What I’ve Been Reading and Writing: February 2021

Those of you who followed me when I was active on Instagram know that I have a 7-year-old rescue greyhound named Oberon (Obie) who has delighted me for three years now. At the beginning of this year, we added a second greyhound to our home. Wallace (Wally) is fresh off the racetrack in Florida, which means he has had to learn about things like windows, and TVs, and stairs for the first time. Wally is also rapidly and inexorably losing his sight, and so the good folks at Greyhound Pets Incorporated wanted to place him in a home with a confident older greyhound to show him the ropes before he went completely blind. He and Obie got along the first time they met, so we agreed to foster Wally, and then two weeks later we officially adopted him.

I wouldn’t say that Obie and Wally are good buddies yet—they’re more like amiable coworkers. They still get along very well, but they often just live their days on parallel tracks.  But multiple times every day, they check in which each other—bumping shoulders while they’re out in the yard, sniffing each other when they walk into a new room. Watching those simple physical gestures of affection between the two dogs has reminded me how closed-off to the world I’ve been during the pandemic, and how eager I am to check in with my friends.

Honestly, and knowing that I’m speaking from an immense place of privilege, the first year of working from home wasn’t too emotionally difficult for me. I like to be alone, and I never get bored. But I’ve hit—as it’s come to be called online lately—The Wall, and I can’t wait to sniff other humans again. For now, though, it’s me and two good boys hanging around a quiet house all day. I don’t know what I’d do without their company.

I’ve Been Writing

In the Seattle Times this month, I wrote about LEMS Cultural Center and Bookstore for Life Enrichment, a new incarnation of Seattle’s longest-running Black-owned bookshop. The store is in its early stages of rebuilding, but I have high hopes that it will come out of the pandemic as a cultural hub for the city.

For Business Insider, I wrote about the policies that Democrats should support if they want to win rural voters again and why tax increases have historically been proven to be the best deterrent to oligarchy in America. And one of the more immediately useful pieces I’ve written lately is a FAQ compiling the most commonly used arguments against the minimum wage and explaining why they’re completely bogus, using the latest minimum-wage studies as proof. Next time someone tells you that robots will take the jobs of workers if you raise the minimum wage, just consult my FAQ and show them the data.

And just yesterday, Business Insider ran a piece I wrote about Kroger’s decision to close two QFC grocery stores in Seattle as a response to the city council’s adoption of $4-per-hour hero pay for grocery workers. When you really look at the numbers, it’s clear that Kroger isn’t closing those stores because the wages were too much to pay—they’re trying to intimidate other cities that might be considering raising the wages of their workers.

I’ve Been Reading

Patricia Lockwood’s novel No One Is Talking About This is getting praised everywhere online, and it’s obvious why: I’ve never read a novel that so aptly describes the banal horror of being addicted to the social media world inside your phone. The first half of the book is a gorgeously written account of being Extremely Online, and the second half of the book is a gorgeously written account of a family tragedy. I wasn’t sure Lockwood would successfully merge the two halves into a coherent whole, but she eventually intertwines them both into a single barbed-wire narrative. If you have a Twitter or Reddit account, you’ll probably love this novel exactly as much as you hate being seen by it. (If Facebook is your primary drug of choice, you might not quite get it.)

My interest was piqued when I saw that Keegan-Michael Key was going to play the title character of Stephen Mack Jones’s mystery novel August Snow in a new TV series. Key strikes me as an underrated actor, and a drama series seems like an interesting choice for him. And when I saw Nancy Pearl rave about August Snow, I decided to give the book a try. If writing about cities is your bag, you’ll probably love August Snow. The title character returns to Detroit after a while away, and his long and complicated relationship with the city immediately comes rushing back. But as Snow walks around Detroit eating good deli food and brushing up against testy cops who are none too happy to see him, you’ll likely grow a deeper respect for both the man and the city that he begrudgingly loves. The ending of the book got a little too paramilitary for my tastes—is every detective novel required to include a certain amount of macho gun worship?—but I really, desperately wanted to visit Detroit after reading August Snow, and so I think that means it’s an effective book.

Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling’s A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town (And Some Bears) is custom-made for me, being about a bunch of idiot libertarians and the single weirdest state in the union—New Hampshire. So I enjoyed the account of libertarians trying to build a utopia and failing miserably, but I can’t help but believe the narrative would be stronger as a long magazine article. 

Korean author Un-Su Kim’s novel The Plotters feels kind of like if Haruki Murakami did a cover song of a John LeCarre novel. It’s about a clan of assassins and their deep spiritual discontent, and it feels like a bunch of characters from a fun, pulpy literary novel somehow spilled into the literary fiction aisle and experienced loneliness for the very first time.

As a kid reading superhero comics in the 1980s, I was drawn to Ann Nocenti’s run on Daredevil. Frank Miller’s Daredevil run felt too mean, too forcefully cruel. But Nocenti’s Daredevil was, like me, a kid who grew up Catholic who didn’t really know what he believed. He was always questing for himself, and he was always getting the crap beaten out of him—one time, he even got clobbered by a demon-possessed vacuum cleaner. Nocenti was one of the best superhero comics writers of the 80s, and then she disappeared for a long while. I’m glad she came back to write a weird little conspiracy comic book called The Seeds, and I’m even happier that she partnered with David Aja, who is one of my favorite comics artists. Aja in this book is working in black-and-white with an eerie green highlight, which makes the spare beauty of his lines feel even more holy. It’s a kind of X-Files by way of Twin Peaks kind of thing, and it’s a gorgeous, questing kind of book—easily the best comic I read last month.

Thats All for This Month

I feel a bit more lively than I did last month. Spring feels like it’s just about to start teasing us with the prospect of better days, and after a couple months of hermitage I’m starting to see friends (from a safe social distance) again. And I did a 30-mile loop around the bottom third of Lake Washington yesterday—renewing my long-distance walk schedule is probably the single best thing I can do for my mental health . Writing-wise, I’m putting the finishing touches on one long-in-the-works comic project, and I’m just starting to think about a new comics project. I enjoy this period of possibility—putting together the rules for a fictional world in my head, to see what is and isn’t possible.

I hope you’re spending more times these days thinking about what is possible. If you’re stuck in what’s-not-possible-ville right now, please know that you’re not alone. Consider this a shoulder bump from me to you.

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