A Capitol Hill bookseller’s list: best books of 2015

By Hilary Lawlor / Special to CHS

As a bookseller at one of the most famous bookstores in the country, the Elliott Bay Book Company, I see a lot of books come and go. It gets to the point where it seems overwhelming. How could anyone ever read all of these? What’s the point of writing anything, if the market is flooded with so many great choices? Well, the point of writing, and encouraging authors to continue to write, is that once in a while, a book appears that is so fantastic, so memorable, so great that it eclipses all the others, if only for a moment. This is my list of the books that came out in 2015 that I think accomplished that difficult feat.51npiQtVa-L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

  • 15) Too High and Too Steep by David B. Williams

In the late 19th and early 20th century, the entire topography of downtown Seattle was reshaped. As hilly as Seattle-ites may think the city is now, the landscape was once much more varied, particularly in the downtown area. In Too High and Too Steep, WIlliams describes the processes that leveled Denny Hill and erased cliffs and tide flats from Seattle’s waterfront. He evokes the setting the way it used to be, and you won’t believe it now, but you might wish you could have seen a hillier Seattle.

  • 14) Stories in the Stars by Susanna Hislop

In this beautiful volume, Hislop combines beautifully designed illustrations of constellations with page-long histories concerning the legends behind them. Or sometimes, when they’re not interesting enough, she makes up new ones, and her prose is warm, funny, and engaging. After laying out Hercules’s to-do list (including items like “Snatch Hippolyte’s snazzily-decorated girdle” and “Go to Crete and deal with a white bull”), for instance, she includes a note-to-self at the bottom: “Urgent: Buy Life Insurance.”

  • 13) Seattle City of Literature: Reflections from a Community of Writers

In this awesome book from local publisher Sasquatch Books, several of Seattle’s best-known writers combined their powers to create Captain Planet a work that embodies the history of literature and growth in this great city. Advertised as a “bookish history of Seattle,” the little red paper-over-board volume boasts essays and stories from the likes of Tom Robbins, Sonora Jha, Garth Stein, Frances McCue, and Karen Finneyfrock, among many others. Pick this one up if you want to feel a little bit more connected to the ground beneath your feet, or at least to the history behind it. Continue reading

Capitol Hill — plus booze and ‘auto-bio’ admissions — at center of cartoonist’s work

Autobiographical cartoonist Tatiana Gill spent a large chunk of her life drunk — the unhealthy, embarrassing, blackout kind of drunk that you don’t remember in the morning.

“My drink of choice was two drinks: whiskey with a beer back,” Hill resident and occasional CHS contributor Gill said. Alcohol fueled her creative pursuits — and also became her subject matter.

Gill grew up on Capitol Hill and has been here on and off her whole life. She grew up reading TinTin and Archie comics and was influenced and inspired by comics from a young age. In middle school she became interested in Marvel comics like X-Men; in high-school she started reading comics from Fantagraphics and other underground publishers. It was around that time that Gill set her sights on a career as a cartoonist, a focus that continued through her years at Evergreen State College.

This month, things come full circle for Gill as the Capitol Hill artist is slated to appear at Georgetown’s Fantagraphics store on November 14 to promote her latest work.

Gill launched her career as a cartoonist in the mid-1990s, doing mostly illustration. She simultaneously consumed copious quantities of alcohol. She didn’t consider her drinking a problem — her sweet spot for drawing came after a drink or two. From there it often felt like the drinks were helping, though after three or four she acknowledges that was probably an alcohol-fueled delusion. Continue reading

Capitol Hill’s Ada’s launches its own book collection through crowd-powered publisher Inkshares

IMG_6756The shelves inside Ada’s Technical Books are chock full of inspiration for innovation and experimentation, so it’s no surprise the shop itself has taken a few of those lessons to heart. From the lock picking classes that started at the old Harvard Ave location, to the cafe and coworking space that were added in the move to 15th Ave, Ada’s has made a habit of elevating the neighborhood bookshop game.

Now the bookseller is stepping into the realm of book publisher. Ada’s recently announced a partnership with crowd-powered publisher Inkshares to release books under The Ada’s Technical Books Collection.

“We’re looking for books we think are interesting and fit within our store,” said Ada’s events coordinator Alex Hughes.

In addition to being part of an Ada’s curated collection, writers will also get promotional support for their book and, of course, a place on Ada’s shelves. Continue reading

Little Oddfellows a surprise chapter as Linda teams up with Elliott Bay Book Company

(Image: elisabethrobson via Flickr)

(Image: elisabethrobson via Flickr)

Little Oddfellows in, EBC out (Image: CHS)

Little Oddfellows in, EBC out (Image: CHS)

When Capitol Hill’s leading author of longterm food and drink success changes the plot of what she’s working on, it’s worth taking note.

