September Literary Horoscopes

Aries

The Ram / Courageous, Adventurous, Independent / Domineering, Selfish, Arrogant

This month, you’ll have to fake it till you make it. Since you’re already kind of screwed—What? These tea leaves don’t lie—you could make the most of it and download that dating app. Apply to that job you’ve talked yourself out of, try that hobby you swore you’d never like. Do something adventurous.

Since you’re living up to your sign, I thought I’d live up to mine and bring you Halloween in September! (Don’cha just love me?)

  • Teaser: “The ten-foot-tall animatronic zombie had appeared on Ms. Fisk’s lawn seemingly overnight. Arthur met the garish thing at dawn when he came out to retrieve the newspaper.”

Taurus

The Bull / Loyal, Friendly, Resourceful / Self-Indulgent, Possessive, Greedy

It’s time to work it, Taurus! If there’s something special you’ve wanted to take on, now is the time to leap from that plank. You’ll be struck by a confidence boost in September, too, so don’t waste this time. 

Let’s cap off the month with some truly stellar reading:

  • Teaser: Our fathers brag about common seals / that they are still in love with. / Dad talks about a girl / who ate her mackerel raw. / It flashed between her teeth / like rose quartz.”

Gemini

The Twins / Intelligent, Adaptable, Creative / Moody, Opportunistic, Inconsistent

Don’t worry about any leftover negativity from August. You climbed those stress mountains like a pro. Even if your family hammers home some old issues, make sure you stay true to the course—i.e., your passions and beliefs—by being your creative, adaptable self. 

Reward yourself with this enthralling story. 

  • Teaser: “In the old days, men descended into the mines and picked at the walls for copper, for iron, for knuckle-sized nuggets of coal. They dug so deep that the air grew heavy and warm and then they dug deeper, following the veins of ore.”

Cancer

The Crab / Honest, Generous, Faithful / Insecure, Needy, Crabby

This year might have felt like one long day, but the grind should only get to you for the first few weeks of fall. Keep your chin up and party hardy during that night out you have planned. (By night out, we mean social distance with the best of ‘em). 

Remember: You’re awesome. You do you and you’ll be just fine. Oh, and don’t forget your monthly read! 

  • Teaser: “I met God / at the aisle between / analgesics and wound care. / I was no longer in search / for healing, so I settled / for superficial repairs.”

Leo

The Lion / Cheery, Noble, Imaginative / Demanding, Boastful, Melodramatic

Virgo might have stolen the spotlight, but good news: it’s all downhill from here! (Whoops, that was supposed to be positive.) Anyway, avoid heart-to-hearts this month and try to focus on work. Your efforts won’t go unnoticed by the bossman/bosswoman.

In the meantime, this unique story is sure to pique your interest:

  • Teaser: “So I begin to empty the house in me. I open the front door of my body—slowly, because it’s 2:33 a.m. and cells are sleeping, or being happy, or transmitting data, or whatever—and start throwing things out.”

Virgo

The Maiden / Practical, Diligent, Kind / Obsessive, Self-Righteous, Compulsive

Strut your stuff in September and ignore the haters. They’re just jealous of your file organizer and milky-gel pens (who isn’t, honestly). Besides, this month is all about you! Take the time to feed all your personal gremlins. And don’t forget to indulge in drinks, too—it’s pumpkin-spice season.

Speaking of indulgences, I handpicked this story just for you.

  • Teaser: “In the parking lot she makes out with me, her perfume a shot of intergalactic scents, I can breathe in all night. We drive around in the dark, playing her favorite music, my truck with all the glitter looks like a traveling hip-hop band.”
golden locks by narghee-la

Libra

The Scales / Compassionate, Trustworthy, Peacemaker / Disorganized, Materialistic, Indecisive

Don’t give in to the soap opera that is your life just yet. I know juicy gossip is tempting, but good things come to those who wait. Dive into the drama after the 16th and you’ll score most of your desires. Don’t pout—you’ll only get one measly thing if you leap now.

Distract yourself with this heartfelt and poignant read. 

  • Teaser: I fold the piece of paper smoothly. even though it is stained and creased and ripped from one of your old notebooks. I keep it close… For now, you are here.”

Scorpio

The Scorpion / Purposeful, Charismatic, Cunning / Aggressive, Manipulative, Possessive

Whew, your crummy weather report is over! We’re at summer’s end, which means you can gleefully welcome the crisp notes of autumn. Last month was all about dodging a few landmines. Thankfully, September looks like a time of recovery and stability. 

While you’re racking up rest days, check out your story pick for this month.

  • Teaser: A cough. He turned very carefully and looked at Sarah. She was sound asleep on her belly and breathing quietly. He lifted his head and listened and heard the cough again.”

Sagittarius

The Archer / Straightforward, Optimistic, Adventurous / Careless, Impatient, Hotheaded

You might be cast in the role of peacekeeper for this year’s production of “Skype Birthday Dinners and Family Game Nights and Possibly-Future-Holiday-Parties.” This won’t come naturally to you, so just try your best and enjoy that spiked punch. (What? You could still make punch).

But first, open this awe-inspiring read.

  • Teaser: “A toddler slouches in his pram, / fiddling with a galactic universe set. / Venus sits in another pram across him. / She notices his single dimple and points. / Mars looks up and catches her shimmering gaze and pink tutu dress.”

Capricorn

The Mountain Sea-Goat / Traditional, Responsible, Ambitious / Unforgiving, Blunt, Pessimistic

You might be feeling a little zombielike after the disaster that was August. You survived, you responsible goat, you, and now it’s time to treat yourself. Whether that means bath bombs, premium chocolate, or something in between, the start of autumn will be a time of indulgence.

Speaking of indulgences…

  • Teaser: “In the nineteenth-century Victorian house where the girls grew up, there were always at least seven ghosts.”

Aquarius

The Water-Bearer / Intellectual, Open-Minded, Outgoing / Unpredictable, Self-Conscious, Chaotic

Your ego might turn into Swiss cheese around the 10th of September. Don’t worry, though, Lady Luck will bring the cavalry at the height of the month (relief never tasted so sweet). In early September, spend your time with a few good friends.

And don’t worry: This compelling piece can help you through the roller-coaster month.

  • Teaser: A slip and a slide all the way to the dusty / bottom again. The cutting definition of geometry, of love. / The alignment of same sides, the slope of wanting more, of / never being satisfied with the bottom line.”

Pisces

The Fish / Charitable, Intuitive, Artistic / Timid, Impractical, Indolent

You entertained old relationships in August, so now it’s time to feed your intuitive, nature-loving spirit. Set aside some mental health days so you can reflect and mentally prepare yourself for holiday shenanigans. Try not to feel guilty, either! We all need downtime. 

In the meantime, this striking CNF piece is waiting in your queue.

  • Teaser: Remember how your uncle didn’t see it coming, but his secretary did. Remember. Remember how your mother told you she tried to run.”

Writers Talking About Anything but Writing: Paige Lewis

An Interview with Paige Lewis on The Simpsons, Radiohead, and Painting

Writers Talking About Anything but Writing is a series of interviews in which we ask writers to take a break from trying to document the world and just kinda chill out in it for a while.

Laura Villareal (LV)

The Simpsons has had a longstanding place in pop culture since it began running in 1989. I remember watching episodes after school as a kid while doing homework. How long have you been a fan of the show? What do you love about it?

Paige Lewis (PL)

I’ve been watching The Simpsons since as far back as I can remember. I was born in 1991—The Simpsons has been a living thing for longer than I have. It’s wild. Did your parents allow you to watch The Simpsons after school, or were you being sneaky about it? My mother didn’t want my siblings and I watching it, but she worked late, and we were brats.

I can’t speak for every Simpsons fan, but for me, The Simpsons was glorious from Season 1 through Season 10, and after that it gets sort of difficult to watch. So, when I talk about what I love, I am talking about Seasons 1-10 (and maybe a few stray episodes from Seasons 11 and 12). I love the layers of humor in the show. Like, it’s funny when you’re a kid—it’s got a lot of slapstick humor and silly phrases and faces. But then, the older you get and the more art, and literature, and music, and film you experience, the more references you understand, and the funnier the show gets. In a way, the early seasons reward you for expanding your knowledge. This also makes it possible to watch episodes over and over again without getting bored.

LV

I definitely had to be sneaky about watching it. Moms of the early 90’s were definitely anti-Bart Simpson! Maybe they were right to worry. Even years later, I find myself absentmindedly quoting episodes I haven’t seen in years. Is there a moment or a quote that you think of often?  

PL

Oh, I love that you just have quotes burned into your memory like that. I have some quotes that come up a lot in my daily life, but most are nonsense out of context—”I was saying Boo-urns.” Or “Sticking together is what good waffles do.” Or “I sleep in a racing car. Do you?”. Maybe they’re all nonsense even in context.

LV

Oh, for sure! The Simpsons seems to be everywhere. Do you have a favorite Simpsons-based memory either with the show or the brand?

