Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Mossback bites, and other revelations

A couple of interesting new pieces about Pugetopolis are worth noting. Joel Connelly, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's legendary political columnist, takes some whacks at Mossback for being a critical of the region's growth patterns in an economic downturn, a time when we need to do something, anything, to get the region moving again. "The Pugetopolis lately seems like a Gulliver tied down by strings of naysayers," he intones. The strings, Connelly alleges, are our dysfunctional political process.

In my book, I explain some of the origins of this process, and as a citizen of the region I have by turns been frustrated and relieved that we are as dysfunctional as we are. We have often been saved by our "dysfunction," as when we pulled the plug on the Green Line monorail project, the R.H. Thomson Expressway and Greg Nickels' waterfront tunnel. But I have been dismayed by the process when it leaves us unable to clean up Puget Sound, which is steadily sliding toward Dead Sea status. I explain in the book about our secret yearnings for a "strongman" to lead us, and why this is not the answer. I am dubious about a centralized authority controlling the region. If that skepticism makes me a Lilliputian, so be it.

Another is a review of the book by Barbara McMichael which appeared in The Daily Olympian. She finds Pugetopolis relevant for regional readers: "Even though the book is unabashedly Seattle-centric, there are lessons for those of us who live further afield. For how can any of us not be affected by the elephant in the room — which, in this case, is the city on Elliott Bay?" I have found strong interest in the book outside Seattle and in the opening essay, "Pugetopolis Unbound," try to get at where some of the regional rivalries come from--the dynamic of regional competition that still lives after more than 150 years.

Seattle may be the big elephant, but the region hasn't bowed down to Seattle quite yet. McMichaels notes that the book has bite to it: "Berger," she writes, "has been keeping his finger on the pulse of Seattle for a couple of decades now, and he's been making regular diagnoses of the city's ills with acuity and biting humor. His stuff is great fun to read — so long as you're not in the punch line."

Monday, January 26, 2009

New readings and reviews

There have been some additions to the Pugetopolis schedule. First, a reminder that I am reading this Tuesday night, Jan. 27 at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park.

Added to the schedule: A Happy Hour reading at the Swedish Cultural Center in Seattle on Friday, Feb. 20th at 7pm. Happy hour means, of course, there will be booze and if you haven't seen the view of Seattle from the bar at Swedish Cultural Center, it's worth the trip. This should be interesting because my Norwegian grandfather would likely roll over in his grave at the thought of my visiting Swedish territory. On the other hand, the offer of liquor would appeal...

Also a schedule change: My reading at Barnes & Noble has been moved and is now slated for Wednesday, March 4, at University Village, 7pm.

The current, known list of upcoming events is listed at the lower right of this page and is updated frequently as new readings are being added as we speak.

Also note on the lower right links to various reviews and articles that have appeared, including a very nice one that appeared in The Daily Olympian and Bellingham Herald this weekend by Barbara McMichael.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Lake. Forest. Park.

If you're looking for what excites people who are seeking a place to live in this region, Lake Forest Park promises the trifecta of water, woods and public access. Unlike treeless developments with names like "Shady Pines," this north Seattle suburb is as advertised, and it also has a first-rate bookstore and gathering spot, Third Place Books. I'll be reading there on Tuesday, Jan. 27 at 7pm. I'm very much looking forward to it and I hope you can come.

Also, if you haven't read it, you might want to read the mostly--but not completely--negative review
Pugetopolis--received in The Stranger. It was written by Erica C. Barnett and, as she has in the past, she attacks my purported views on growth and urban density. Some of the disagreements are legit, others are straw men. She did find some positives in the book saying that (when I'm writing things she agrees with) my work is "pellucid and a joy to read." Guess which blurb is going in the ads!

I don't normally encourage anyone to read The Slog's comment threads because the view of humanity you get there might tempt you to head for the Aurora Bridge. But I thought the Pugetopolis thread, though with many opinions from people who are, well, full of it, turned into a fascinating discussion about the direction of Seattle, not always pellucid, but well worth reading. I'm please that Erica took the time and effort to give the book serious treatment, and further pleased that it sparked an interesting discussion.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Mossback Talk Radio (and TV)

Yesterday was for talking. And talking. And talking. It started with a great 9am interview with Steve Scher on Weekday on KUOW. I've written before about how I admire Steve's interviewing skills (in fact, he's going to be teaching the art of interviewing at the UW this spring), and it was a joy have the chance to indulge in a long-form conversation with him instead of the kind of topic-hopping we do on the Friday (10am) news-in-review panel. If you missed the interview, you can find it here.

After that, I hightailed it from the University District over to KIRO radio's studios on Eastlake for an hour with Dave Ross. The bearded Ross gets chided for being scruffy and he seemed delighted to have a guest who was a poster-child for worse grooming. He had us photographed together in the studio to prove that he wasn't the most unkempt media guy in town. He had trouble with my name, though, no pronouncing the "K" in Knute or the soft "g" in Berger (rhymes with merger). As I tell folks, a "Newt Burger" sounds like the world's fast food idea. Anyway, we had a good conversation about growth addiction and some great calls from newcomers who had their own stories about how frosty and hard-hearted Seattleites can be to newbies. If you missed the show, you can find it here (click on the Jan. 21, 11am hour).

