Thursday, March 26, 2009

Reading in Ballard, scene of a condo crime

As many of you know, I wrote extensively about the effort to "save" the Ballard Manning's/Denny's diner in Ballard. I even included a column about it in Pugetopolis. I'm still pained when I drive by the vacant site at 15th and Market today. The diner was designated a city landmark, then bulldozed. A new monstrosity is planned to replace it, a pile of condos with a tower that's supposed to suggest a lighthouse. It looks more like a modern version of Joliet prison.

But all that is new is not bad in Ballard. And one of the cool new places is the Ballard branch of the Seattle Public Library. It's a really interesting building and has more playfulness than some of the other new libraries around town that seem designed to suggest warehouse space where you might launch an ephemeral dot-com. The Ballard branch has a lot more personality than that. It's not Manning's/Denny's Googie, it doesn't have that Paul-Bunyan-meets-Polynesian-Scandinavian-stave-church-longhouse look. But it's distinctive and clearly will be, I hope, solidly defended by preservationists when Greg Nickels in his 10th consecutive mayoral term attempts to tear it down in 2041.

Anyway, my last scheduled public reading in Seattle will be at the Ballard Library next week, Tuesday, March 31 at 6:30 pm to be precise. I hope you can make it. They don't serve booze like the Swedish Club (I may ask the new city librarian to rectify that problem: why not libraries with bars to help pay for them?), but there are plenty of establishments in the neighborhood where you can get likkered up before the reading. And it should be a good venue to discuss lutefisk and other important Ballard topics, new and old.

I checked the Seattle Public library catalog and all their circulating copies of Pugetopolis are currently checked out or on hold. No worries. Ballard's Secret Garden Books will be selling copies. See you in Buh-LARD.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Berger/Egan on TV, plus a "nice" discussion

I have had a bit of a respite from Pugetopolis readings, which is a good thing. Spring may be here but my chest cough is still around. I was sick with the flu during my Town Hall debate with Tim Egan last month and the bug has been sloooow to leave. My next public reading will be March 31 at the Seattle Public Library Ballard Branch, just a lutefisk toss from the old Ballard Manning's/Denny's which is now an ugly vacant lot filled with rubble, And they said not tearing it down would blight the neighborhood!

One thing coming up for those who missed the great Town Hall discussion with Egan (or those who want to relive it again and again): the event will be shown on the Seattle Channel (cable Channel 21), the station that keeps on giving. The Berger/Egan evening will air first on March 26 at 9:20 am and again at 4 pm. And then it will be in rotation for a few days, or longer. You can find the schedule here. It is also available for online viewing at your convenience on the Seattle Channel website. It is well known that once you are on the Seattle Channel and their Website you are permanently part of Seattle's collective unconscious. That is why Maximum Leader Greg Nickels will be with us forever.

Another bit: Virginia Smyth, my editor at Seattle magazine is now blogging, and she came to my reading in Kirkland at Park Place Books. The audience there got into a great discussion about Seattle nice, whether it's a myth or not, and I shared some of the theories I've been collecting on why we locals are thought to be so standoffish once we get to know you. Anyway, she shares her thoughts here. It brings to mind a conversation I had the other day with a French journalist who is based in New York City. He's a devoted urbanist, but doesn't much like living in Manhattan. One reason, he said, was that in the 18 months he's lived there, no one he's invited to dinner has ever reciprocated. Sound familiar? He's living in nice-olation in the Big Apple.

This pokes a hole in one theory put forward at one of my readings that Seattleites are New Yorkers turned inside out. The theory goes that in New York, people are crusty on the outside, warm on the inside. In Seattle, it's just the opposite: superficial smiles and then avoidance of intimacy. Apparently, Seattle and New York have something in common. Or at the very least we have data that suggests that in Seattle, we treat all newcomers like New Yorkers treat Frenchmen!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Pugetopolis Kindled and other news

We readers are in the middle of a revolution as daily newspapers seem to be vaporizing before our eyes and new electronic forms are taking shape. Pugetopolis is now leaping from print and being Kindled. My publisher, Sasquatch Books, tells me Pugetopolis is the first book they've made available in an electronic format for Amazon's Kindle electronic reader. So it's now available for wireless delivery. I'm planning to buy a Kindle 2 (the new version) myself when I save up the money (they run about $360).