PL

My husband, Kaveh Akbar, and I actually started talking because of our mutual love for The Simpsons! A few years ago, Kaveh took me to my first Simpsons trivia night in New York City. The whole trip up to NYC, Kaveh kept warning me that the trivia was really hard, that he and his friends usually only got a few questions right when they’d played, and that I shouldn’t get my hopes up. But then we got there and in the first round I got 20 out of 20 questions right! I was the king of The Simpsons!

Don’t ask me about the 2nd and 3rd round.

LV

20 out of 20 is amazing! I can’t imagine being quizzed over that many seasons of information.

PL

Oh gosh, I should have mentioned that the trivia is only about Seasons 1-10. Due to quarantine, we actually just recently played our first game of virtual Simpsons trivia with like one hundred other Simpsons nerds. It was difficult because the questions are on a timer and you lose points for every second you don’t answer. I think maybe my favorite part of Simpsons trivia is the team names everyone comes up with. Last time, we were Team Discovery Channel!

LV

That’s such a good trivia name!

Like the Simpsons, Radiohead has a cult following. It seems to be a really polarizing band. I did a little research and found a wild assortment of Radiohead content—everything from Chuck Klosterman’s Kid A conspiracy theory to heated takes on each album to a YouTube mash-up called Radiohead Albums Portrayed by The Simpsons. This might be a spicy take, but for me, I got why people liked Radiohead when I heard King of Limbs on repeat at my job in 2011. Admittedly, up until then, I had only heard “Creep” and “Karma Police.” I know KOL is one of their least popular albums but I think it’s when Radiohead’s sound began to shift towards more electronic sounds which I thought was interesting. How would you rank the albums? What’s your personal favorite?

PL

Ranking! I feel ill-equipped to rank their albums. I will say I wasn’t very interested in King of Limbs when it first came out. I love it now, but it took years before it grew on me. Maybe I needed to work somewhere where it played on repeat?

By some kind force in the universe, “Creep” was not the first song I heard by Radiohead. Growing up, I found a lot of my favorite bands through my sister, Raychel. She’s seven years older than me and introduced me to most of my favorite music, movies, art, etc. One summer, while I was still in middle school, Raychel left her huge CD collection with me. And she had a lot of Radiohead CDs. The first Radiohead album I pulled out of her CD case was Hail to the Thief, which means the first song I ever heard by Radiohead was “2+2=5”. And after that first listen, I went bonkers. I wanted to hear everything they’d ever made. I read books about Radiohead, and I’d sit for hours watching YouTube videos of their concerts on the family computer, to the displeasure of absolutely everyone else in the house. I covered my school folders in pictures of Thom Yorke, like a little creep.

I feel like I bounced back and forth between wanting to marry Thom Yorke and wanting to be Thom Yorke. Once, I saw a photo of Thom wearing a shirt with a little bottle on it, and on the bottle were the words “Presse Ne Pas Avaler” (it means something like, “Don’t Swallow the Press”). And I convinced my mom to take me to a T-shirt store in the mall and they printed the image of the bottle on a shirt for me. It looked terrible, but I was so excited to wear it to school!

So, anyway, I have a soft spot for Hail to the Thief, but I think Kid A is my actual favorite album.

LV

I love that your older sibling got you hooked! Do you still feel that desire to know everything about Radiohead? I went down a nostalgia rabbit hole recently looking through the Radiohead Public Library. It’s such a treasure trove.

PL

The Radiohead Public Library is such a gift! But I don’t get obsessed with things the way I used to. I think part of my original obsession stemmed from a fear that someone would challenge my knowledge on the band—like, “Oh, you like Radiohead? Prove it! Name five B-sides!” And this wasn’t an entirely irrational fear. I’d been asked this sort of question by boys many times whenever I claimed to like something they liked. Today, I feel much more secure in my ability to love things without an encyclopedic knowledge of those things. 

LV

How do you feel about Thom Yorke’s solo work?

PL

I really love what Thom is doing on his own. He came out with The Eraser in 2006, and after playing it probably 100,000 times, I still love it. I often listen to Thom’s solo stuff while writing. His film score for Suspiria creeps me out a little, though.

LV

How long have you been painting? I’ve seen some of your paintings on Twitter and they’re really incredible! I really loved your hand-painted Simpsons diorama.

Are you working on anything right now?

PL

I started painting in high school. My friend Erial and I would bring cheap canvas and acrylics and paint outside of a bookstore. There wasn’t much to do in Bradenton, Florida, and our painting nights were something I looked forward to every week.

Thank you so much for being kind about my Simpsons paintings. In January 2012, I made a New Year’s resolution to paint a Simpsons scene every week. Here is the only photo I have of the very first Simpsons painting I did (if you look closely you can see three Radiohead posters in the background). I didn’t keep that resolution, but I did paint a ton of Simpsons stuff for my friends and beloveds.

I’ve been a little busy with teaching lately and didn’t paint much in 2019, but I recently made a post about painting cartoon scenes for anyone willing to donate $100 to Australian wildlife organizations, so now I’m painting a lot. I’m excited that people were willing to donate, and I love seeing what moments from The Simpsons people love enough to want a painting of.

LV

Wow, that would have been about 52 paintings in a year! Are you still taking requests for paintings to support Australian wildlife organizations? And if so, where should people contact you for one?

PL

I’m still taking requests, but I’m not going to be mailing out any of the paintings until it’s safe to leave my house. So, if you really want a painting and you’re a very patient person, DM me on Twitter!

She Speaks Storms into Being

Winner of the 2018 Winter Contest.

I.

I’ll love you the only way a rotten fish could love:
by slipping my rancid silver scales

under your tongue at night, impaling my eyes
and plugging your nostrils with them. Father, I’ll give you

my skull: cracked open, a goblet forcing you to
drink my rot if you sell me to a husband.

II.

I know––you love me enough to sever your ankles
and damn them into hooves. Daughter,

you speak thunder, a queen hunting for a spire––
I will find a worthy man for you; a man

who will eat his mother’s
heart for a taste of yours.

III.

Will I spin myself a gown from brimstone; lace
my fingers through Lilith’s? Become

woman: unsalvageable, apostate
wife left to lurk among the other broken ribs?

IV.

Please––let a husband draw
the lightening from your breath before

it turns to hellfire. Could you imagine
yourself unharvested? A passion

left to storm this countryside?

V.

Yes––SHE HANGS HER HEAD ABOVE FOREST FIRES;
THICKENS HER MUCUS WITH ASH––

Yes––SHE CRACKLES, PINE FLESH BURSTING INTO
WILD LUPINE, ASPHODEL––

Yes––THE LAND REAWAKENS IN HER TEMPEST;
SHE ROAMS THE CINDERS, STEAMING––

A Review of Trans(re)lating House One by Poupeh Missaghi

Published February 4, 2020 by Coffee House Press

Trans(re)lating House One is unique in that it is not only a commentary on translating words but also on one’s ability to translate culture and experience. My main takeaway from this novel was that sometimes, it’s not about what we remember—rather, how we remember—that can have a big impact both culturally and personally. This novel is a stunning juxtaposition of different imagery and the collision of Western and Middle Eastern culture and experience. Through Trans(re)lating House One, Poupeh Missaghi seeks to reclaim stories from her culture, to question where those stories come from, and how her culture remembers them. 

The novel begins just after the 2009 election in Iran when the book’s unnamed protagonist searches for statues that have disappeared from Tehran. What starts out as a search for tangible objects, though, quickly blurs the lines of reality as it explores the depth of truth and memory. There are two narrative branches that make up the novel: her search for the missing statues and her reflection on memory, grief, and violence. Through different social hubs, in the complex setting of a bustling city, the protagonist asks herself and the reader questions that challenge our understanding of truth, history, stories, and art. The protagonist also questions how our understanding of this history changes with more reflection and retelling, and what the purpose of revisiting art and memory is:

If these deaths have already been researched and documented, why another documentation? If the stories of these bodies have already been told, why tell them again? What is it about translating them anew? (page 97)

By viewing memories as forms of translation, Trans(re)lating House One allows us to think critically about what might be lost in the fog of memory, and how memory might differ from reality. It allows us to consider the stories we may never hear, why they are silenced, and what contributes to cultural and historical erasure. The concept of historical erasure feels especially relevant nowadays, as people have to sift through the noise of media to discover the truth. We see this time and time again with communities of color who have to seek out their stories (apart from the white-washed history lessons in North America), and Indigenous communities who work to reclaim their language, culture, and traditions. 

Part of the challenge of reclaiming culture, though, is the lack of a cohesive “translation” from the “norms” that we are taught as a society—this leave us with a lack of words to even describe this loss and reclaiming. When one’s culture is looked at through the lens of another’s, a lot can get lost in translation. This novel works to depict translations across language, culture, and even gender and age. Analyzing these translations made me re-evaluate how I looked at my own bias and judgments. It made me think critically about my own memories, and the histories my culture has entrenched in its memory. It made me want to learn more about the gaps in my education and what I might not know about the history of my own country. This is a jarring but fundamentally important feeling, as cultural change is brought about by questioning the “capital-T” Truth that we grew up understanding, in favour of taking a more culturally relevant approach. 

