"I cannot live without books." -- Thomas Jefferson

Friday, September 2, 2016

Fanboys and Girls Rejoice! An Interview with Night Vale Creator Joseph Fink

This week, our Bookseller Ben S. spoke with one half of Night Vale creator team Joseph Fink. A fanboy through and through, Ben didn’t shy from going deep past the walls of Night Vale and asking extensive questions about their creative process. Please enjoy highlights from the interview below, and we hope to see you at our Welcome to Night Vale event Thursday, September 22nd at 8pm at the Regent Theatre!

Ben S:  I was curious about when you started. Did you have the idea of wanting it to become a podcast first? Or was it a story idea which evolved into the format?
Joseph Fink: No, the format came before the idea. I knew I wanted to make a podcast, and I knew I didn’t want it to be like any of the other podcasts out there because they already existed, and eventually I came up with the idea of Night Vale.
B: Very cool. We’re in a weird place where podcasting has now become the golden age of radio – the golden age of internet radio.
J: Podcasting is a wonderful thing because the barrier to entry is very low. In terms of what you need technically, you don’t need very much money to make a podcast that sounds on the same level as a professional podcast. I mean you do need a lot of time, and things like that, but the technical barrier is pretty small to be distributed at the exact same level and at the exact same channels, basically, as This American Life or, you know, WTF, or whatever.
B: And I think that’s true for both the makers and the listeners. It’s not that hard to get online to hear it, or to put your content out there.
J: Yeah. That’s an exciting thing.
B: Listening to [Night Vale], and then reading the book, there’s definitely a lot of influences in there. Are there any specific authors or stories or artists that you can cite as “this is kind of where I got some spirit behind it?”
J: Yeah. There are two we kind of point to for the language, usually. There’s a third that it’s less about the language and more about content – and that’s Thomas Pynchon. Thomas Pynchon, in all of his books, creates these huge, meaningless conspiracies that go nowhere and mean nothing and kind of exist as a stand-in for the chaotic randomness of life. I think, I learned a lot about writing complicated, fake conspiracies from reading Thomas Pynchon.
In terms of language, the two we point to are the novelist Deb Olin Unferth. She wrote a book called Vacation, that I read when I was twenty-two. I just picked it up because it had a cool cover and it blew me away. It was just one of those moments where you realize, ‘Oh.’ Even after years, even after pretty much since I understood what writing meant, working on getting better at writing,  I was like  I’m nowhere near good enough. I need to learn how to do this. She was just doing things with language that I’d never seen anyone do before. I knew I had to learn how to do it.
The playwright Will Eno is the other one. He’s a, I believe, Massachusetts-based playwright. He writes these sentences where the – there are surprises even within the sentences – the sentences will land in places you didn’t even see them, at the start of the sentence. I’ve seen a bunch of his plays at this point. Jeffrey was a big fan of his, and he introduced me to him. I would say that if you took -  especially the early episodes - the language of Deb Olin Unferth, and the language of Will Eno, and combined them, that was pretty much the voice of Night Vale we were working with.
B: Very interesting, very interesting. Alright so also—going off the uniqueness of the show—I’m a big fan of all the different characters. My personal favorites are Leanne Hart and Pamela Winchell because I’m a little afraid of them. Are there any [smaller characters] that have brought weird, gleeful joy to you? I mean, you don’t have to pick a favorite child, but is there anybody?
J: Ahhh, I mean. In a lot of ways, like if a small character is interesting to us, they’re not a small character anymore. We have the power to sort of bring anyone to the forefront. So Steve Carlsberg was a minor character until he became interesting to us. Michelle Wynn, the owner of Dark Owl Records, I think was very, you know, kind of a one-joke character, one line of the script, and then we got interested in her and now there are several, kind of, scenes from her point of view.
B: Yeah, she had the September monologue.
J: Yeah, I mean, and then Kate Jones has been in a number of the live shows and we’ve written a number of live scenes for Michelle. It’s a lot of ways that if a character becomes interesting, they are no longer a side character. There are certain characters that have, I think, a lot more to them that we just haven’t gotten around to exploring...For the most part it’s like yeah there’s not a character that we haven’t featured that we wanted to feature because the joy of this is that we can do whatever we want with the story.
B: Well,  speaking of the freedom to do what you want, one of the things that I really appreciate – both in the novel and in the podcast –is that it’s very inclusive because you don’t have to feel like you have to cater to the generic –we’re out here in Hollywood, so we get a lot of that straight white-dude bias—and I really appreciate that there’s a lot of variety and representation in Night Vale. Is that a thing you guys set out to do from the beginning?