Some people have criticized Kindle and Amazon for trying to corner the market on electronic books, or undercutting the sales of rights for audio books, etc. (Kindle has a feature that will read electronic books aloud). Also, the electronic version of the book is much cheaper than the print version: $9.99, which is roughly half of the retail price of an actual book. I certainly don't want to hurt the sales of the book book. But I think being available in multiple formats is good for readers, and I know as an avid reader and book buyer myself that getting books in more ways is a good thing overall. I buy books online, I buy in independent bookstores, I read stuff for free online, I use libraries, I buy from catalogs and specialty dealers...if there is a way to get or buy a book, I will likely use that channel. I'm excited to see how the electronic version changes the perception of the book, whether or not is finds an audience in that format, and whether the ease with which books can be downloaded helps sell more books.

In other news, Pugetopolis is mentioned in the Wall Street Journal today in a story about the recession hitting Seattle.

Also, last night I had a really great reading at Park Place Books in Kirkland, with a great discussion in the audience about the dynamics between natives and newcomers and what it's like for people who move here. I got more theories on why Seattleites are particularly sociable to add to my list.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Surviving tough times in Pugetopolis

This Friday, March 13, I will be moderating a panel at City Club as part of their Environment & Sustainability series. The topic: "Tough Times in the Livable City." I'll be leading a discussion with local experts who are on the front line of re-shaping the city, and we'll be looking at what livability is and what the opportunities are for making progress even during down times. Seattle is famed for its boom-and-bust cycles, but some argue that we're at our best when times are hard. We act more locally, and with more innovation. Will the coming months prove that rule? Or is our livability somehow tied only to growth and expansion?

The panel includes: Justin Carder of the Capitol Hill Community Council, Michael McGinn, executive Director of the Seattle Great City Initiative, Denny Onslow, Chief Development officer for Harbor Properties, Michael Patten, executive director of the New Century Theatre Company, and Tony To, executive director of HomeSight of Washington. We'll try and get into some of the details about how Seattle and the region are being shaped in the years ahead.

The event is at Noon (registration at 11:30 am), at Rainier Square's Third Floor Atrium. $20 for CityClub members, $30 for the general public. It will also be taped for later broadcast by TVW and the Seattle Channel.

Also, a reminder: This week's bookstore reading will be Tuesday, March 10 at 7 pm at Kirkland's great independent Park Place Books. Hope to see you there.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Pugetopolis debate on KUOW

For those of you who missed last week's event at Town Hall, the Berger/Egan conversation about Pugetopolis will be broadcast tonight (March 5) at 8 pm on KUOW (94.9 FM). The "debate" was moderated by David Brewster before a live audience, and it gave me and New York Times writer and National Book Award-winning author Tim Egan a chance to discuss issues about how Seattle and the region are changing (or not). Both Tim and I are Seattle natives, we're friends and mutual admirers. We found some areas of disagreement to explore, but ultimately agree that our challenge is to find a way of living here that matches the place. Not easy, but our responsibility and our hope.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Regional bestseller, plus reading update

Got the word this morning that Pugetopolis has inched onto the Pacific Northwest Independent Bookstore Bestseller list for non-fiction (I'm at #12). This is exciting news. I've heard anecdotally that the book is selling well and my readings have been very well-attended, but in the book business (as I am learning) data is slow to come by. Hey, it may be a blip, but it's fun nevertheless. You can see the bestseller list (updated weekly) here. Thanks to all you readers for helping to make this happen.

A reminder: I am reading tonight at 7pm at Barnes & Noble in University Village. This will be my last Seattle reading for awhile, but I won't be going to far afield: next week (Tuesday, March 10 at 7pm) I'll be reading at Park Place Books.