Along this vein, Trans(re)lating House One explores the numerous avenues we can take to come up with a truth or a version of reality. Its underlying philosophy, though, seems to be that we can never capture one concrete image of someone’s story—there will always be something lost in translation. Though this is a difficult concept to wrap one’s head around, Trans(re)lating House One skillfully and thoughtfully guides readers through a self-discovery of sorts. 

The title, Trans(re)lating House One is almost a riddle in and of itself. An interesting aspect of the novel’s creation is that it started with Missaghi’s dream journals from 2011 to 2014. According to Missaghi’s interview with World Literature Today, she then put the words from these dream journals into a word cloud generator. Missaghi explains: 

The words “house” and “one” come from the word clouds. “One” appears a lot in the dream diary as an indefinite subject, but appearing in the word clouds, I read it also as “house number one,” which reflects both the family house one is born into and one’s homeland, the country that is forever the first home, whose narration is at the heart of my book.

What is refreshing about this novel is that it never attempts to answer questions for the reader; rather, it poses thought-provoking questions that prompt deep self-reflection. This book would be an excellent fit for a book club, as it promotes such insightful conversations. It’s definitely one of my favorite books of the year, and I will be thinking about it for months to come. Coffee House Press has really outdone themselves with this one. If you are looking to curl up with a good book that you won’t be able to put down, Trans(re)lating House One is a great option. 

August Literary Horoscopes

Aries

The Ram / Courageous, Adventurous, Independent / Domineering, Selfish, Arrogant

The dregs of summer will be a time of exploration for you. Don’t expect much change, though; your weather report won’t grow a smidge cloudy till September. Until then, dwell in your adventurously independent goodness. 

And spare a moment to treat yourself—you know you want to.

  • Teaser: “The bulb, fixed in a desk lamp Liz’s brother had situated on the floor, glowed eerily, naked without a lampshade, asking to be consumed.”

Taurus

The Bull / Loyal, Friendly, Resourceful / Self-Indulgent, Possessive, Greedy

Your friendly, loyalish nature will be put to the test over the next few weeks. Honestly, that says much more about the people in your life, so remember to make time for yourself. But maybe also ditch some of those mean-girl friends (Regina George doesn’t age well).

In the meantime, here is the perfect distraction for you:

  • Teaser: The ghost in your house is never as loud as the ghosts in your head.”

Gemini

The Twins / Intelligent, Adaptable, Creative / Moody, Opportunistic, Inconsistent

In August, some stress mountains are guaranteed to block your path. Stay the course and you’ll climb them in no time. Just don’t forget your safety harness (I hear the snaps can be tricky). You could also try a come-what-may attitude but, then again, sarcasm is good for the complexion.

Maybe this gorgeous read can help. 

  • Teaser: “Prehistoric maps were unfeigned, exquisitely etched in the ephemeral soil, by the dead, using sharp rocks, elegant index finger bones, and black pointed fire sticks.”

Cancer

The Crab / Honest, Generous, Faithful / Insecure, Needy, Crabby

Now that it’s Leo season, you can take a breather and happily relinquish the stage (I’m proud of you for lasting this long). In August, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to rejuvenate and dip your happy-little-toes in calm waters. 

Start by reading this unique, captivating story.

  • Teaser: “Mistakes: pl. n. 1) Something you thought that you would grow out of, like bad grammar (see also Self-Worth, measurements of). 2) The time you and your sister snorted OxyContin at a mutual friend’s house several blocks from your childhood home.”

Leo

The Lion / Cheery, Noble, Imaginative / Demanding, Boastful, Melodramatic

This month is all about you, baby! The forecast is sunny skies without a cloud in sight. Enjoy it until the universe drops you like a hot potato for Virgo. Er, until then, seize the day and party hardy! Dance on rooftops. Eat ice cream for breakfast. Chase rainbows, sing in the shower—all that jazz. 

First order of business, though: skip your chores and drink in this lovely read.

  • Teaser: “I take my earbuds out, and listen to the layers of sound. The leaves rustling. The soft chirp of chimes and the flutter of pinwheels. I hear birds going about their usual bird business. My steps and my loud breath—slowly returning to normal.”

Virgo

The Maiden / Practical, Diligent, Kind / Obsessive, Self-Righteous, Compulsive

Remember that slightly turbulent period in July? It’ll launch into DEFCON 1 by the start of August. Once you get your survival strategy down, you might want to set aside some time for hobbies or even meditation. You know, just so you don’t lose your sanity (I’m with you, friend).

Speaking of more time for hobbies, check out this collection of hypnotic poems.

  • Teaser: “Into the flow, old body. / The river rises around you. / There is a moon on your shoulders. / Take the ecstatic plunge. / Do not fear the other.”
fantasia two by narghee-la

Libra

The Scales / Compassionate, Trustworthy, Peacemaker / Disorganized, Materialistic, Indecisive

Good news, Libra! August should be similar to July, so continue the trend and treat yourself to something fun, frivolous n’ fancy. As if that isn’t enough, a new relationship might smack into your life around the 15th.

Consider this story pick an added bonus.

  • Teaser: It’s a violence of its own making, transversally bisecting her head in two, poised for what it is to come. She has a lot of hair and it requires a lot of gel. Like a dark black blade, it waits behind her.”

Scorpio

The Scorpion / Purposeful, Charismatic, Cunning / Aggressive, Manipulative, Possessive

You’re due to hit some unexpected complications this month. It could be one or two or seven. To make up for this crummy weather report, the cosmos will give you a break after the 17th. Your cunning and charismatic nature will be on full display soon enough. Keep your chin up, kiddo.

And break out this poignant read when you need a treat.

  • Sunday, by Shannon Elizabeth Hardwick
  • Teaser: Saturday evenings were for fishing, then sitting on the porch until it was dark enough to see the shooting stars in the mountain sky.”

Sagittarius

The Archer / Straightforward, Optimistic, Adventurous / Careless, Impatient, Hotheaded

Congrats, you made it to summer’s end! I wasn’t sure if you would still be in one piece (I kid, I kid). According to these tea leaves, you’ll fall into a small dip mid-October, then transform into your most fabulous self. Hey, it could happen! Start the process with a bang and make some big changes come September. 

But first, read this excellent story pick. 

  • Teaser: “She is painting petals of yolk and ivory from the left corner, color in motion kissing the floor. A tea light burns, sandalwood sifting through the room. Wax candles have replaced diyas, and postcards are now pretty greetings from cities with no memories.”

Capricorn

The Mountain Sea-Goat / Traditional, Responsible, Ambitious / Unforgiving, Blunt, Pessimistic

Uh oh, Capricorn: August probably won’t be a summer breeze for you. More bad news: Your current relationship might become more complicated than ever. Why, you may ask? It looks like the universe chose you for some oh-so-magical chaos!

When you’re not drawing the short straw, check out this innovative read.

  • Teaser: “The fungus forms a second body under your skin, shadowing your veins, wrapping around your bones. Its spongy mass smells like roses, if you slice a bit free of the host and hold it up to your nose.”

Aquarius

The Water-Bearer / Intellectual, Open-Minded, Outgoing / Unpredictable, Self-Conscious, Chaotic

In August, you’ll want to watch the clouds and lie in a puddle of sun. Honestly, summer days can have that effect on the best of us. Keep your head on your shoulders with some tough love and good ol’ fashioned discipline. You may prefer winter months, but you can still kick butt in summer/autumn.

Plus, I have a monthly story pick that’s just for you.

  • Teaser: “My grandmother housed sun-faded curtains of no particular color. She said never marry as we ate creamed crackers.”

Pisces

The Fish / Charitable, Intuitive, Artistic / Timid, Impractical, Indolent

They say life is like a box of chocolates. Well, old relationships may show up in your inbox like a box of ant-eaten, moldy chocolate. You might want to give them the finger, but some could warrant a conversation over passive-aggressive puns and “adult” lemonade. 

While you’re busting out the liqueur, I have a wonderfully penned story waiting in your queue.

  • Teaser: We have been to this gas station a thousand times. I grab two more chairs and the three of us drink beer and eat snacks. I hold Kaia’s hand and laugh and wait for the world to end.”

Summer Tea Pairings to Try Out with These Publishers

I don’t know about you, but when it starts to get warmer outside, I just love curling up in the sun with a good book. Especially since we are all spending a bit more time at home these days, it’s great to be able to travel to new worlds just by taking a trip to your bookshelf. 

My lifesaver during social distancing has been my TBR pile – and I’ve actually had a chance at making my way through it! I always brew a nice cup of tea, fluff my coziest pillows, and get ready for an adventure. Hibernation mode, engaged. Who says you need to leave the house to find new books? I’ve got you covered. And I’ll even throw in a selection of fun summer beverages to enjoy with your new reads! 

Without further ado, here is a “tasting menu” of publishers to check out this summer, and some tea pairings to go with them.