J: I think it came mostly from trying to write honestly about the world. The thing about the world is that it’s full of all sorts of kinds of people. If you write about the world in such a way that there’s only a few types of people you’re not writing about the world. You’re writing about TV shows you’ve seen and books you’ve seen. You’re just kind of regurgitating what has been given to you. You’re not actually trying to write honestly about what you’ve seen. Jeffrey and I, we lived in New York City.  We’ve interacted with people of the downtown New York theater scene. If we made everyone in Night Vale straight white people then that would be us denying the world we lived in. The only way to write honestly about the world was to make a world as diverse as the world actually is.
B: I’m sure a lot of fans are interested in hearing that you guys were coming out with more material. Was it mostly coming from a place of something more that you wanted to talk about that you felt like you couldn’t really get out in Night Vale?
J: No. It’s more just experimenting with different types of storytelling. Our first new show, Alice Isn’t Dead was something I wrote. We’ve been doing this touring live show of Night Vale. I think after this next tour we’ll have done over two hundred shows and 16 countries. So we have just travelled a lot and have spent a lot of time in vans and so forming a story, shaping a story in the form of a road trip was interesting to me.
The thing about Night Vale is that there’s a certain tone to it that includes comedy. I was kind of interested in writing a story that was one hundred percent horror with very little comedy. That was what Alice was. And then Jeffery had this idea that was found audio from alternate universes—specifically relaxation tapes from alternate universes—which turned into Within the Wires. He read a novel by a woman  named Janina Matthewson called A Thing Gone Astray and absolutely loved it and then we ended up meeting her in London and he asked her to write the show with him.
It’s been this way of just experimenting with different types of storytelling. And then the third show, kind of moves into our bigger goal which is trying to get artists that we think do really good work that aren’t in podcasting at the moment and bring them into podcasting. This next show, creatively, Jeffery or I are not involved at all. It’s some people that we think do really great work that have not worked in podcasting before. We want to bring them into that world.
B: So we have an event coming up with you this month. What can we expect from you guys at our event here at The Regent? I always expect good costumes from the fans, I’m probably going to be in a costume too. I was wondering if you guys were bringing anything new, besides the books, obviously.
J: I mean, we’re bringing ourselves. We’re bringing Kate, who is just a delightful, fascinating person. We always enjoy spending time with Kate and I think the audience will too even if they don’t know her. Or if they do, they’ll be even more excited. I think she’s doing really interesting work. It’s going to be us talking about writing and about Night Vale.
B: I feel the more I listen, the more the world of Night Vale kind of infiltrated my real world -  I’ve had a lot of weird things [happen to me] walking around here in Los Angeles. Have you ever had anything odd happen to you since you’ve switched to this frame of mind where – strange town, weird things happening, we all just kind of walk about it?
J: Well. It’s weird that you should say that. I ordered something from Amazon a couple days ago and it showed up just this afternoon in an envelop. And I opened up the envelop and the envelop was full of ants. You know those big black ants, carpenter ants or whatever, just swarming.
B: I’m sorry to hear that.
J: Well. Amazon.com sent me just an envelope full of ants.
B: Did you order ants?
J: I did not.
B: We kind of touched on this before, but we’re in a very interesting time for creators. You know before podcasting was a thing, YouTube became a thing. People who are creative, with the advent of the internet, we can kind of get out there. I know you’re reaching out with the network to bring people who aren’t doing podcasting to podcasting.
Would you have any advice on what to do when they’re just starting out? How to get them over the hump and maybe start getting out there getting their art out?
J: I think the best thing you can do is make it and make it in a way that is enjoyable to you, which is to say work with other people. I think working with other people forces you to work. It puts you in a situation that you could disappoint other people. If you’re like most of us you will have no problem disappointing yourself, but if you tell someone else you’re going to do something you’ll feel bad about disappointing them. So it sort of forces you to stay on track and keep making a thing.
Also work with people you enjoy working with. Succeeding, in a way of popularity, or commercially succeeding, is such a weird luck thing. There’s not really a step-by-step guide to that. So the best thing that you could do is make something that is good. That you know is good, that you can stand behind as good. And make it with people you really enjoy. Because then, the worst case scenario is that you’re making something really good with people that you enjoy working with.
I think that if no one had ever really started listening to Night Vale, that if it still only had a few thousand downloads per episode, we’d probably still be making it because we enjoy making it interesting to us. That’s really the best thing you could hope for. If anything else happens that is a wonderful piece of luck that often has very little to do with anything you did.

