t be intimidated by the size: it is an immediately engaging read and rips you through it. Sometimes I felt like the pacing and writing left me too breathless for comfort.


Trains and Lovers (Alexander McCall Smith): Uh, four strangers sit together on a train and spill their cute life stories. I chose this book over two others, both called “Transit: A Novel”.

The Bluest Eye (Toni Morrison): This book is so accurately depressing, and it is depressing how accurate it still is. There is a white doctor who tells his residents about his (black woman) patient, “these women you don’t have any trouble with. They deliver right away and with no pain. Just like horses.”

I checked out What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, by Helen Oyeyemi, and read about half of it. It is skillfully written, cleverly connected set of short stories, but it’s fantastic realism and because of that, I can’t make myself keep reading. There were people waiting on this book, so I returned it instead of renewing.

In the meantime, I also read The Looting Machine: Warlords, Oligarchs, Corporations, Smugglers, and the Theft of Africa’s Wealth by Tom Burgis — Phil was hoping for more connection between old-fashioned colonialism and modern wealth extraction via the resource economy, i.e. how one led to the other; this book doesn’t cover that, but hammers home how African nations’ misery is the combination of several vicious cycles (Dutch Disease, Survival of the Fattest, Plain-Old-Racism).

Every mobile phone and every share of VTX I have ever held is complicit. I don’t know what to do: the poison is so dilute and so sweet.

The last book is The Expatriates, by Janice Y. K. Lee. This is yet another story of a bunch of interwoven families’ lives, here, those of four women who have moved to Hong Kong. It began with a lot of angry, resentful feelings that I almost felt I shouldn’t read, but ended in a celebration of womanhood and the bond between mother and daughter.


Reading Seattle #7 — Magnolia Library

Date of visit: November 25, 2017

I think this was a damp rainy weekend when I decided to have a nice transit / LimeBike adventure to some place relatively inaccessible, but also not too far away. I ended up taking a bus that didn’t actually get me to the library, but got off at the nearest stop and biked the rest. It wasn’t too bad.

Magnolia has unnervingly wide streets; if it weren’t cut off from the rest of Seattle with only two means of egress, it would be a nice place to live.

The books:

Nuclear Family (Susanna Fogel) — Oy vey what a disaster. It’s a Jewish girl who grows up into a writer; her dad divorces and remarries a woman named Mei Ling who has a son, Stuart, who is very focused on his violin studies, and ‘oriental’ conservative views as well as an implausible set of grammatical difficulties.

The entire book is a caricature of Jewish family, sure: I’m uncomfortable with the fact that a poorly-written Chinese woman is part of the caricature.

Ways to Disappear (Idra Novey) — It was a warm, hazy book, replete with handsome Lusitanian lover, featuring a translator who goes to Brazil to rescue her author (the author she translates), who has disappeared up a tree to escape her gambling debts.

Lover (Anna Raverat) — A story about a marriage that undergoes an affair and divorce. The protagonist is an executive at a hotel chain, and those tidbits are kind of interesting, but overall it was a predictable book.

Underground Airlines (Ben H. Winters) — I don’t read a lot of sci-fi or alternative history, so I was uneasy reading this description of a United States where the south won the war, a much poorer United States whose trading partners are mostly restricted to other ‘backward’ countries, like South Africa and Pakistan. I suppose the implication is that the USA as it is now is still stymied because we have not fully reckoned with our history of slavery and the racism in our institutions.

But the plot was far fetched and had more twists than the challah I made this weekend; luckily it also has a good ending for the protagonist.


Reading Seattle #6 — Ballard Library

Date of visit: October 26, 2017

We went here after having Weinberg Family Dinner at Volterra — it was a beautiful fall afternoon. I had a cocktail and a half portion of pasta, which was really quite enough.


Allegheny Front, Matthew Neill Null — A collection of short stories illustrating the high cost orimpossibility of change in Allegheny West Virginia. Ironic mode for sure.

I somewhat avoid short story collections for this project because it’s so easy to read one story in the collection and call it a day, but I kept reading because I wanted to get to one where the protagonist triumphs. Never found one.

The Good Neighbor, Amy Sue Nathan — A divorced woman, about to turn 40, moves back to her family home near Philadelphia, and starts blogging about her dating escapades with a man named Mac! Visitor count goes way up, and her friend hires her to write for her media company. Plot twist: Mac is made up, but now she has to continue. How will it end??

I almost felt bad reading this because it was so simple and far fetched, but whatever, I had insomnia.

A Kind of Intimacy, Jenn Ashworth — Told from the perspective of an delusional, murderous fat girl, who is relatable and pitiable nevertheless. She moves in to a new neighborhood and starts obsessing over the male neighbor and harassing his partner; slowly her past begins to unwind.

