The greatest misfortune that ever befell man was the invention of printing.
– Benjamin Disraeli, Lothair
Most of our local literary arts venues chose not to schedule readings and signings during Bumbershoot, but those of us starving for words and too poor to pay One Reel’s cover charge can throw our own personal music & arts festivals. Spend your money on your beverage of choice, check out a work by the following Bumbershoot-featured artists from our handy-dandy public library, and thumb your nose at the crowds, bad food, long lines, and grotty toilets.
• Saul Williams has published several books of hip-hop poetry. The most recent, The Dead Emcee Scrolls, received a starred review from Publisher Weekly, particularly for the opening poem “NGH WHT”. Also well worth checking out is the DVD Russell Simmons presents: Def Poetry, Season 3, which features Mos Def, Jill Scott, Common, Kanye West, and Lou Reed, in addition to Mr. Williams.
• Seattle author Sherman Alexie made quite a splash this year with The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, but you’ll be waiting weeks for a copy to become available through SPL. Check out Ten Little Indians, a collection of 11 compassionate, wry, and revelatory stories, instead. The collection is outstanding, alternately poignant and hilarious, and often both at once. Another good choice is his 2000 collection of nine stories, The Toughest Indian in the World.
• Christa Bell doesn’t have a book out, but she does have a website and a MySpace page, so you can watch and listen to her rant, rave, and revelate about the power of CoochiMagick in the comfort of your own home. No lines, no waiting, plenty of comfortable seating.
• Young Adult Fiction author Francesca Lia Block takes a walk on the wild side with the Adult Fiction Quakeland, a collection of otherworldly and fantastical stories. Block explores sex, relationships, and environmental issues with mystical, stylized prose. Equally weird, but lovely, is Arthur Bradford’s collection, Dogwalker. The stories are wildly varied, but Bradford’s bizarrely charming (or charmingly bizarre) perspective holds them together.
• Seattle Public Library has, like, a billion copies of Dan Clowes’ Ghost World. Take the Metro downtown, get a mocha, check out a copy of Ghost World, and read in the rain-proof and centrally heated and cooled comfort of the Central Library. The comic is usually shelved as YA Comics & Graphic Novels (level 3), which is just weird, y’all.
• Jonathan Furst’s brutal novel The Sabotage Café details the squalid and dangerous lives of street kids in the ’80s, while Jeff Parker takes a different tack in the hilarious Ovenman. Bumbershoot claims that the two novels are joined by their “punk ethic.” I think the programming coordinator who thought that one up might have been smoking something special.
• Frankly, the inclusion of William Gibson in the Bumbershoot literary arts programming is one of those things about the festival that drive me to drink. While I am pleased that Science Fiction is included, the Seattle area is home to some truly great writers. One of these is Nicola Griffith whose SF novel Slow River is a thoughtful examination of the nature of identity, placed in a dystopian near-future. It would have been nice if our local arts festival had focused on local authors; no offense intended to Ms. Gunn, but rather perhaps she and other local writers could have been the focus of the lone SF program on the schedule.
• Samantha Hunt is getting a lot of press for The Invention of Everything Else, but while you are waiting to move up in the SPL queue, why not read The Seas, Hunt’s 2005 debut? Romance, fairy tale, and bildungsroman, The Seas is lovely and evocative, and there aren’t a gabillion people already on the hold list.
• Joan Silber and Nathan McCall are an unlikely pair, but it works. McCall’s Us and Them examines race and class in a gentrifying Atlanta neighborhood; place is a character in the novel, could even be considered the main character. Similarly, Silber’s novels and stories explore issues of identity and place, although I would recommend reading her 2001 novel Lucky Us as contrast and comparison to McCall. Both works have an undercurrent of fear, anger, and shame, common human frailty lurking beneath public personae.