Coach House Books

Coach House Books is based in Toronto, Canada, and publishes many emerging Canadian writers. They are similar to F(r)iction in that they have an affinity for the quirky, the weird, and the niche. They publish innovative fiction, poetry, film, drama, and select nonfiction. I’ve been reading their forthcoming book The Baudelaire Fractal (check out my review hereand I have to say, it’s kept me on my toes! Coach House’s books prioritize a unique author voice, and they’re worth the read. They also just published Pop by Simina Banu, which “combines deft lyricism with visual poems for a playful romp.” Pop was fun and engaging, and a “junk food fight of poetic styles.” I’d seriously recommend it. 

Tea Pairing: Iced maple matcha, perfect for delving into the playful world of Pop

V.S. Books 

V.S. Books is an imprint of Arsenal Pulp Press. It was founded by Vivek Shraya. If you haven’t yet heard of Vivek, what are you doing with your life? Check her out! V.S. Books was created as “a mentorship and publishing opportunity for an Indigenous or Black writer, or a writer of colour, between the ages of 18-28, living in Canada.” The first novel ever released by V.S. Books was Shut Up, You’re Pretty, by Téa Mutonji. 

Tea Pairing: Vanilla chai rooibus—comforting and surprising at every sip (perfect for cozying up with Mutonji’s debut book!). 

Inhabit Media

Inhabit Media is the first Indigenous-owned independent publishing company in the Canadian Arctic. It was founded so that Inuit children could see themselves represented in books. Their mandate is to bring Arctic stories and wisdom to the world. Their “About Us” section is partially written in Inuktitut! One of their popular books is called The Origin of Day and Night

Tea Pairing: Wild blueberry! Add some sunglasses, a sunny backyard, and The Origin of Day and Night, and you’re in for a perfect evening! 

Tiny Fox Press

Tiny Fox Press is run by a quirky, fun, well-rounded publisher team that “came together wanting three things: talented writers, wonderful stories, and the entrance to Doc Noss’s lost gold mine.” Though they have not yet found that gold mine, they are publishing some great books! Uniquely, they have a military fiction genre. An example of one of these titles is Repentance by Andrew Lam. This book is a timely exploration of the lengths to which someone will go to right their family’s wrongs. 

Tea Pairing: A robust berry tea, to give the feeling of an explorer going through the woods, picking wild berries.  

Tupelo Press

Tupelo Press is an independent literary press based in North Adams, MA. The press has an impressive catalog of poetry, literary fiction, and creative nonfiction by both emerging and established writers. They recently published America That Island off the Coast of France by Jesse Lee Kercheval, a stunning collection discussing emigration, citizenship, and linguistic borders. 

Tea pairing: Chamomile. Perhaps Earl Grey, if you’re feeling adventurous. 

By way of an interesting side note, both of these teas have a lot of history, making them perfect for a book about travel and culture. Chamomile tea’s origins can be traced back to ancient Egypt, whereas Earl Grey tea, named after Earl Charles Grey, has disputed origins. No one really knows who brewed the first cup of Earl Grey tea, but its distinct quality comes from essential oils. It is based on Chinese tea but contains bergamot oil. 

Featherproof Books

Featherproof Books publishes “strange and beautiful fiction and non-fiction and post-, trans-, and inter-genre tragicomedy.” They stuck out to me as a press to explore further, because I had never come across a publisher whose mandate includes tragicomedy. A 2017 title, I’m Fine, But You Appear to Be Sinkinghas definitely earned a place on my to-read list! 

Tea pairing: Frozen raspberry tea. Trust me, this tastes like a melted slushie and I am HERE FOR IT. I’m Fine, But You Appear to Be Sinking takes you on a journey, and a nice, refreshing tea would be the perfect fit!

Hopefully, this adds some new and exciting publishers to your repertoire this summer. You’re welcome for the ever-growing TBR pile. Go get your picnic blanket, sit in the yard, and read away! Don’t forget your SPF! 

Naughty by Nurture

In celebration of the recent release of F(r)iction #16: Monsters, we bring you this monstrous read-along to intrigue and disturb…

F(r)iction #16 Monsters

Sometimes a monster is just a sympathetic antihero with a bad publicist. Take that corpse Dr. Victor Frankenstein went and galvanized back to life with science and audacity. He wasn’t a monster by nature, he was off doing good deeds—fetching firewood and saving little girls from drowning. And all he got in return was yelled at and shot and betrayed, doomed to solitude after the literal one person qualified to be his wingman backed out of the deal, turning him from “chill dude” to “violent incel” in record time.   

In the past few months, we’ve been spooked into greater caution by visual representations of ‘rona’s asymptomatic spread; horrified by thoughts of how many people we may have unknowingly infected by carelessly handling the grocer’s apples. But what if we could track not just disease, but damage? Everyone’s a villain in someone else’s story, but how many of us have been oblivious Victor Frankensteins, leaving monsters budding in our wake to become someone else’s problem? 

Help stop the spread with this list of novels featuring sympathetic antiheroes and other morally dubious characters whose slides into the ethical gray were most likely preventable—their murrrders and other bad behavior simply defensive positions adopted in order to survive or correct injustices. Maybe, just maybe, identifying what motivates these “monsters” will help us avoid creating or becoming monsters ourselves. And wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world with slightly fewer monsters in it?

Darling Rose Gold

by Stephanie Wrobel

If you’re a mother with Munchausen by proxy, you’re going to intentionally make your child sick. It’s what you do. If you’ve kept your daughter weak, dependent, and wheelchair-bound for eighteen years before being caught and incarcerated, don’t make that relationship awkward by moving in with her and her baby when you get out. She’s definitely forgiven-forgotten those unnecessary surgeries, the hair loss and isolation, the years of poison-laced puke, and has in no way been masterminding her revenge all these years, but why risk her overreacting and doing something she won’t regret? You’ve already suffered so much. 

Wuthering Heights

by Emily Brontë

When you get jilted in love, you can choose to be gracious about it or make yourself scorch-the-earth unforgettable. Relationships are complicated; one person’s “monster” is another’s “wildly romantic Byronic hero,” and long before Gone Girl, “Banished Boy” Heathcliff invented using revenge as flirtation to fight for the one who let him get away. Overhearing Cathy scoffing that she could never marry him because “ew, poor,” he huffed outta town, returning three years later flashing “How u like me now?” money at Cathy and her Mister. Then he did his hair toss, checked his nails, married into the family, and destroyed everyone except his beloved, who for sure took him back into her… confidences. 

Blacktop Wasteland

by S.A. Cosby

Jean Valjean: patron saint of patriarchs, situational ethics, and…bread, whose whole “#sorrynotsorry for feeding my kid” deal is the template for the most sympathetic of antiheroes, the everyman doing the wrong thing for the right reason where the reason is invariably “family.” A getaway driver comes out of retirement for “one last job” to provide for his family, unwittingly ripping off some emphatically unsympathetic criminals in the process. When they threaten his wife and kids, he’ll do a lot more to protect them than just drive fast. Note to baddies: when you back someone into a corner, their only way out is through you. 

My Sister, the Serial Killer

by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Enabling a monster can be just as undesirable as creating one. Although we’ve established that vengeance is an acceptable response when it comes to threats against family, every relationship has its limits. And if this is the third time your sister has killed a lover in “self-defense” and come to you for help disposing of the corpse, it might be time to confront her about her problematic behavior. Consider staging an intervention before these murdery indiscretions get out of control. As the saying goes: Dowash the bloodstains from the floor, don’t wash your hands of responsibility—if you see something, say something!   

Beijing Payback

by Daniel Nieh

It’s difficult to “accidentally” make an assassin. You can accidentally make a killer, even a serial killer if you’re ambitious, but an assassin requires some grooming. So all you have to do to avoid making one is to NOT scoop an urchin off the Beijing streets and raise him into a life of organized crime. If you’ve already done that, you can balance the situation by leaving your protégé behind, moving to the California suburbs and starting a “straight” family there, telling your birth son nothing of your criminal past. And if worlds collide after you’re dead I’m sure it’ll be just fine.

The Book of Night Women

by Marlon James

In the list of reasons why you shouldn’t own slaves, “to avoid creating an antihero,” doesn’t even make the top ten. But it’s a really long list, so it’s probably on there somewhere. Typically, the bigger the injustice = the more sympathetic the antihero = the more satisfying their revenge. Born into slavery by way of a plantation overseer’s rape of a fourteen-year-old slave girl who dies giving birth to her, Lilith is owed—and will inflict—some deeply satisfying revenge. As for “sympathetic”… well, not all antiheroes wear capes and Lilith’s not looking to be your movement’s poster child, tyvm. 

The Female of the Species

by Mindy McGinnis

Here in the afterglow of the Me Too movement, whose support empowered unprecedented numbers of survivors of sexual assault and abuse to come forward and fight for the justice they deserved, you almost want to discourage the teengirl vigilante from slaughtering the man who raped and murdered her older sister and got off on a technicality, because violence is never the blah. But a teenage girl is already nature’s most stubborn and unforgiving creature and once she’s pissed off, armed, and determined to right a few of rape culture’s wrongs, it really seems best to just stand aside and leave her to it.

