What I’ve Been Writing and Reading: June 2021

I’ve been doing a lot of interviews for my comic Snelson: Comedy Is Dying this month. (You can read the first few pages of the book in a special preview over at Newsarama/GamesRadar.) I know some authors hate doing interviews, but I really like doing them. First of all, as I mentioned last month, I love talking about the amazing work all my co-creators have done on the book. And second of all, I enjoy talking to journalists, who are all responding to my work in different ways.

First, I did a print interview with Barbra Dillon of Fanbase Press that’s a great overview of the project, my teammates on the book, and what it’s all about. I also talked a little bit about why I think I’m the right person to tell this story, and whether this story is worth telling, which is something that I think about a lot.

The Comic Crusaders podcast was a lot of fun to do! The host, Al Mega, is a bundle of energy and it’s really fun to try to keep up with him. It felt like a drivetime radio interview, with rapid-fire banter and some talk about comedy and cancel culture. Al and I don’t necessarily agree about whether comedy is dying—he seems more of a believer that cancel culture is harming comedy—but I enjoyed trying to find common ground with him, and I think we succeeded.

As a daily reader and fan of comics news website The Beat, getting interviewed there kind of gives me the same butterflies that I’d get by being interviewed on the NBC Nightly NewsThis print interview with great comics journalist Joe Grunenwald is a very thorough one, and I especially appreciated that he asked me point blank about whether I think that “cancel culture” really exists. (Spoiler alert: I don’t. Read the interview for particulars.)

I talked with Martin Sexton at Geek Vibes Nation about why I write so much, and in so many different styles and genres and subjects. He had a lot of questions about all the different writing I do—politics, arts writing, economics, comics—and it was a pleasure to share what I think my broad interests have taught me about writing.

And comics journalist juggernaut Olly MacNamee at Comicon.com asked me a lot of questions about the plot, characters, and direction of the series, so if you’re looking for a preview of what’s coming in future issues of the book, this is the one for you.

I have to say, I honestly don’t know why so many authors whine about doing media tours. People want to talk to you about a thing you helped create! They want to share the thing with their audiences! They took the time to engage with your work and personalize their questions just for you! It’s possible that one day I’ll change my mind and forget to be grateful for all this, but I kind of doubt it.

I’ve been writing

For Crosscut, I wrote aboutWe Hereby Refuse, a fantastic new comic book documenting Japanese American resistance to the internment. It’s a Seattle joint, through-and-through—published by Chin Music Press in the heart of the Pike Place Market; researched, written, illustrated, and designed by Northwest artists; inspired by the Wing Luke Museum. And it does something really interesting I’ve never seen done before in a non-fiction comic—it pairs two artists who couldn’t be more different. One of them is a realistic cartoonist, and the other is a splashy expressionistic artist who highlights emotions over historical accuracy. You’d think the two styles would clash, but they work beautifully in this book.

In my Seattle Times column this month, I profiled Arundel Books, a new and used bookseller that opened across the street from the Seattle Art Museum in the 1990s and has been slowly moving down 1st Ave ever since. They just reopened in a positively gorgeous new space in Pioneer Square, on the same block that used to be home for the Elliott Bay Book Company. It’s good to see that Seattle’s OG literary district still has fight left in it.

Chipotle released a statement that because its restaurant workers were getting a raise, they would have to increase menu prices by 4 percent. A number of outlets, including the New York Times, republished those claims without any investigation. I wrote for Insider about Chipotle’s curious reluctance to mention that it gave its CEO a $24 million bonus last year, and that it’s handing over $150 million to shareholders with no strings attached right now. Weird how those two huge price tags don’t get the blame for higher menu prices, isn’t it?

Also at Insider, I wrote about the Danish millionaire who wants to raise awareness about taxing the rich and how a recent study concluded that the average American worker should be making $10 more per hour than they do right now. (That’s $400 a week! More than $22K per year!)

I’ve been reading

I listened to a couple of interesting nonfiction books on audio this month. The first, Say Nothing, was recommended by a reader of this very email newsletter. It’s a brilliant investigation by a New Yorker writer into the abduction of a mother in Northern Ireland in the 1970s. That crime becomes a lens into the Troubles, and the toll they took on the Irish people not so very long ago. This book was narrated by a man with the loveliest Irish accent, which definitely helped transport me to Ireland and helped me get into the rhythms of the story. The other book I listened to this month, How Iceland Changed the World, is similarly narrated by a man with a pleasant Icelandic accent, and that helped get me enjoy this gentle overview of Iceland’s long history and how it has interacted with the outside world. Iceland is a truly charming country that is way ahead of the United States on a number of issues including income inequality, gender equality, and quality of life. I enjoyed this zippy exploration of its history and culture.