I wrapped things up with a reading at the University Bookstore. A nice turnout and a good Q&A session. One guest asked for a show of hands of how many people there were Seattle natives and about half the crowd of 40 or so people raised their hands. With so many natives there, who left to mind the city of Seattle?

Also, on Friday I'll be taping an interview with KCTS Connects. The show, hosted by Enrique Cerna, airs Friday, Jan. 30 at 7:30 pm.

Next up: I'll be reading next at Third Place Books at their Lake Forest Park location next Tuesday, Jan. 27 at 7pm. Hope to see you there.

Friday, January 16, 2009

U-Bookstore, KUOW and KIRO coming up

Just a quick note about a busy week coming up for Pugetopolis. First, though, I had a wonderful evening reading at Elliott Bay Book Co., a big crowd of new and familiar faces, very diverse, young and old. Some fellow "calumnists" were there, including civic treasure Joel Connelly of the not-dead-yet P-I and my Crosscut colleague Ted Van Dyk. Some former bosses too, like Mike Crystal, former publisher of Seattle Weekly and David Schneiderman, former boss of Village Voice Media. Former city council member Peter Steinbrueck was there too. He's the subject of a chapter in the book, by the way (and he still came!). Elliott Bay's Rick Simonson gave me a great intro and tells me the book is doing well. My thanks to Rick, the Elliott Bay staff and everyone who came.

This morning, I went off to KUOW-FM for my weekly gig on the media roundtable with Steve Scher and found that my fellow panelists this week were Joni Balter of the Seattle Times and Tim Egan of the New York Times. They're a wife-husband team that packs a lot of punch talent-wise, but I thought the chemistry was great and it was a chance to sneak-preview Tim's and my appearance together at Town Hall on Feb. 25th. It will be kind of a debate, though Tim and I are debating about how much of a debate it will be. Stay tuned for details.

The big thing, though, is that this will be a busy week for Pugetopolis. I'll be on Weekday with Steve again at 9am on Wednesday, Jan. 21 to talk about the book, the concept of Pugetopolis, and whatever Steve wants to cover, which with Steve, you never know. It should be fun. Some of the chapters in the book include commentaries I used to do on the show back at the turn of the century.

That same day, I'm scheduled to be on Dave Ross' popular show on KIRO-AM during the 11 am hour. Not sure I'll have any drive-by wisdom for the masses, but I'll give it a shot.

All that is a prelude to my next reading, which is that evening (Wed., Jan. 21) at 7pm at the University Bookstore. Like many other Seattleites, I have a deep attachment to the U-Bookstore (even though I never attended the UW--I'm not a Husky but a Geoduck), but as a reader, I literally grew up there. When my inner reading lamp was lit, the U-Bookstore felt like my personal trove and I looted it like Indiana Jones on meth. Please come if you can and we can talk about the U-Bookstore and other Seattle institutions that keep the city alive.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Next Up: Elliott Bay, Jan 15

This Thursday (Jan. 15), I'll be reading at Seattle's temple of books, Elliott Bay Book Co. in Pioneer Square. I've made many pilgrimages there to buy books and listen to authors over the years (Oliver Sacks, Carolyn Kizer, Denise Levertov, Tim Egan, Michael Kinsley are some that come to mind...). And once, at a reading, I even embarrassed myself by being that guy who asks the unintelligible question that goes on and on and on until the audience grows very restless...not my finest hour. Many times have I plotted publishing projects or talked with writers about stories in the store's downstairs cafe. It's got a different flavor, of course, than San Francisco's City Lights, but its just as much a part of Seattle's literary fabric and I'm pleased to get a chance to read there. The reading starts at 7:30pm.

And in case you missed it, the Seattle Times ran a Q&A interview with me that you might enjoy. I didn't get a chance to expand on my proposal for lutefisk testing stations on Washington's borders to help stem the tide of new settlers, but perhaps I will expand on that at the reading.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Mossback's debut weekend goes well, despite bad newspaper news

Two great events for this kick-off of the Pugetopolis tour. On Saturday, Jan. 10 I spoke to a full house of the Seattle Neighborhood Coalition at Ballard's Salmon Bay Cafe where we had a lively discussion about the fate of the city and I discussed my book. I should have brought more to sell as the copies I had were snapped up and I took orders for more. Thank you SNC members!

The Q&A session was great and there was much interest in the big story of the weekend, the sale and likely folding of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. I weighed in with a story on Crosscut over the weekend called "Dead Newspaper Walking" in which I sympathized with the difficult position of the editors and staff over the next 60 days and suggest they can motivate themselves by going out with a bang. As a former magazine and newspaper editor myself, I know there are few things as difficult as managing through such painful transitions.