She Rides Shotgun

by Jordan Harper

If you’ve been released from prison with a bounty on your head for crossing an Aryan gang, you need to go on the run. You don’t need to take your eleven-year-old daughter with you. Unless the gang already murdered her mother and stepfather before you could warn them. Then you do need to take her with you but you don’t need to teach her how to use a gun. Unless she’s also being targeted and needs protection. So “yes” to going on the lam, “yes” to learning weaponry, fighting techniques and assorted criminal skills, but no tattoos ’til she’s twelve, ‘kay? 

Confessions

by Kanae Minato

The biggest compliment a teacher can receive is that their students remember them years later, and those still alive at the end of this book will certainly never forget the lessons they learned. Because teachers also remember their students, especially the ones who have killed their only child. If anyone knows how to make a lesson sink in, it’s a teacher, and the final is going to be brutal. The low-hanging lesson here is “don’t kill people,” a piece of advice matryoshka’d inside a broader “don’t incite a mother’s wrath,” itself nestled in “don’t piss off people who are smarter than you.” Class dismissed. 

Survivor Song

by Paul Tremblay

Now for your homework: imagine a highly communicable virus (you can do it!) with a shortened incubation period; the disease spreading more rapidly than information about the disease, resulting in panic, hysteria, and misinformation; where roads become impassable as those already infected struggle to make it to already-overwhelmed hospitals and others try to flee, as the state is put under quarantine, curfews are established, individuals grow restless and resentful under restrictions…

Now imagine you’re a doctor whose best friend has come to you, pregnant, infected, and several-hours widowed. What wouldn’t you do to protect her? What takes priority: professional duty or personal loyalties? How slippery is the slope between desperation and the greater good? Are there still rules in the middle of chaos? 

Enjoy!

Booksellers Without Bosses: Left Bank Books

Businesses are usually hierarchical and authoritarian. They put turning a profit first, sometimes to the detriment of the planet and their employees. In this interview series, we’re highlighting presses and bookstores managed along horizontal lines. Some are cooperatives, while others simply reduce hierarchies in their management. By spreading out leadership and in some cases ownership of a business, these companies allow their employees to steer them into making sustainable, ethical choices that aren’t driven by profit.

Left Bank Books is an anarchist collective bookseller and publisher located in Seattle’s historic Pike Place Market. Founded in 1973, Left Bank is collectively owned and operated by its workers and has been since its inception. They are self-managed; there are no bosses or one singular owner. Left Bank hosts readings and book signings. Their zine section is also unmatched in the Seattle area.

The store has been forced to close its doors due to the coronavirus pandemic. Please consider supporting them by donating to their GoFundMe page. You can also purchase books through their webstore and request store credit at leftbank@leftbankbooks.com.

This interview is credited to the entire Left Bank Collective, rather than one member of Left Bank.

Thomas Chisholm (TC)

What does a worker-run collective actually look like? How are workers’ positions organized, do people work in a specific role until they tire of it?

Left Bank Books (LBB)

Left Bank is a bit of an amorphous entity, largely propelled forward through a combination of self-discipline and over-commitment. Maybe it’s just that we’re mostly anarchists, but we make up for a lack of formal structure with a love for the work we’re doing and the way we’re doing it.

Left Bank is organized around two tiers—a maximum of twenty volunteers, and around six or seven core collective members. Everyone is a full member of the collective and has equal power in decision making at meetings, but the core collective takes on more financial responsibilities. You can probably see that this creates an implicit hierarchy, which is something we all try to challenge as much as possible.

As for roles, they’re largely self-decided and unless there’s any conflict, people do their tasks until they tire of it.

TC

I imagine certain tasks require quite a bit of institutional knowledge, how are people trained? Are there departments? Do position changes happen in calendar cycles?

LBB

Left Bank was originally entirely volunteer-run, which is theoretically great, but in practice meant that knowledge quickly drained out of the collective. The current system of a small core of paid staff means that knowledge stays in the collective longer and gets circulated throughout the collective. Folks are generally trained by the collective members they work with, or those whose tasks they’re taking on. We don’t really have departments, as we’re a small store, and tend to spread knowledge and tasks throughout the collective based on worker interest.

TC

Do workers get benefits?

LBB

Unfortunately, no, though we do try to pass on the wholesale discounts we get on books to all collective members (as part of our responsibility towards radical self-education).

TC

How long do collective members and volunteers typically stay on for?

LBB

The minimum commitment for volunteers and the core collective is six months and two years, respectively. There’s an unwritten rule that members kick themselves out of the collective after ten years, though there’s currently no one who’s even close to that level of commitment right now.

TC

Part of Left Bank’s mission seems to be educating its volunteers on running a collective store and press. Are there any notable projects current or former members/volunteers have formed?

LBB

Yes. Detritus Books comes to mind as a recent project. Folks have also helped rebuild the University of Washington medical herb garden, become involved in labor organizing at UW, and have been a part of Sins Invalid.

TC

Have members ever been fired? Is it particularly challenging to do so?

LBB

Yes, and yes. Generally, we follow protocols around accountability processes and the only situations where members have been fired is when they have refused to undergo those accountability processes

TC

What goals does Left Bank have for itself beyond selling and publishing radical literature? There used to be a distro service and sister stores. Are there any projects coming down the pipe?

LBB

Besides acting as a radical bookstore and publisher, Left Bank is one of only two remaining radical spaces in Seattle. Functionally, this has kept it as a site for building connections within radical scenes and helped us build community stretching outside those scenes. In recent years, the store has also served as a venue when the need arises.

TC

How active is the publishing side of Left Bank Books? How often do y’all put out books and zines?

LBB

Since Detritus Books split off from Left Bank in 2017, we haven’t published any new books. That said, we do still have a publishing committee that is working on new titles.

TC

Was Detritus Books started after their split from Left Bank, or was it a part of the collective? How did it differ from the Left Bank Press?

LBB

Detritus Books formed after a collective member who was involved with publishing moved away from Seattle. They continued to be involved with Left Bank Publishing for a few years after leaving the collective as a whole, then started Detritus Books in 2017.

TC

Given the extreme cost of living rises in Seattle over the last fifteen years, do you think it’s possible for another collective like Left Bank to open its doors and sustain itself in Seattle today?

LBB

We’ve actually seen that pretty consistently not happen, though there’s a lot of utopian thought and planning going into it which is definitely admirable. 

TC

How has Left Bank been able to sustain itself for so long?

LBB

Part of it is that we do participate in capitalism and with Seattle’s growing tech and tourism industries, the store itself has benefited (its workers, not so much.) Otherwise, we’re lucky to exist in a “community” owned location that has rent control. In recent years, I think a growing interest in radical politics has played a huge role in our continued relevance and existence.

TC

In my experience living in co-ops, everything happens incredibly slowly. Is there anything about the cooperative model that inhibits Left Bank or its workers? What are the drawbacks of cooperation?

LBB

Meetings are, without a doubt, endurance tests. And consensus, even at its best—and it is very rarely at its best—can be torture. There is also always conflict between newer members—who may have more utopian views on the collective’s potential—and older members, who may be more invested in the way the store has historically functioned. Conflict can definitely be productive, but only if folks know how to have conflict, and that’s something that everyone has to work on, on their own.

TC

What advice would you give to folks interested in forming a worker-owned business?

LBB

Organize along the lines of affinity groups and as radically as you possibly can. If you’re planning for longevity, definitely leave some roadmaps and good documentation of pitfalls. And definitely try to account for mission drift—the worst thing is when a radical institution begins to fail its constituents.

July Literary Horoscopes

Aries

The Ram / Courageous, Adventurous, Independent / Domineering, Selfish, Arrogant

Try not to read too much into your productivity this month. You might feel the urge to, well, strike out. (Get it? Because you’re a ram? Okay, I’ll see myself out). Anyway, your insecurities will spike mid-July, but drive them back with some virtual friend dates. 

Your story pick could be a great distraction, too!

  • Teaser: “He turned his face the other way, toward the forest where the leaves swayed, the branches drooped in clusters to form hideous gates leading into darkness, and the fragrance of the alinyas beckoned her.”

Taurus

The Bull / Loyal, Friendly, Resourceful / Self-Indulgent, Possessive, Greedy

Whoa, I’m glad to see you made it through June! Ditch your pseudo-survival bunker and enjoy these early summer days. Maybe even go a little crazy and find a patch of sunshine—grassy meadow or sturdy fire escape will do—and soak up this gorgeous poem.

It’ll transport you to another place and time.

  • Teaser: Finger-pad stalks dance off each plastic frond / methodically, as your hand drifts / through our bedroom blinds. You stay / in time. / We collect curve against timorous bone shard / to practice our language of sound.”

Gemini

The Twins / Intelligent, Adaptable, Creative / Moody, Opportunistic, Inconsistent

Don’t look now, Gemini—a shiny new romance could be yours! I know what you’re thinking; how can you get your groove on in quarantine? Well, these tea leaves don’t lie. Look for it around the end of the month, when you’ll be extra creative and witty. Pro tip: Tone down your atomic levels of snark (…at least till the third date).

In the meantime, I have just the thing for you:

  • Teaser: “I saw the other me at the airport. We were waiting for the same plane, both of us halfway home.”