Linda Derschang has put aside her stated commitment to focus on her existing six restaurants and bars and the 250+ employees that make them work to take on an irresistible “little” project too close to her Oddfellows nerve center to ignore. It will also give the nightlife maven another opportunity to fine tune her daytime game will collaborating with a major retailer in Elliott Bay Book Company, one of her favorite Pike/Pine businesses.

“There were no plans for The Derschang Group to open any new businesses in 2015 but the opportunity to team up with Elliott Bay Books was too exciting to pass up,” Derschang told CHS via email. “Elliot Bay Books is one of the best bookstores in the country — it’s definitely my favorite, and the current cafe needs little remodeling so it makes the project fairly simple which is appealing.”

Derschang’s surprise Little Oddfellows is planned to replace the Elliott Bay Cafe inside Elliott Bay Book Company this June as cafe creator Tamara Murphy said she has decided not to renew her lease for the space “so that we may pursue other interests and projects.”

“A heartfelt Thank you to (Elliott Bay Book Company owner) Peter Aaron, the bookstore staff, my employees, and of course our customers who made this a fun and interesting ride,” Murphy wrote. Continue reading

CHS Pics | A Hugo House full of small press all-stars on Capitol Hill

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(Images: Alex Garland for CHS)

RJ Casey and Ann Casey of Yeti Press

RJ Casey and Ann Casey of Yeti Press

55 small press publishers, some producing as few as six works per year, some fewer, filled 11th Ave’s Hugo House Sunday afternoon for the APRIL Book Expo, the grand finale of the 2015 edition annual festival and one of many last bows for Hugo House as we know it before a planned, literary nonprofit-friendly redevelopment of the property.

During the week, CHS also stopped through a seance at the Sorrento Hotel and APRIL’s “offsite” with the Vignettes gallery. If you missed the event but are interested in learning more about the region’s small press publishers, here’s a roster of Sunday’s participants. You can learn more about the APRIL Festival at aprilfestival.com.

More pictures below. Continue reading

2015 APRIL will be ‘largest ever’ edition of small press literature festival

APRIL-logo-full-GreenThe cozy, home-like environment of Richard Hugo House’s original and current space makes it a pretty fitting last stop for APRIL Festival’s annual grassroots romp around Capitol Hill and First Hill. Add the sorta-twisted fact that the 1904 building that houses the internationally acclaimed center for writers was once a mortuary and the space might seem an even more ideal fit as a venue for the week-long literature festival known for its freewheeling spirit and often unorthodox approaches to presenting works.

However, next year APRIL will have to find another site for its capstone small press Book Expo, and other events it has traditionally held at Hugo House. The writing center’s current building will be torn down in 2016 to make way for the construction of a six-story mixed-use structure. Thankfully, the new building does promise to provide a continued home for Hugo House on the east side of Cal Anderson Park, but it will of course take some time to build. And the new space will of course be a change; a welcome change in many respects, Hugo House’s executive director Tree Swenson says, but aspects of the ambiance will certainly shift.

It remains to be seen how APRIL will adapt in 2016 and if it will return to Hugo House once the new incarnation is completed. And while thanks to generous support Capitol Hill gets to hold on to Hugo House, some fear that trends the Hugo House property revamp reflects — including the continuously rising property values and rents helping spur the rolling redevelopment of the neighborhood — may threaten to push most less-commercial artists and arts out of the neighborhood once and for all. Meanwhile, the city’s designation of Capitol Hill as Seattle’s first official Arts District represents one effort meant to help prevent that from happening.

All that said, though at its inception four years ago it may have entered a Capitol Hill already past its prime as a readily accessible place for the arts to thrive without intervention or initiatives, APRIL has nonetheless seen impressive growth since its humble beginnings. Whats more, APRIL continues to find some ways to grow in 2015, as it now looks to adapt to new challenges in the near future.

“It’s definitely getting bigger and bigger than we ever could have imagined when we started it,” said Tara Atkinson, who founded APRIL along with Willie Fitzgerald back in 2012, when the two found themselves unemployed roommates in a Capitol Hill apartment that also served as APRIL’s headquarters. The acronym they chose as the name for the festival that comes every March, and which has morphed in to an organization that also offers some smaller literary events throughout the year, is descriptive — ‘Authors, Publishers and Readers of Independent Literature.’

This year’s festival runs one day shorter than 2014’s, kicking off Tuesday, March 24, with a party at Barboza, and wrapping up Sunday, March 29, with the Book Expo at Hugo House. However, while the number of days and events is indeed slightly lower, some other numbers are up. Continue reading

Design competition could put a well-crafted Little Free Library on your Capitol Hill corner

Finding one of Capitol Hill’s Little Free Libraries is a lovely little literary treat. What are they reading in Miller Park? What are they giving away?