Ok — and — I am going to “break” a bunch of my own “rules” here: I never finished a fourth work of fiction from this library. Instead, I read parts of several non-fiction books: My Own Words, a collection of speeches about / by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Toilet: Public Restrooms and the Politics of Sharing, edited by Harvey Molotch and Laura Norén.

Reading Seattle #5 — Greenwood Library

Date of visit: September 2, 2017 (ebooks were checked out sporadically)

I came here after a long soak and (anhedonically-received) scrub at the spa, so I was a little out of it. I probably should have gotten a beer at Naked City instead of thinking it was a good time to get books, as the four books I selected ALL turned out to be bad choices: they were all too dense, the type of book I think I read rather than the type of book I read, etc.

A week or so later, I realized that I was going to be on some airplanes soon, and would need a few books. I looked at SPL’s listing of available Kindle books, applied some arbitrary filters, and got a few. They were actually all winners!

For the sake of accounting, I will consider Greenwood visited, and try not to have to substitute with e-books too often — e-books are supplements in this project, where local visits and physical copies are key, but maybe e-books were fitting, as I was not at all local during this time.

Easy Way Out (Stephen McCauley) — A nice tidy story of the love lives of three brothers, told from the perspective of the gay middle brother, set in Cambridge in the 1990s. There are happy and sad anachronisms: the protagonist thought he would never be able to marry; on the other hand, the protagonist is a travel agent who fakes boarding passes and funeral excuses for his clients to make up for his procrastination.

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War (Mary Roach) — Mary Roach is one of my favorite science-confectioners: this one was about interesting scientific challenges the armed forces encounter. In her chapter on food poisoning in the army, I was glad to learn that many soldiers develop Irritable Bowel Syndrome after an initial acute bout of food poisoning! This is what happened to me when I ate the bad mango, c. 2014.

Rory the Dinosaur Wants a Pet (Liz Climo) — Liz Climo is the best, dinosaurs are the best, and Rory is an excellent name for a dinosaur! Liz Climo used to work on the Simpsons (she’s only quit recently), and is a successor to Sandra Boynton, but more cute in the use of animals, and less (bad-)cute in usage of basic puns.

Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile (Nate Jackson) — I skimmed through most of the football and just wanted to read the gory medical details; wish he’d talked about the rehab more. Concussions are discussed only in the last chapter — I guess Nate Jackson’s problems tended to involve muscles ripping from his pelvis.

Books returned: 9/26/2017 (I know, I incurred a fine)

Reading Seattle #4 — Central Library

Visit: August 13th, 2017

I had a book on hold — about housework (Never Done, Susan Strasser), and I was desperate to leave the house, so I took a bus down and fetched it as a convenient excuse. It turned out that Never Done was a dense reference volume: I would never be done with it. So I gave it back to the librarian for reshelving and got four new books.

Damnficionados (J.J. Wilson) – I was in a hurry and this seemed like a plausible choice at the time, but then I realized I hate post-apocalyptic science fiction: I don’t have the patience for worldbuilding.

Small Beauty (Jia-Qing Wilson Yang) – I appreciated this book because it is about a 3rd generation Chinese woman living in Canada, and they leave plenty of conversation untranslated in the pinyin, mixed in with her thoughts, which are in English. The character is transgender, so this book did the PSAs of telling about the horrendous transphobia she faces. Selfishly, I recommend this book because of the pinyin.

The Slap (Christos Tsiolkas) – This book was lightweight and the binding seemed well read, so I took it. Now that I’ve read it, I am filing it under “things I didn’t like that clarify what things I like”.

I don’t like it because it doesn’t have a statement: the titular slap isn’t enough to tie together the events, except temporally, and we don’t actually see any characters “wake up” due to the slap. We get a slice of life of suburban Australia: the focus shifts from generation to generation, from the parents’ drama to the grandparents’ sadness, ending on a triumph of the children.

But try as I might, I can’t find the relationship between the stories of the generations. The best I can do is that dads and pappoúdes (there are lots of greek families in Australia; who knew) alike all want to fuck the young ladies in their acquaintance, and that there is a lucky young gay boy with a loving mother.

Exit West (Mohsin Hamid) – Turns out I had borrowed but not read a book by this same author a few library visits ago: Phil read it (How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia) instead, and thought it was beautiful but very sad. This time I read the book; it was also sad, but also a hopeful utopian sketch with likeable characters.

Books returned: August 31, except for Exit West, which had a shorter 2 week due date as part of the Peak Picks program.