Cancer

The Crab / Honest, Generous, Faithful / Insecure, Needy, Crabby

Finally, it’s crab season! Leo will steal the spotlight in July, but until then, this grand stage is all yours. I know adorable crabs like yourself tend to hide under shells (heh). Try to show off a little, though. Pursue a dream you’ve been thinking about; don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, even if that translates to a virtual platform. 

This utterly fantastic story will be your reward. 

  • Teaser: “As she walks toward the water, I take in the long line of her back. Those wings are as long as she is tall, so black they almost shine blue. I smile and go over to meet her, sidling up against her side to wait for the waves to roll in, for the cold water to slip over our feet.”

Leo

The Lion / Cheery, Noble, Imaginative / Demanding, Boastful, Melodramatic

An opportunity may slip by at the height of the month. Try not to let it get you down or set off those melodramatic tendencies. Instead, turn that energy outward and help some loved ones. Your cheery nature is a superpower, so get sharin’! 

When you need a break, though, here’s a story pick that’s just for you: 

  • Teaser: “When your husband leaves for work every day, you sit on the balcony and study the schoolgirls with slick black hair in tight plaits as they walk by. The fisherwomen shout the prices, and you crave the pomfret your mother cooked for you as a child.”

Virgo

The Maiden / Practical, Diligent, Kind / Obsessive, Self-Righteous, Compulsive

Oh, Virgo, you may be put through the wringer this month. Take extra care at the start of July—you’ll be vulnerable to all kinds of jabs—and avoid your “witty” colleague like they’re going out of style. Remember to take care of yourself. Say it with me: Self-care isn’t selfish. 

In the meantime, let’s distract you with some good reading:

  • Tide, by Mandira Pattnaik
  • Teaser: We marvel at the hypocrisy of the waves—gnawing away at our barely-standing home, but never quite gobbling it. Ena and I sit by the broken table, on the floor, the corners of which are encroached by drifted sand and watch a dinghy being cradled.”
pierrot by narghee-la

Libra

The Scales / Compassionate, Trustworthy, Peacemaker / Disorganized, Materialistic, Indecisive

June may have been a tad boring, but July is looking up! New money is headed your way this month. Remember to put some of it in the bank for future travel plans—a.k.a. beaches with rainbow-colored margaritas—and party like it’s 1999. You know, in your living room.

Here’s some reading to dry your tears. Erm, I mean to get you started:

  • Teaser: Nestled inside were five tiny tubes that shone peach, clear, red, green, and pink, their labels facing outward: Apocalyptic Sunshine, Secret Agenda, Lady Sinful, Vintage Disaster, and… The fifth name was obscured; Candice turned the bottle. Strawberry Fizzpop.”

Scorpio

The Scorpion / Purposeful, Charismatic, Cunning / Aggressive, Manipulative, Possessive

These past few months have been full of ups and downs for you (talk about whiplash). In the summer, you might want to make some time for you. It’s oh so tempting to stay in your Netflix pants—who isn’t tempted, honestly?—but now is a good time for new projects and hobbies. 

…Or you could stay on the couch and read this story pick. Hey, I’m not judging.

  • Teaser: We did not fuse into a thousand-headed anomaly, perhaps that’s the thing: we did not fuse at all. There are many ways to fragment. A metamorphosis of loss, of rupture and sudden space—an opening.”

Sagittarius

The Archer / Straightforward, Optimistic, Adventurous / Careless, Impatient, Hotheaded

Alright, so your best months haven’t hit yet. Summer will still be the bee’s knees for you (fall might be even better!). If these tea leaves are right, July should be a middle-road kind of month for you. Like June, every day won’t feel like a Monday morning, but they won’t have that Saturday buzz, either. 

Escape the monotony with your compelling story pick for July:

  • Teaser: “The paper-doll women stand with their legs together and their arms bent at the elbows. They are thin from one side and thinner from the other, and their faces are set in a pleasant, close-mouthed expression that never changes.”

Capricorn

The Mountain Sea-Goat / Traditional, Responsible, Ambitious / Unforgiving, Blunt, Pessimistic

Good news, Capricorn! Your health issues should clear up in July. Go outside and enjoy some fresh air and sunshine any way you can (safely, of course). Life is short, so it’s good to stop and smell the roses. Eat that extra slice of cake. Bask in the moment. 

Start by seizing the day with this bold and unique read.

  • Teaser: “There would be a child—there was already a child quickening in the bride’s belly; that much was obvious by the angles of the cuts, the swell of the muscles by the shoulder blades—but that child would be the end of them.”

Aquarius

The Water-Bearer / Intellectual, Open-Minded, Outgoing / Unpredictable, Self-Conscious, Chaotic

Guess what, Aquarius? It’s time to bust out your summery clothes and change those sheets (bonus points if they have cartoon characters). This month will be all about fun and frivolity, which has to be a welcome change after that doozy of a spring. Embrace the season as early as you want, you heat junkie you.

First things first: Check out your monthly story pick.

  • Teaser: “He didn’t look at me as he sped from fairgrounds to home, our city glass house in a row of glass cut-out, glass-blown houses. People peeked out of windows pulling back silly curtains without offering help.”

Pisces

The Fish / Charitable, Intuitive, Artistic / Timid, Impractical, Indolent

Toward the beginning of the month, quarantine fever might make a comeback, but don’t let those four walls keep you caged. If last month was all about work progress, then July is your time to shine in the family/friend department. Schedule a few Skype calls and try a virtual movie party or game night.

In your downtime, I have a spellbinding read for you.

  • Teaser: “You walk to the border between this world and that, stand in the tangled underbrush, and peer between the gap in the ancient redwood trees.”

Booksellers Without Bosses: People’s Co-op Bookstore

Businesses are usually hierarchical and authoritarian. They put turning a profit first, sometimes to the detriment of the planet and their employees. In this interview series, we’re highlighting presses and bookstores managed along horizontal lines. Some are cooperatives, while others simply reduce hierarchies in their management. By spreading out leadership and in some cases ownership of a business, these companies allow their employees to steer them into making sustainable, ethical choices that aren’t driven by profit.

Established in 1945, the People’s Co-op Bookstore is a member-owned bookshop in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The People’s Co-op has a long and haggard history. They’ve moved locations and almost shut their doors for good on multiple occasions in the last seventy-five years.

Like many businesses at this time, their doors have closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Though a store as resilient as the People’s Co-op will surely reopen for business soon.

This interview was conducted with Rolf Maurer, the board of directors’ chairperson at the time this interview took place. The opinions he expresses are his own and do not represent the entire perspective of The People’s Co-op.

Thomas Chisholm (TC)

Is The People’s Co-op Bookstore a worker-owned co-op?

Rolf Maurer (RM)

No, it’s what’s usually called a consumer’s co-op. Anyone can become a member of the co-op by buying twenty-five shares.

TC

How would you describe its cooperative structure?

RM

This is pretty much set out by law (the Co-operative Association Act) here in BC, which has a long history of co-operatives in a lot of different areas. Members get together at general meetings to set general directions and choose a governing board, which in turn hires or appoints individuals responsible for keeping the doors open and the lights on.

TC

How many people does The People’s Co-op employ? Are volunteers a part of the staff?

RM

We’re generally able to afford one part-time paid staff person at the moment and are otherwise dependent upon volunteers.

TC

How does the management structure differ from a traditional business?

RM

In a narrow, technical sense, it doesn’t, as intended by the governing legislation. Theoretically, professional management is responsible to a board of directors appointed by members at general meetings. The main technical difference is between one-dollar-one-vote, in normal share capitalism, and one-member-one-vote in (effectively) co-operative capitalism. But the repercussions of that difference are far-reaching. In our instance, the co-op structure made it possible, back in 2009, for the membership to turn aside the then management’s proposal to close the store.

TC

The People’s Co-op Bookstore has gone through a number of personnel, location, and financial changes in its almost seventy-five-year history. The store has almost closed for good on multiple occasions, as recent as 2018. Is the store on steady ground again?

RM

Nope. The store’s future is still somewhat precarious and probably will be for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, this is the nature of bookselling and commercial-rent paying in the modern age.

TC

How has The People’s Co-op sustained itself for long? What has made it so adaptable to changing conditions?

RM

There’s a two-part answer to the first question. The store was founded by a broad coalition of trade unionists, communists, social democrats, unitarians, activists, as well as ordinary citizens. And was thus established on a broad basis that served the co-op well even during its extended decline when it was de facto controlled by the local communist party. 

But the second part of the answer is probably the cooperative structure we’ve been talking about. Because it wasn’t always about the money, but about some underlying purpose—operating this bookstore that offered something the other bookstores in town were not. The co-op’s open membership structure was able to respond differently to conditions than a more traditional ownership structure might have.

TC

In my experience living in co-ops, everything happens incredibly slowly. Is there anything about the cooperative model that inhibits The People’s Co-op or individual workers? What are the drawbacks of cooperation?

RM

Ah, yes. That can be true. A few years/boards [of directors] ago, we used to amuse ourselves at the expense of previous boards that spent years and years discussing the possibility of a new store sign, before another board finally ended up doing something about it. Surely, some future board will make fun of this current one for taking up literal years of talking about painting this place, while leaving it untouched the whole time.

