Book shorts

Kudos Seattle Weekly senior editor Eric Scigliano, on leave since early 2000, has been busy. He's been at work on a nonfiction book and also penned the text in the recently released coffee-table book Puget Sound: Sea Between the Mountains (Graphic Arts Center Northwest, $34.95). With typical aplomb and persuasion, Scigliano's words weave in and out of breathtaking photographs of local scenes: Seattle aglow beneath an orange moon; tugboat races on Elliott Bay; children frolicking in Seattle Center's fountain; and carpets of red tulips in Skagit Valley. "Land and water are mutable qualities here," Scigliano writes. "Living surrounded by water, on land shaped by frozen water, where land and water mix and switch, we learn to live by water—or fail to learn, and move someplace else." Emily Baillargeon Russin Out of the Girl's Room and Into the Night

by Thisbe Nissen (Anchor Books, $12) IF THE BUBBLEGUM-PINK coverand girly title have you expecting a Gen-X relationship saga along the lines of The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank, think again. This collection, winner of the John Simmons Award from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, is populated by pre-adult protagonists, usually between 8 and 18, and Nissen strives to present the broadest possible range of them: Her just-out lesbians, college anorexics, and Deadhead teenage boys make a younger and more diverse group than the straight twentysomething women in Bank's stories. Manhattan-born Nissen lets her characters loose on the arterial vein connecting upper-middle-class New York to Northern California, stopping at Midwestern college towns, deserted highway gas stations, and Grateful Dead shows along the way. As surprising as their youthful gumption is their confidence: In "Flowers in the Dustbin, Poison in the Human Machine," a fourth-grader has an epiphany as complicated as any adult's; and in "Way Back When in the Time Before Now," a 15-year-old girl, whose mother is dying of cancer, discovers her best friend's brother masturbating and has the presence of mind to crawl into bed with him and demand platonic comfort. Nonetheless, their reactions ring true because their motives are so fully fleshed out, and both stories are triumphs because Nissen sets the stakes high. The problem in the weaker stories is not the characters but exactly what to do with them. "The Mushroom Girl" (an unfortunate choice to begin the collection) and "Grog" fall flat for lack of plot. The collection also periodically includes two-page, short-short stories that feel like stranded hitchhikers who just missed their ride; if Nissen, a true talent, had asked them to hop in and make themselves comfy, they could gone somewhere fast, like the best stories in this intriguing first collection. Kate Chynoweth War and Politics by Other Means: A Journalist's Memoir

by Shelby Scates (University of Washington Press, $24.95) SHELBY SCATES HAS a rare talent as a storyteller. Reading his memoir, you can imagine the two of you sitting at the kitchen table (a bottle of booze within easy reach) as he relates these tales gathered during his eventful life. Scates' stories benefit greatly from the writer's exactness; these narratives never ramble, and the details included—and the ones left out—are carefully chosen for maximum interest. Most remarkable is the noticeable forward movement to his prose, a sense that there is more good stuff coming a sentence, a paragraph, or a page ahead. And Scates seldom disappoints. As a reporter for several news services and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Scates authored first drafts of an awful lot of recent history—the Civil Rights struggle, the 1968 presidential election, the Six-Day War, the US invasion of Cambodia. Along the way, he came in contact with a host of well-known political figures—among the cast of characters: Louisiana Governor Earl Long, John and Bobby Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Orval Faubus, the best-known governor of Arkansas until Bill Clinton came along. Each provided a good story for the newspaper at the time and an even better tale for the memoir. Scates knows when to use a matter-of-fact tone. He deadpans his way through adventures such as bribing a deputy sheriff in the hope of gaining exclusive access to a murder suspect (the accused killer was shot dead by arresting officers; the cop kept the cash) and a reckless foray into Palestinian-occupied territory that could have cost him his life. Neither decision seems especially smart now, although each obviously made sense at the time. Yet he's also not afraid to be thoughtful, regularly letting loose with brilliant paragraph-long asides (my two favorites describe the ideals required to be an effective political journalist and the value of a reporter's sources). One minor caution to the reader: This is not an autobiography. Scates focuses on just the highlights of his reporting career and shares only quick glimpses of his personal life. But enough of the writer comes through in his words to make him seem like an old friend. James Bush The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee

by Paisley Rekdal (Pantheon Books, $22) BORN AND RAISED in Seattle, Paisley Rekdal makes many local references— Arboretum, Pill Hill, Jackson Street—while transporting us to the Far East in her collection of essays The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee. But wherever her destination, Rekdal's biracial identity (she is half-white and half-Asian) troubles her interlocutors like an expired passport. Describing a trip to Taipei with her mother, she calls to attention an experience most of us take for granted: "No one associates my mother and me with each other. To shopkeepers and hotel bellhops . . . we are two women traveling together, one white and one Chinese. Only when I address her as 'mom' within earshot of a Taiwanese is our situation made clear. 'Your daughter?' he or she will stammer at this revelation, then I am scrutinized." She is further scrutinized in Chonju, Korea, where she spends a difficult year as an English teacher. Korean colleagues call the tomboyish American a "hermaphrodite," question her incessantly about her sex life, and demand that she remain in school during the winter holidays. Plunged into self-examination, the author confesses, "Here, I do not know what to say or whom to talk to. . . . After living so many months in Korea . . . I want to know I am doing the right thing . . . and be the good girl who knows her place and responsibilities. Intellectually, I know this is bad for me . . . but I can't help but feel it. I am lonely, and I want this loneliness taken away." Anyone who has traveled far only to confront themselves will understand Rekdal's sense of aloneness, a fractured identity that never quite manages to feel at home. Soyon Im

 
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