But one of the larger questions is: Where does this leave a P-I-less Seattle? I liken the current state of daily papers in Seattle to the Great Seattle Fire of 1889. The P-I, which survived the fire, will likely not survive the virtual collapse of the newspaper business model. It's been on life-support for years. But it's not like the survival of the Seattle Times is now a slam dunk: they are still struggling under debt, a major recession, the collapse of advertising, bad investments, and the legacy of major management mistakes. We definitely could wind up as a No-Newspaper town. Or, perhaps a four or five Website town, to look to the future a bit. Either way, the loss of a major journalistic and civic player like the P-I is huge. Inevitable perhaps, but not to be celebrated.

On Sunday, Jan. 11 (see photos above, taken my my sister Kari Berger) I had my first-ever bookstore reading at Eagle Harbor Book Co. Again, a big crowd. I was told maybe 65 people, I was nervous. When I talk, I'm usually looking across the microphone at Steve Scher in the KUOW studios, not an audience of expectant faces. And friendly though they were, I was anxious. But people were great and we had a good discussion afterwards. I even read my column in defense of book burning, which seemed like a good thing to do. I mean, if people want a book to burn, Pugetopolis should be their choice. As long as they buy it first!

All in all, a great start. Next up: Elliott Bay Book Co. in Pioneer Square on Thursday, Jan. 15. A full list of readings in in the right-hand column on this page.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The View from Bainbridge Island

Sunday, Jan. 11 I'll be doing my first-ever book reading at Eagle Harbor Book Co. on Bainbridge Island, in downtown Winslow, just a walk from the ferry. The time: 3 pm.

This is a bit of a second-homecoming for me. My parents moved to Bainbridge to semi-retire in 1973. At one time, both my sisters lived there too: Kari is a photographer and Barb, who still lives on the island, is a writer and children's book author. My father, Knute II, was a physician and artist who passed away in 1990, but my 93-year-old mom, Margi, an island poet, still lives there.

During my college years, the house on Bainbridge was my home during winter breaks, and the location of many family events, from weddings to Christmas and Thanksgiving. So there's something wonderful about having my first reading at a great bookstore on an island that has nurtured so many Bergers in their creative ways. Loving islands is almost a Puget Sound cliche, but such feelings run deep and are genuine in my family. I've been spending more time on the island lately, amazed at the bird-life that passes through my mother's yard. It's become an important creative refuge.

A warm welcome to Bainbridge was offered by the Bainbridge Review in a this week's paper featuring a story about Pugetoplis. The reporter, Lindsay Latimore, did a great job of bringing up some of the bigger issues raised in the book and we had a long and pleasant conversation about the region earlier this week at Pegasus Coffee on the island.

One of the topics we discussed was Utopia, and the good and bad of it. It's a topic I address in the book in the opening essay, "Pugetopolis Unbound." The nice thing about Bainbridge is that it isn't a Utopia. It's better because it's real.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

You've got to love him even if you hate him

Reviews and notices are starting to pop up around Puget Sound, a better class of flotsam and jetsam than tennis shoes with feet in them.

(And please note, it's "Puget Sound," not "the Puget Sound," as some news anchors have irritating taken to saying. There is no "the" in Puget Sound!)

Tacoma Weekly reviewer John Larson generously writes: "Regardless of one's age, or how long they have lived here, "Pugetopolis" is a worthwhile book full of insight into our region and what can be done to preserve the special essence of the area."

In Port Orchard, a writer pays the author a fine compliment which eliminates any possibility of any negative assessment: Knute Berger is "one of those people you’ve just got to love — whether you love him or hate him. He’s one of the quintessential northwest types — like Starbucks, only the antithesis."

That would be a 5-cent cup of Manning's java perhaps.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Seattle Weekly previews Pugetopolis

A nice write-up by my former colleague Brian Miller in Seattle Weekly in advance of my upcoming readings at Eagle Harbor Cook Co. (Sunday, Jan. 11 at 3pm) and my Elliott Bay reading next week (Wednesday, Jan. 15 at 7:30 pm). As Brian points out, much of the book is drawn from my Seattle Weekly columns and is certainly informed by my three stints as editor of the paper. Even so, Brian found good things to say about Mossback!

Friday, January 2, 2009

"Pugetopolis" visits the Seattle Neighborhood Coalition, Jan. 10

On Saturday, Jan. 10 I will be guest speaker at the monthly meeting of the Seattle Neighborhood Coalition, a wonderful group of local activists, gadflies, citizens, and cranks who care deeply about Seattle. I feel I can say "cranks" because even my own publisher called me one! Needless to say, I feel very much at home with these folks.

They meet for breakfast the second Saturday of every month, at 9 am at the Salmon Bay Cafe (5109 Shilshole Ave. NW) in old Ballard. Attendees are expected to order their own breakfast (it's dutch) and often pepper guest speakers with informed questions and contrarian views. This is a group of mossbacks that's always up for fighting City Hall.

I'm bringing a few books to sell to the highest bidders. The meetings are always well-documented by Kent Kammerer who provides a full, entertaining account of what transpires for those who can't attend. But I hope you can.

A Footnote: The following day, Sunday, Jan. 11 at 3 pm I'll be giving my first-ever book reading, hosted by Eagle Harbor Book Co. on Bainbridge Island. I'll have more details on that a bit later.