TC

What advice would you give to folks interested in forming a cooperative bookstore?

RM

Embrace used books and use your status as a co-operative to solicit donations of used books (you will, in fact, be providing the community with a valuable service). Embrace BOOKS, period, and don’t waste a lot of time considering all the other things a bookstore might be: coffee bar, performance space, gift emporium, mail drop, whatever. And, by all means, go ahead and draw up careful plans about exactly what kind of bookstore you want to have, but be prepared to adjust according to your actual experience.  Listen carefully to what The People are telling you. Abandon preconceptions all you who enter here. 

Booksellers Without Bosses: PM Press

Businesses are usually hierarchical and authoritarian. They put turning a profit first, sometimes to the detriment of the planet and their employees. In this interview series, we’re highlighting presses and bookstores managed along horizontal lines. Some are cooperatives, while others simply reduce hierarchies in their management. By spreading out leadership and in some cases ownership of a business, these companies allow their employees to steer them into making sustainable, ethical choices that aren’t driven by profit.

Founded in 2007 by a small group of people with decades of publishing, media, and organizing experience, PM Press is an independent publisher of radical literature. PM is primarily based in the San Francisco Bay Area, though many of their workers are remote.

Like many small businesses, PM could use your support as COVID-19 grinds the economy to a halt. Consider purchasing some books from their webstore, or becoming a Friend of PM.

This interview was conducted with Joey Paxman from PM Press. The opinions he expresses are his own and do not represent the entire perspective of PM Press.

Thomas Chisholm (TC)

When we spoke at AWP, you mentioned that PM Press is not exclusively an anarchist press. I wouldn’t have noticed that looking in from the outside. What types of writing are y’all open to publishing?

Joey Paxman (JP)

PM has published across the left-wing spectrum. We have authors who are anarchists, Marxists, and even liberals. Some think voting in an election is a total sham; others think that more lefty radicals should run for office. From Understanding Jim Crow to Bodies and Barriers,the books we’ve published are quite varied and diverse. We have a science-fiction novella written by a trans woman and crime-noir novel written by a Vietnam veteran. We have books that analyze the history of UK punk and a forthcoming title by Richard Manning that, among other things, explores the roots of so-called Americana music. 

TC

Did PM Press start in living rooms and garages? Is there any formal office space today?

JP

PM did indeed start out in living rooms and garages. God, what a nightmare it was when our warehouse was literally Dan’s house in East Oakland! You’d walk through his front door and it was like a goddamned corn maze of boxes in there! You had to play “Marco Polo” just to find Dan hidden somewhere between stacks of books. Luckily, we have a real warehouse now.

In the last thirteen years, PM Press has spread throughout North America and the UK. We now have offices with our full-time staff from the Pacific coast through the Rockies, into New England, Montreal, and beyond. So, by necessity, we don’t have a central office space where everyone clocks in.

TC

How is the management of PM Press organized? In what ways is it different from a typical top-down business model?

JP

This is a question that we receive quite often and most folks seem genuinely disappointed to hear that we don’t actually operate as a formal collective—in the sense that we don’t practice a formal collective process.

First of all, as mentioned above, we all work remotely. Basically, we are all adults at PM Press and we try to make adult decisions based on mutual respect and an understanding of what will work best for us, both as a publishing company and as individuals.

We don’t have a formal management structure. But the work we all do inevitably intersects at some point, which creates a situation where we all kind of hold each other responsible. For example, if I drop the ball on something that I’m responsible for during the production process then it’ll more than likely hold up something that another PM staffer is meant to be working on. They might give me a nudge to get my work done so that they can, in turn, get their work done.

I think it’s a more “human” approach than your typical top-down business model where you have a manager breathing down your neck. Though it should be acknowledged that this is hardly a profound approach. I mean, much of society actually operates in this fundamentally anarchistic way. Pay attention to your daily interactions. The majority of our lives are spent voluntarily cooperating with other humans.

TC

What about this model suits the needs of those employed by PM Press?

JP

I really can’t speak for everyone at PM Press. No matter what I say someone at PM will roll their eyes (and rightly so). So, speaking strictly for myself, this model allows me to retain a functional life outside of work. Much has been said about the soul-sucking nine-to-five grind. I like that my fellow PM Press cohort can trust that I’m giving 100 percent while I work remotely from the furthest reaches of the Rocky Mountain west. We don’t have to have weekly “consensus” meetings to decide on every painstakingly-tedious aspect of running the company because we trust each other.

TC

Are there defined positions for the PM staff? How would someone switch jobs if they tired of their role over time?

JP

There are defined positions at PM Press, though concrete definitions remain elusive at best. Everyone at PM Press plays a very dynamic role in the day-to-day operations. There does not exist any college degree or formal training program that could prepare you to work at PM Press. Aside from a passion for books, ideas, and a working knowledge of radical Left politics, there are countless other skills (or attitudes) required for working at PM. Can you travel? With the complete collapse of the book trade there simply are not many physical spaces where books are sold (i.e. actual bookstores!), so we are forced to set up shop at places like book fairs, music concerts, and conferences to sell our books one at a time, face-to-face. Do you have thick skin? Everyone’s a critic! Are you self-motivated, self-reliant, self-organized, etc.?

A complete switch in jobs isn’t necessarily possible since we operate as a skeleton crew. With that said, there are actually endless variations within each position. It’s a dynamic job and positions are, more or less, ever changing.

We have a warehouse manager who basically takes care of damn near everything related to shipping (which is so much MORE than just filling online and catalog orders). We have copyeditors/proofreaders. We have a fulltime publicist/web coordinator and a fulltime events coordinator. There are a few of us who mainly work as editors or book production managers. And, as I said, we all pitch in on a countless amount of other activities.

TC

With job positions at PM being fairly static (yet elusively so), does that mean they can be exclusive? For example, if the warehouse person has a great idea for design and layout (and the know how to pull it off) would they be allowed to take that kind of project on, or is that stepping too much on someone else’s toes? 

JP

Jobs are not exclusive at PM. Your example is kind of funny because it just so happens that our warehouse person has designed almost half of our T-shirts! So, yeah, there can actually be lots of crossover at PM.

TC

I was reflecting on your thoughts about the book trade. Specifically, how PM has made most of its sales in person at events like book fairs and conferences. As someone working for a journal always in need of more readers, what are the logistics of getting books to events? You mentioned PM’s good fortune in having dedicated volunteers or staffers table events all over the country. Does that mean the warehouse person has to ship a bunch of boxes of books to a volunteer on the opposite side of the country and then that person ship back what they don’t sell? I’d love to table events for F(r)iction, but they may not yet have the capacity for shipping things like that.

JP

Getting books to events is quite a task but we’ve more or less figured out a doable system. First of all, our full-time PM staff is spread throughout the country and whenever possible we try to choose events within driving distance so that we don’t have to ship stock beforehand (we all generally keep some tabling stock in our respective garages).

But if a flight is required, or a volunteer is staffing the PM table, we either have books shipped from our distributor (Independent Publishers Group in Chicago) or our warehouse in Oakland. The unsold materials must then be shipped back at some point. Of course, shipping materials can be costly. So this kind of leads us to some big questions: how to choose conferences and book fairs worth attending. Or, what is our “goal” or “purpose” for attending a conference? Are our goals financial, political? We’re constantly weighing the pros and cons of every conference we choose to attend.

And sometimes high on that list of considerations is whether or not we can actually break even financially (which includes the high cost of shipping our materials). Frankly, there are very few, if any, events each year where we turn a bona fide profit. But there are less tangible benefits too. Like meeting new authors and bookstore owners, getting a face-to-face dialogue with customers, and just a general engagement with the rest of the book trade. Sometimes we think that it’s important to simply have our books (and the ideas contained therein) on display at a certain event. 

TC

How many people make up the PM Press staff? Does PM hire freelance editors? Do volunteers make up any of the staff?

JP

We currently have ten people who work full time at PM Press. We work with freelance editors on an as-needed basis. Freelance editors such as Terry Bisson are absolutely indispensable to PM Press! One of the major obstacles to hiring freelance editors is that we simply do not have the resources (i.e. the dough!) to do so regularly.

Finding volunteers is quite difficult since we do not have a central office where volunteers can just show up and get plugged in. We do have a number of folks who generously volunteer their time to sell our books at a variety of events.

TC

How has PM Press sustained itself for thirteen years?

JP

Believe it or not, we somewhat know what we’re doing. Financially speaking, it’s been our willingness to keep showing up. The greater book trade is dead. Period. And so we just keep showing up anywhere and everywhere. As I said above, we have sold millions of books often one at a time, face-to-face. Otherwise, we’ve sustained the operation because we believe in what we are doing and therefore keep chuggin’ along.

Another important aspect of financial stability has been our Friends of PM (Book Club). It’s a subscription type of deal where you can pay a small monthly fee and have all of our new releases shipped to your front door each month. We have hundreds of subscribers and their monies help give us a stable platform from which we can operate.