Our September Pick for (Book) Soup of the Month is Delicious Foods by James Hannaham!

There are many ways in which one could categorize James Hannaham’s Delicious Foods. It’s a modern slave narrative, and a frightening one to be sure. It’s a comment on the present state of race relations and economic disenfranchisement in America. It’s a hero’s origin story, one in which the hero spends most of his time in the underworld and comes away from it more than a little scarred. Its title is even suggestive of the heroic mythology: if you eat the fruit of the underworld, you won't leave it unscathed. While Delicious Foods is all of these familiar things, it harnesses these attributes and emerges as a strikingly original, emotionally jolting and exquisitely written novel.

Our heroes, impoverished African American mother and son Darlene and Eddie Hardison, each are grappling with their respective handicaps right from the start. Eddie's physical handicap, introduced in the novel's introduction, remains a mystery until much later; we're confronted by Darlene's right away. A college-educated woman still devastated by survivor's guilt over her husband's lynching and trapped in dead-end work, Darlene has started to walk the street, hustling for johns to support both her young son and a just-barely-functional dependence on crack cocaine.

Right from the get-go, we meet “Scotty,” the literal personification of crack. Every other chapter is presented with Scotty’s sassy, serpentine narration as he (or she, or it) relates the story, interjecting "Bye, Felicia"-style sparklers that up the humor of many seedier passages, but also hammer home the grit:

 “Get out there! I said. Ain’t nothing shameful ’bout trying to survive, bitch. Don’t you know the street always got a answer?”

Very soon, the street does seem to present an answer: One night, Darlene is approached about a job that will pay well and house and feed her. Before she can fully comprehend what’s happening, Darlene signs her rights away and is transported to her place of employment. Far from being a heaven-sent opportunity, the employer, Delicious Foods, operates nefariously, to say the least, fostering its employees' existing drug habit to keep them docile, all the while subjecting them to sub-standard working and living conditions and garnished wages. Constant threats of swift and arbitrary punishment for any infraction hang in the air like a flock of grackles. Darlene plans to call her son as soon as possible to let him know her whereabouts, but she’s denied access to a phone on the first night. Then the hours turn into days, then into weeks. 

When Eddie finally tracks his mother down and joins the Delicious workforce himself, the company's management takes note of his natural tendencies towards leadership and his ability to seemingly mend anything broken. Soon, even Eddie finds himself stuck in the vortex of a cruel system balances occasional rewards and constant depravation. It’s equally unclear if Darlene will ever quite be ready to break up with Scotty and, by extension, the new normal she has made for herself at Delicious Foods.

From its kinetic opening chapter to its gruesome denouement and cathartic finale, Hannaham never fails to surprise the reader with intriguing, but believable, twists and turns, narrative curveballs that ratchet up the tension but never seem implausible. However grim or hopeless the situations in Delicious Foods seem to get, Hannaham's elegantly composed chapters and painterly prose never leave the reader wanting for moments of beauty or the promise of salvation. 

For such a brutal and sweeping work, the word "sensitive" also comes to mind when discussing Delicious Foods. Hannaham's depiction of addiction, both shocking and relatable, makes Darlene's descent into Scotty's clutches, and the clutches of Delicious, all the more understandable. Add to this a lineup of characters that, in less capable hands, would come off as cartoonish: the small town curmudgeon named Sparkplug, the alcoholic bum named Tuckahoe Joe, local hookers named Giggles, Fatback and Kim Ono. Here, all are rendered with a vivid immediacy that makes them authentic, knowable, existing in a place beyond the traditional stock character. I was on the alert for ham-fisted passages, for contrived secondary characters with goofy names, and for preachy or didactic asides about addiction or poverty. By the final pages, my fears were still unmerited.