Sometimes, the design of the free-book boxes also tells a story. A Seattle Little Free Library design competition benefiting non-profit Architects Without Borders will recognize the creativity and functionality of these neighborhood mini-repositories:

PrintClick here for the COMPETITION BRIEF
Click here to REGISTER

REGISTER BY: AUGUST 1, 2014

SUBMIT BY: AUGUST 27, 2014

SEATTLE DESIGN FESTIVAL EXHIBIT:

SEPTEMBER 6-7 & 13-14, 2014

Let Your Library Loose this Summer!

Get ready to design, build and steward a Little Free Library prototype that promotes community and literacy in Seattle’s neighborhoods!

Little Free Libraries are small-scale book shelters that function as “take-a-book, leave-a-book” gathering places. They provide a location where the free exchange of books, ideas, stories, and interests contribute to a shared experience valued by neighbors and visitors. All entry fees benefit Architects Without Borders – Seattle, a local non-profit that provides ecologically sensitive and culturally appropriate design assistance to communities in need.

(Image: Judy Solomon)

(Image: Judy Solomon)

Libraries on the Loose Jury:
Marcellus Turner – Seattle Public Libraries City Librarian
Audrey Barbakoff – Librarian at the Bainbridge Island Branch of the Kitsap Regional Library
Kimo Griggs – Associate Professor of Architecture at the University of Washington
Lesley Bain – Principal of Framework Cultural Placemaking
Susan Jones – Principal of atelierjonesConsider what design can do to foster community and literacy in our local neighborhoods and let your library loose!

Individuals can register for $75, small businesses for $100. Kids under 18 can enter for free.

We’ll check in on the competition and any new Capitol Hill little library projects to watch for.

Capitol Hill artist paints an apocalyptic background for new Lola comic book series

An excerpt from Lola (Images: Siya Oum with permission to CHS)

An excerpt from Lola (Images: Siya Oum with permission to CHS)

A post-apocalyptic narrative created by Siya Oum hit the racks of Phoenix Comics Wednesday as part of the Capitol Hill-based artist’s first national comic book release. Oum painstakingly forged the tale dubbed Lola out of her Capitol Hill abode through a mostly solo coloring, designing, and writing process.

LOLA-01a-Reg-Siya-OUM“I’ve already written 18 issues,” said Oum. The Wednesday unveiling of Lola, Volume I — that includes six issues — follows the heroine as she navigates the United States after a nuclear disaster and investigates what started it all. The comic was colored in a traditional manner that takes twice as long, she said. The artist plans to release more volumes on a monthly basis, and is getting support for national distribution.

Lola’s release comes courtesy of California-based Aspen Comics. The apocalyptic storyline paints a bleak future for the planet’s environment while creating the legend of Lola and fleshing out the heroine. “It’s a more personal story,” Oum said.

Already with a deep catalog of comics to her name – she’s lost track of just how many – Oum tells CHS that all of her sequential arts have been created on the Hill – and inspired “big time” by the community. “All of it [started here].” Before launching her career on the Hill, Oum had to relocate from some warmer surroundings before digging into her new profession. Continue reading

The one where President Carter comes back to Seattle and visits Capitol Hill with the ‘most important book he’s ever written’

IMG_9683-2Where were you from noon to 12:45 on Monday? While many from the neighborhood were at offices and work sites more than a lunch-time jaunt away from the epicenter, and at least several probably still in bed, Capitol Hill was host to a public visit by a US president for the first time to speak of since, well, we don’t know. Despite the time slot, an estimated 400 people streamed through Elliot Bay Book Co. to get a presidential signature in their copy of Jimmy Carter’s latest book, A Call to Action: Women, Violence and Religion, released last Tuesday, and to have a chance to meet Number 39.

“This is my 28th book, and it’s the most important book I’ve ever written,” the former US president told CHS. “It’s about the horrible abuse of girls and women around the world, including in the United States, so I hope we see some kind of good from it,” he said. An outspoken Christian and “lay minister” from Georgia who turns 90 years-old in October, Carter served as president from 1977 through 1981. In the years since, Carter has gained greater esteem in the eyes of many for his work along with wife Rosalynn at the Carter Center for Human Rights.

A cadre of police cars along with a firetruck and ambulance parked outside Elliott Bay midday Monday, many of their would-be occupants standing by or standing guard on the sidewalk, was just enough of a scene to draw attention.

It wasn’t James Earl Carter’s first visit to Seattle. “I like to come back here,” Carter said. “I’ve come here for many times, and it’s a beautiful city, to deal with Boeing, to deal with Microsoft, to deal with Google, and so forth. And I have been here several times to sell books,” he said. Continue reading