TC

Twice now you’ve mentioned that the greater book trade is dead. Would you mind elaborating a bit on what killed it and when? As a follow up to that, I’m also curious about marketing at PM. I think we live in this mythical golden age of marketing because social media dominates so much of our culture. In the death of the greater book trade, does social media and web marketing help sell books at PM?

JP

Your question about the book trade being dead is incredibly complicated and an entire volume could be written. I hesitate to give a simplistic answer since many will inevitably poke holes in my thin argument. The current decline of the book trade really started about thirty years ago. It’s incredibly complicated and multifaceted. I think one thing we can all agree on is that people simply do not read anymore. But there are also countless factors that make the book trade incompatible with capitalist economics. And everyone has quickly figured out that Amazon doesn’t merely “dominate” the book trade; Amazon is the book trade!

In terms of social media and web marketing, both are definitely an important aspect of bookselling these days since there are precious few bookstores still in operation. But the majority of our books are still being sold in-person. The big, dark secret in the ENTIRE book trade is that nobody really knows how to sell a book these days. And nobody can accurately predict best-sellers. We’re all groping in the dark.

TC

Since PM’s founding, has there been any turn over in the staff? If so, how are new people hired?

JP

Believe it or not, the answer is no. There hasn’t actually been any turnover when it comes to our fulltime-core staff. PM has hired new folks as we grow and this usually comes from knowing the person on both a personal and professional level. As I said above, there isn’t any sort of college degree that could prep you for working at PM Press so hiring new people can be a real challenge.

TC

Is there a process for firing someone?

JP

We don’t have a process for firing someone. Oops!

TC

What advice would you give to folks wanting to start a press or work in the publishing industry? Does it make sense to do one before the other?

JP

You know, I guess it depends on what you’re trying to do. Are you starting a vanity press that will publish one or two books a year? Or a poetry press with monthly releases? Do you seek a full-time staff that will be paid a reasonable salary? Or is this just something to do on the side as a hobby?

Before starting your own press I would highly encourage you to first work within the publishing industry to learn how it operates. The trouble, of course, is that many opportunities for a paid gig in publishing do not exist anymore. So you might try for an internship or a volunteer gig first and see where that leads.

TC

What goals or benchmarks is the press currently aspiring towards?

JP

Total domination of the book trade of course!

June Literary Horoscopes

Aries

The Ram / Courageous, Adventurous, Independent / Domineering, Selfish, Arrogant

I have good and not-so-great news for you this month. Let’s call it “good adjacent.” The first half of the month will be rough, but after June 16th, it’ll be smooth sailing without a cloud in sight. Until then, step up your game with some gal-pal dates of the Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime variety. 

Don’t forget your story pick for June, either!

  • Teaser: “It was of a tree in winter, bare branches stretching towards the sky in something like supplication. So many freezing days in the forest trying to capture the light between the branches, the yearning in their stretch and reach.”

Taurus

The Bull / Loyal, Friendly, Resourceful / Self-Indulgent, Possessive, Greedy

Sorry, Taurus. It’s time to confront some demons you’ve been dodging (tsk, tsk). Whether they’re in your personal or professional life, you need to face the music and curb your tendency to, well, self-indulge. We all hate confrontation, but still—you’re not getting out of this one.

To make up for the cloudy horoscope, check out this gorgeously written story: 

  • Teaser: “The tail of a fish flows seamlessly into the torso of a young woman, her arms threaded through mangrove roots. Her long, black hair, slimy with algae and the waste of birds that had roosted above her, is tangled in the branches.”

Gemini

The Twins / Intelligent, Adaptable, Creative / Moody, Opportunistic, Inconsistent

I probably don’t need to tell you this, you opportunistic scene-stealer—I say that with love—but June is your month to shine! After a messy spring, you’re going to feel like a rock star over the summer. Razzle and dazzle them, darling. Put that creative mind to good use and go after what you want.

Treat yourself with this poem that lingers:

  • Teaser: “What is it makes us want / to hold a big wet heart / that just stopped beating?”

Cancer

The Crab / Honest, Generous, Faithful / Insecure, Needy, Crabby

The daily grind might get to you within the first few weeks of June. Keep your chin up and remember that your time will come later in the month. So, party hardy with some good ol’ nesting at home (c’mon, you were going to do that anyway). In your shell, try to stay inspired with some creative exercises.

Speaking of inspiration, here’s your supernatural story pick for June: 

  • Teaser: “Across the room was the warm-smiled woman who served me – us – years ago, looking just the same. Two lifetimes it’s been, and I look three times older.”

Leo

The Lion / Cheery, Noble, Imaginative / Demanding, Boastful, Melodramatic

You might have felt like a work zombie this past month, but June will be all about rest and relaxation! So order your favorite dessert, start a Netflix marathon, and step into your softest pair of sweats. Keep doing you till your favorite holiday rolls around. After all, those fireworks won’t set themselves.

First thing’s first, though: Check out the latest from Menacing Hedge.

  • Teaser: “He’d lost all sense of time, and didn’t know how long he’d been hanging upside down. He didn’t wear a watch. A car drove by. He could hear it but not see it. They didn’t stop.”

Virgo

The Maiden / Practical, Diligent, Kind / Obsessive, Self-Righteous, Compulsive

Kudos on all that yoga and meditation you did in May (wink, wink). Now that you’ve given your future some serious thought, it’s time to dip your toes back into the present. Catch up with friends or family however you can—social distancing and masks, people—before treating yourself to something sweet, shiny, or stylish. 

Consider this insightful story pick an added bonus.

  • Teaser: “We dropped in an upstairs bedroom with walls covered in green and blue tapestries as bongs, blunts, and bowls were passed round and round and round. We half-knew everyone in the room, and they knew us collectively as the Bolanos twins.”
moon by narghee-la

Libra

The Scales / Compassionate, Trustworthy, Peacemaker / Disorganized, Materialistic, Indecisive

June will be a tedious month of boredom for you. Try to distract yourself with a new book or passion project. You could also remedy this ennui with a classic upper: retail therapy! This deliciously bad habit could support local businesses, too. 

For your story pick, we’re boarding a rocket ship to the past. Check out this downright lovely experimental piece:

  • Teaser: “take time out of worrying about things that aren’t written in the stars to daydream about your / favourite childhood memories. the good ones. like the time you were fishing in the creek with your dad.”

Scorpio

The Scorpion / Purposeful, Charismatic, Cunning / Aggressive, Manipulative, Possessive

No spoilers or anything, but you’re about to hit some hills in the romance department. Try to stabilize one of your relationships by examining the foundation. In the end, maybe you’ll need to rip out the carpet and lay some tile. Or spring for hardwood floors—I hear cherry oak is nice.

When you need to zone, I have the perfect treat for you.

  • Teaser: “Most people don’t wish their house had burned down, but Ralph Herbertson did.”

Sagittarius

The Archer / Straightforward, Optimistic, Adventurous / Careless, Impatient, Hotheaded

Last month was all about romance and Skype dates. June won’t be quite as fruitful, but it won’t slap you with any downers, either. Embrace the start of summer and reflect on your goals for the fall. I might be biased, but I have a feeling we’re about to hit your best months yet.

Celebrate with this engrossing read. It’ll grab you from the first line, satisfaction guaranteed. 

  • Teaser: “The synchronization of words unspoken. The facial expressions, the twinkling in their eyes, the engagement of limbs, legs, lips, and satiation of food, wine, and cigarettes spoke volumes to anyone who observed their intimacy.”

Capricorn

The Mountain Sea-Goat / Traditional, Responsible, Ambitious / Unforgiving, Blunt, Pessimistic

May was all about embracing your inner wild child. I knew you had one, deep down (deep, deep down). You’ll need to think of June as “opposite day.” In other words, put on that responsibility cap, and prepare for a few clouds. Your personal life is safe, but your professional one could use a little polish. 

Don’t miss your story pick, though. X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine has served another great dish:

  • Teaser: “Hannah and her husband married on the edge of a river, fifty feet from the spot they’d chosen, and neither one of them noticed they were in the wrong place.”

Aquarius

The Water-Bearer / Intellectual, Open-Minded, Outgoing / Unpredictable, Self-Conscious, Chaotic

Last month, your quarantine fever reached new heights. You’ll feel much happier and calmer in June. Soak up as much sunshine as you can, whether that means a window garden or a daily walk (check your area’s regulations, first!). 

Before you hit the pavement, though, crack open this truly unique read.

  • Teaser: “The sun is in a black mood today: / a viscous coal corona / extending this way and that.”

Pisces

The Fish / Charitable, Intuitive, Artistic / Timid, Impractical, Indolent

Don’t worry about any backhanded compliments you might hear in your social circle. After all, you’re fluent in sarcasm and burns. Plus, you’ll be rewarded for good behavior around the middle of the month. Not only will you have a breakthrough with your boss, but that latest hobby? You’re going to knock it out of the park. 

Speaking of slam dunks, pull up this incredible story pick:

  • Teaser: “The constant exposure to honey had loosened her skin so much it resembled a damp sponge, and when she flexed her muscles, streams of honey oozed out of her limbs until she retched at the sweetness.”