No single encapsulation really does justice to Delicious Foods. When I describe it to friends and customers, I usually say that it's a bit like The Wire, only it’s more Southern, more rural, more surreal. It feels at once rooted in the present conversation about racial and economic inequality, and, at the same time, effortlessly timeless. It’s reminiscent of, and compares favorably, to great works like Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath or Viramontes’ Under the Feet of Jesus. Yet, for all its familiar aspects, Delicious Foods remains truly unlike anything I’ve ever read.
- Kieran, Book Soup Bookseller

Monday, August 1, 2016

Our August (Book) Soup of the Month pick is Love Is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield

Take any chance you get to read the essays of Rob Sheffield in Rolling Stone magazine. No one these days captures the absurdity and sheer joy of popular culture quite like him. Maybe the Real Housewives and Kimye is not your bag, but trust us, you'll revel in the word play anyway, and his enthusiasm is catchy.

 Sheffield is one of our finest rock journalists, too, possessed with a keen knowledge of all musical genres and his writing is witty, wonky, and completely accessible to the casual reader. He's not embedded with the artist's entourage, he's reporting live from the sweaty mosh pit! He's a proxy for all music fans.


We chose Love Is a Mix Tape:Life and Loss, One Song at a Time as our August pick for (Book) Soup of the Month because it's a fantastic book, one that will make you laugh, cry, recall your own early-adult life, and probably send you back through your old record/CD collection. If you are of a certain age, you might even be fortunate enough to still have a collection of mix tapes from the 90's.

Each chapter in this memoir begins with an actual play list that Sheffield created at key moments in his early adulthood. I don't want to give away too much because the real thrill of this book is the discoveries you make along the way - young love, nights out, songs and bands you have long forgotten. Just keep some tissues handy. That's not to say this book will break your heart, but it's touching. It's a quick read, and a delight as well.

We thought maybe you could use a fun read to close out the summer, and while Mix Tape is not a new book (it was published in 2007), it's one that we thought you might have missed. If you love it as we do, please keep in mind that Sheffield has authored several other excellent collections including TurnAround Bright Eyes and most recently On Bowie (also excellent). There's another new book on the horizon too, Dreaming the Beatles: A Love Story of One Band and the Whole World, which will be published by Dey Street Books in October.

-Dan, Assistant Promotional Director 

A lost Interview With Jill Leovy and Another Death in Ghettoside

By Christina K. Holmes

I was looking forward to interviewing Jill Leovy, author of our (Book) Soup of the Month Ghettoside, especially as it would be a phone interview. I’d get to put a voice to the name, actually speak with Jill about her research and writing, let the conversation lead where it will, not confined to simple questions and answers in an email exchange. We even wanted to release the recording as our very first podcast! (Soon to come, we hope.) But alas, my recording app failed me, and not a bit of our forty minute conversation was immortalized.

But what Jill says sticks with you, no matter if a recording device is on or not. A veteran crime reporter for the Los Angeles Times, Jill took a sabbatical to write Ghettoside, spurred by the desire to put something out there that presented the confounding data on black-on-black crime in a different way. (She also started The Homicide Report blog in 2007 to illuminate this data, too.) Most research on crime stems from a sociological or psychological perspective, but Jill found it hard to wrap her head around these numbers and attribute them to such simplified storylines like “black culture”; always a cause and effect relationship. She turned to a historical and international relations perspective to dig deeper, and struck a nerve with the history of violence in the U.S. South. From there she pieced together a theory of her own.

Jill’s thesis is eloquently and simply stated in the book: “Where the criminal justice system fails to respond vigorously to violent injury and death, homicide becomes epidemic.” She goes on to say this stands in contrast to the common argument that Black Americans suffer from “preventative” policing strategies. When I asked her how these two flip sides of a coin relate, she described the allure of states investing in preventative measures (which crosses political party lines), the layers and layers of laws put in place to arrest people on lesser crimes like possession, but the lack of resources put into actually investigating and arresting violent criminals.

So how can we combat these systematic problems? The push should come from academia, Jill says. There isn’t enough information or data on the affects of homicide, violent injury, or threat of either - things like witness relocation or the long-term grief families of victims experience. More research on these issues will stimulate more conversation and policy work.

