Karen is a bookseller and Author Events Co-Coordinator at Elliott Bay, and you'll also see her selling books at our events around the city. She has worked in bookstores since 1989 and in 2017 won a Seattle Arts and Lectures Prowda Literary Champions Award. She has served on numerous jury and awards panels for a variety of literary organizations, including Hedgebrook Writer's Retreat, the Washington State Book Awards, the NEA Big Read Book Review Committee, the NEA Literary Translation Fellowships, the Kiriyama Prize, and the 2016 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. Most recently, she served as judge for the 2018 National Book Award for Translated Literature panel. Favorite books? Today they are The Emperor of All Maladies and A Little Life.
Reviews & Recommendations
How free are we as Americans if we are living under a justice system that is fundamentally unfair? Bryan Stevenson, founder of Equal Justice Initiative, is an attorney who has successfully defended some of society's most vulnerable and oppressed people in landmark cases before the Supreme Court. In Just Mercy, he asks us to contemplate a system in which children, the poor, the developmentally disabled and African Americans receive the harshest punishments, including the death penalty. This book touched me and made me think about what is being done to "make America a safer place." We are not safer in a system this unjust.
Big Cat shows the ropes to his new roommate, Little Cat and they become best friends. After many years together, the Big Cat passes on and after some very lonely days, Little Cat is introduced to a newcomer and takes a new role. A sweet and sad book that can be used to help children understand and talk about loss, whether of a pet or of a beloved elder family member or friend. Not too much is said here in the very simple words and pictures but it's just enough.
What if you were compelled to destroy the very things that brought joy, purpose, meaning and comfort to your life? And then you and almost everyone else forgot them? The Memory Police is a disturbing and thought-provoking look at the effects of forgetting and of silence on our humanity. The main character is a novelist, and excerpts of the novel she's writing appear in the book. I found myself wondering which was the novel, and which the real life nightmare.
(Attention: book groups)
Reading this book was like a reawakening for me. I don't think I've ever seen such clear parallels and interconnections made between American racism, the Nazi treatment and murder of Jews and others, and the caste system in India. And I've never read such a clear and helpful analysis of the positions of immigrants and of non-Black People of Color in our American racial caste system. I think that her book will help push us past the impasse in which racism (as understood by too many to be a character deficit or moral failing) to a more thoughtful understanding of the structural nature of our problem and its connection with race as a concept connected with colonialism and especially with slavery. The timing could not be better, as more people are now moved to know more about this, and the great stories she tells along the way will also help engage people. This is such an incredible book.
National Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey has written a brave and telling account of her stepfather's systematic emotional and physical abuse and murder of her mother, a social worker. Perhaps the most chilling part of the book is the transcript of her stepfather's last phone call, discovered by the author years later. Her mother's death was preventable, but only if we continue to talk about why and how she died. She was at highest risk when leaving her abuser. She was a social worker who documented the abuse and made a careful safety plan. This was not enough to save her, especially when some of those who were trying to save her failed to follow through. Others, however, bear witness, as can we, as readers. This memoir, one of few accounts by Black or multiracial women, is devastating and essential reading.
Oh to be traveling! This lovely "collection" of lighthouses swept me into a dreamy state of mind, inviting me to revisit some of the lighthouses that I know well and making me dream of visiting the others. Part travel diary, part memoir, and part (illustrated) history, this pocket-sized volume is quiet and contemplative. Perfect for now.
In her book, Minor Feelings: an Asian American Reckoning, poet, critic and essayist Cathy Park Hong wrote:
“For as long as I could remember, I have struggled to prove myself into existence.”
For me, this line sets the tone for one of the most thoughtful and important books I’ve read in years. I had to stop for a minute, think about it for a while. Much of this book is like that--lines that you could pass by, but you can’t because you know that you are going to recognize something here that is percolating away within yourself and within our communities (and this recognition is powerful). In this book, she has raised something within us as a community and there is no turning back. She might be writing about the uncertainty of Asian Americanness as an identity or as a people, or about the revolutionary comedy of Richard Pryor or of the unknown life of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (one of the foremothers of Asian American avant guarde writing) or of the consequence of losing one’s innocence...and she writes about all of this. All this year, I’ve been saying, this book woke me up. And now, I have to live up to it. What about you?
Rebecca Solnit's most personal book is a delight to read. She, too, has a punk past and those who taught her and encouraged her intellectual development might surprise you. Written with humor, candor, and grace, and a real gift to those of us, like me, who have followed her work for many years. It's also a great book for a young woman who is just starting out in the world, to help her dream about what might be possible. Yes, that's her on the cover.
Here at Elliott Bay, we’ve had the pleasure of hosting ex-presidents, vice presidents, presidential hopefuls, and nominees. Sometimes these are campaign stops, sometimes book signings and sometimes these have just been presidential shopping trips. Books are always involved, and so it was with great pleasure that I turned to Craig Fehrman’s book, Author in Chief: The Untold Story of Our Presidents and the Books They Wrote. How was it that there had not yet been a book about presidents as authors? Turns out that there’s plenty to say --and we’re actually in the book, too. Author in Chief is a delight to read (few books like it have been described as witty and addictive, which this book certainly is).
Though Seattle’s Chinatown International District is not included in this book, which covers Chinatowns in San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, Chicago, NYC, and Vancouver, BC., the elders portrayed here have a familiar fashion sense: eclectic, thrifty, layered, and often with an exuberant nod to fashion history. We have a lot to learn from this generation, especially during a pandemic. They’ve survived much worse in many cases, and their stories (and fashion) are celebrated in these pages.
Our communities need radical voices to remind us who we are and, most importantly that our struggles for equity must involve those who are not "just like us." We need each other, sure, but how do we reach out across our differences, divisions, politics, status differences, judgments and misunderstandings? Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore's latest novel is stylish and empathetic, while not losing touch with sorrow and some well placed rage. She reaches out with love while saying those things that need to be said. Are we losing our ability to connect with each other? Mattilda will not let us forget.