Alison Bechdel’s The Secret to Superhuman Strength isn’t a four-quadrant hit of a graphic novel like Fun Home was, and that’s okay—I think most cartoonists only get one of those wildly relatable bestselling books in their lifetime, if they’re lucky. But I tore through this memoir, which tracks Bechdel’s many efforts to stay physically fit as she traverses the long arc of her life. She stumbles into fitness fads and becomes weirdly obsessed with certain health rituals, as we all do, even as she picks up some truly unhealthy habits along the way. I especially liked how Bechdel portrays herself in this book as a somewhat prickly, somewhat aloof figure—I came away from it liking her less as a person, which I think was perhaps her intent.

A couple of non-fiction titles didn’t do it for me this month. I had high hopes for Michael Lewis’s The Premonition—I expected The Big Short, but for the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, it felt like a bunch of profiles of public health workers smushed together, with not enough narrative compulsion to drive me forward in a meaningful way. There’s some good material here, but I’d rather have read these pieces in magazines last year. And Caitlin Doughty’s Smoke Gets In Your Eyesabout her work at a crematorium, is interesting enough, but it is largely a compliation of writing that Doughty has already done elsewhere, and it feels mechanically stitched together in the way that all nonfiction books compiled from blogs feels. I understand that books pay better, and they provide a little permanence, but I wish more authors would just accept that they’re good at short-form work and stick with that, rather than trying to squeeze everything into a cohesive narrative.

And because I’m being a little grumpy in this section today, I’ll close with a summer reading rave: I absolutely loved Andy Weir’s Project Hail MaryIn fact, I loved it even more than I loved his debut novel, The Martian, and I really enjoyed The Martian. And yes, this book’s premise sounds like a Martian retread: An astronaut wakes up from a medically induced coma on a spaceship with two dead crew mates and a case of amnesia. Can he figure out what his mission was, accomplish his goals, and make it back home safely? Weir takes a big, bold turn in this book, advancing way beyond The Martian‘s this-could-basically-be-nonfiction realism and stepping into Star Trek territory, and it pays off tremendously well. I’ll call this my favorite sci-fi book of the year so far, and declare it the book you should definitely take with you on summer vacation. It’s fun, smart, fast, and bold. I honestly don’t know what else you need in a beach book.

This year’s Longest Walk

Every year, right around the summer solstice, I pick a day to walk as much as I possibly can walk in a single day. This year’s Longest Walk day was Saturday, June 19th. I left my house in south Seattle at 4 am, walked up and across the 520 Bridge, walked down through Bellevue, over to Factoria, up and over to Newcastle, down to Renton, over to Tukwila, back up to Georgetown, and then home. Here’s a rough map of my route, which begins and ends at the Link station nearest to my house:

I got home around 7:30 pm. According to my pedometer it wound up being 93,831 steps, or 44.4 miles. I’ve walked more than that on one of my long walks before—I’ve closely circumnavigated all of Lake Washington in a single day on two separate occasions, which works out to about 52 miles. So it’s not record-breaking, but it felt like enough for me this year.

Now the next question is always: “Uh, why did you do that?”

And the answer is, I’m not sure. I really like walking long distances. I walk 12 to 20 miles every Saturday, and I like what it does to my brain. I do a lot of writing in my head on these walks, and I tend to work out problems as I go. But on these very long walks—like, over marathon length—at a certain point, I just stop thinking: I become a pair of feet, and a pair of arms swinging in the breeze. I think some people refer to it as the destruction of the ego.

I’m not a sports guy, I’m not particularly well coordinated, and I loathe running. This is one of the only ways I can test my endurance and really feel like an animal with a body that can accomplish amazing things.

Then people usually ask if I have any advice for people who’d like to try endurance walking, and I do! The best advice I’ve ever gotten for long walks like this is to bring an extra pair of shoes and socks, and change them when you hit roughly the halfway point. It’s a great way to avoid blisters, and it’s a much-needed burst of energy at just the right point of the walk.

In fact, I used this walk as a kind of Viking funeral for my trusty old pair of waterproof Brooks hiking sneakers, which I threw away in Newcastle. Then I put on my new pair of waterproof Brooks hiking sneakers and finished out the rest of the walk with very happy feet—no blisters, hurt toenails, or anything like that.

One last piece of advice: If you do decide to give a long walk a try, please don’t feel bad if you get tired and have to hop on public transit; another great thing about walking is that it’s non-competitive. You can just walk until it’s not fun for you anymore, and then you can stop.

That’s all for this month

Speaking of stopping, I feel like I’ve really run off at the mouth on this one. I hope you’re all vaccinated and getting ready to do a few normal summer things—but remember not to overdo it, too. Let’s all agree to do, like, 35 percent less than we did before the pandemic, okay? 

Okay.

—Paul

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