What i’ve been reading and writing: July 2022

This week’s heat wave has forced the dogs and I to retreat to the one room in my house with air conditioning for 21 hours a day. Because my life right now is pretty much crammed inside these four walls, everything is feeling kinda insular and maybe a little claustrophobic. I’m also finding it pretty hard to focus, so this introduction is just going to hit a couple random points before we careen, full-speed, into this month’s update.

I traveled to Alaska earlier this month for a work trip, which was a lot of fun. Alaska is one of the few states I’d never visited, and while I stayed pretty close to the Anchorage area, I saw enough—the mountains, the mud flats, the mind-bogglingly great Anchorage Museum and the magnificent Alaska Native Heritage Center—to know that I want to return sometime. And I stayed masked in high-risk situations and managed to avoid Covid, which felt like a real triumph.

I also realize I’ve been pretty quiet on the comics front lately, but trust me when I say there is progress. The next project is moving slowly, but I’m incredibly happy with what we’re cooking up and I’m excited for you to see it. Hopefully we’ll make some solid steps forward this summer and have something to show you later this year.

In the meantime, please read Snelson: Comedy Is Dying, and also check out new work by my comics collaborators: Alan Robinson, who absolutely nailed the art on Planet of the Nerds, is doing a great job on The New Fantastic Four for Marvel Comics. Alan is not only drawing a super-cool Spider-Man, he’s also working with Peter David, who was one of my favorite comics writers back in my teens and twenties. And Fred Harper, who melted my face off with his incredible work on Snelson, has a new comic coming out soon with the estimable Stuart Moore called Highball, which is about alcoholics in spaaaaace. They’re both brilliant artists and excellent collaborators, and anything they do is worth your attention.

I’ve been reading

In the Seattle Times this month, I profiled Mercer Island’s own Island Books, a (surprisingly large) neighborhood bookstore that’s been a community lynchpin for nearly 50 years. This store has some of the best booksellers in the Pacific Northwest, and my only regret is that I didn’t have the word count to properly give all of them credit by name.

I’m also really happy with this month’s crop of Business Insider pieces; I’ve gotten to cover some of the most pressing economics issues as soon as they’ve hit the headlines. Topics include:

  • CEO pay hit record heights this year. You know what else happened? Thanks to inflation, the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour hit the lowest value an American minimum wage has held since 1966. Those two data points are absolutely connected.
  • I wrote about why the American appetite for taxing the rich has never been higher in my lifetime.
  • I explained why the Federal Reserve’s insistence on raising interest rates in fact might not solve the inflation crisis but will almost certainly immiserate millions of Americans.
  • And I unpacked the weird situation that unfolded on Twitter earlier this month when Jeff Bezos and Big Oil teamed up to dunk on an innocuous tweet President Biden wrote about gas prices. The billionaires and oil companies probably aren’t on your side, people.

I’ve been reading

I picked up Ella Baxter’s debut novel New Animal from the staff recommends section of Paper Boat Booksellers in West Seattle, and I’m so glad I did. It’s the story of a young woman who, in the wake of her mother’s death, wrestles with grief by getting involved in the BDSM scene. It’s a really interesting and funny book about control, loss, emotions, and having to sit with yourself. And it was an interesting companion for another debut novel I read this month, One’s Company by Ashley Hutson. This one is also about a young woman who wrestles with grief and trauma, but the protagonist of One’s Company wins a large lottery jackpot and spends part of her fortune building a huge temple to the sitcom Three’s Company, and then she decides to spend the rest of her life reliving classic episodes of the sitcom. Thematically, One’s Company and New Animal are very similar books but they venture in some very different directions. I do feel like the protagonists of these books would get along if they ever met, though.

I read three super-interesting nonfiction comics this month. New Yorker cartoonist Sofia Warren’s Radical: My Year with a Socialist Senator seems to have been tailored directly to my interests: it’s a journalistic comic about the nuts and bolts of what it’s like to run a state legislative campaign, and also (uh, spoiler alert) how to actually govern after you win. Featuring revealing interviews with staff and the state senator herself about the complex and frustrating process of politics, this is one of the clearer and easier-to-understand books I’ve ever read about state politics. Lewis Hancox’s YA memoir Welcome to St. Hell: My Trans Teen Misadventure is an accessible comic about growing up trans in an environment that doesn’t make any space for people who fall outside the cisgender experience. Hancox’s cartooning is deceptively simple and it reminds me of some of the best in the autobio field, including Tom Hart and James Kochalka. And Shelly Bond, Imogen Mangle, and Laura Hole’s Filth & Grammar: The Comic Book Editor’s (Secret) Handbook is the Understanding Comics of comic book editing—an explanation of what comics editors actually do. I didn’t know half of what they cover in this book, and I’ve written hundreds of pages of comics.

I mentioned in the last issue that I adored the film Everything Everywhere All at Once. A friend loaned me an anthology edited by the directors of that film, A Vast, Pointless Gyration of Radioactive Rocks and Gas in Which You Happen to Occur, and it’s a pretty special piece of art unto itself. It’s less of an anthology and more of a literary collage—an exploration of alternate universes in literature with contributions from Etgar Keret, Ted Chiang, and a classic story from Jorge Luis Borges. There’s art and small books stitched inside the larger book and it’s just a really fun experiment. This feels like the kind of book that McSweeney’s used to publish in its heyday, and I wanted to read a million more books just like it as soon as I finished.

Jon Raymond’s latest novel Denial brings the author’s usual melancholic lonely Pacific Northwestern vibe to dystopian fiction. As is typical for Raymond, the dystopia is more of the slow-moving and depressing variety. I enjoy Raymond’s quiet narratives and his beautiful spare prose a great deal, but this one didn’t move me as much as his more down-to-earth novels The Half-Life and Rain Dragon. But that could just be how I’m meeting this book—I’m so tired of living in a dystopia that the idea of spending more time in a slightly more depressing dystopia is just exhausting.

And Meet Me By the Fountain: An Inside History of the Mall, Alexandra Lange’s history of the rise and fall of the 20th century’s most popular architectural monstrosities, was just the summer book that I needed. I’ve always been fascinated by malls, and the history and psychology of shopping malls in America was a nice low-stakes subject that I could get lost in for a while. Lange’s a great and intelligent tour guide for this exploration and if, like me, you spent much of your late teens working in a mall (pour one out for Sears and Roebuck,) there’s likely a little pang of nostalgia hiding in these pages just for you.

That’s all for this month

For a number of reasons, I’m feeling pretty burnt out on the publishing industry at the moment. I’ve been reading, selling, and writing about brand-new books for the last 20+ years, and I kind of feel as though I can’t stop staring at the strings at a puppet show: Everything feels orchestrated by publicists and manicured by agents and perfectly safe and more than a little bit incestuous. The new arrivals table at my neighborhood bookstore hits me more like a burp of stale air than a refreshing breeze.

I think I might have to take a step back from the look-at-me of it all and get lost in some old books for a few months. Maybe a Steinbeck and a Highsmith I haven’t read yet, maybe some funky old 1970s sci-fi paperback by some guy I’ve never heard of before.

If you’ve got a hidden backlist classic that made your toes curl, I’d love to hear about it—anything from high art to genre trash, so long as the author isn’t currently doing a podcast reading tour or endlessly retweeting praise on Twitter. Send me an email (thisispaulconstant at gmail) with your decades-old faves and help me temporarily climb off this hamster wheel of literary inanity, please.

Take care of yourself,

Paul

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