Finally, after lending me her ear for more than half an hour, I asked Jill what she’d want readers to take away from the book. Her answer: it’s a complicated issue. You may have preconceived notions on why high homicide rates disproportionately affect blacks in urban areas and the police investigating these crimes, but throw those out the window. Jill described tailing an environmental science PHD who is now a LAPD officer - not the type we might usually think of on the police force. And, she said, there are plenty of differing opinions on the matter from both outside the community and from within.

However, there is a unifying factor in this epidemic of violence in places like Southeast Los Angeles: grief. When we spoke, Jill took pause to inform me that DeAndre Dercell Hughes, the 30-year-old son of Barbara Pritchett-Hughes, had been killed last weekend. Barbara is a prominent figure in Ghettoside: her pain grips at your skin when you read about her experience dealing with the homicide of her youngest son Dovon Harris just 9 years prior. DeAndre worked at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and police believe he was not the intended target in the shooting. Jill had just spoken with Barbara earlier that day and would be attending the funeral.

With any good immersion journalism, writers become close to their subjects, but the weariness in Jill’s voice revealed to me the immediate and long-lasting impact homicide has in these communities and beyond. And that, more than anything in our interview, convinced me this is an issue which is important yet virtually ignored, even though it should disconcert each and every one of us, as people of this city, this county, and this country.

For more information, read our (Book) Soup of the month Ghettoside and visit The Homicide Report blog.  

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Jim McPherson: An Appreciation

Jim McPherson, Pulitzer-prize winner, professor, and “one bad motherfucker” (as his business card read, a remnant of his time in a band called The Bad Motherfuckers), died yesterday. He was funny. He was kind. He was intelligent--far beyond books. He was my professor during my last semester at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he taught for many years. His office smelled comfortingly like my dad’s, of tar-stained, dust-covered pulp. In a place where “what’s on the page” predominated most craft discussions, in Jim’s classroom, “who are you” took precedence.  Jim led discourse on identity, on community, and, to a degree, on our moral responsibilities as writers. In dissembling our view of ourselves, individual or at-large, he enabled us to experiment further with our work, a product of newfound confidence in self, and at base, what our work meant. Jim spoke softly, and I struggled often to hear his words, words that would pass all understanding. In a recent move, I regretfully tossed all of my story notes from Iowa, mourning today that I don’t have Jim’s specific wisdoms to reread, wrought in what now seems like gold. Jim once said that in trying times, he turned to literature for solace. This morning, there it was: Crabcakes, Hue and Cry, Elbow Room, and, with it, the memory of Jim’s sly smile and wide heart.

Marion Bright, General Manager

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Our July Pick for (Book) Soup of the Month is Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy

2016 has so far been a year for the world to re-evaluate many issues.  The European Union.  Global migration and domestic immigration. The U.S. political system. #BlackLivesMatter.  Perhaps most pressing, this country’s propensity for gun violence has prompted Governor Brown to sign into law a slew of new gun-control measures, as the rest of the country dithers about the situation, even after the historic House sit-down in the wake of the Orlando tragedy.

Speaking to the latter two concerns, the release in paperback of Jill Leovy’s devastating, true-crime survey, Ghettoside, could not be better-timed.  It reads like a novel, and this meticulously researched investigation of violence in South Los Angeles - specifically, black-on-black crime in urban areas, and the complexities of law enforcement therein - should be required reading for everyone who resides here. 


We all know that there are areas in Los Angeles where, more or less, one “just doesn’t go.”  An L.A. resident for over thirty years, I can say, with no pride, that I’ve not once been to Watts, the Hollenbeck Division, the Seventy-Seventh Street Division (where the L.A. riots broke out), nor any of the areas surveyed in this book, and have only a general idea of where they are geographically located.   Not only is there no pressing reason to go there, one of the very first things I realized about L.A. is that, realistically, one can live here without ever glimpsing the blighted areas of the region (the revitalization of Downtown L.A., with its many elements of gentrification notwithstanding). Once, on an Amtrak heading to Santa Barbara, I recall reading a sign specifying “Something Housing Project.”  “Oh, that’s what it looks like,” I thought, “interesting.” Our freeways, which were, in general, built through less affluent neighborhoods, serenely glide many of us over streets where lives are lost in shameful numbers. 

Leovy’s book is grounded in eleven years of research.  She was embedded in the LAPD’s Seventy-Seventh-Street Division, and in 2006 launched an online L.A. Times feature, “The Homicide Report,” an effort, she writes in her Author’s Note “to provide a…day-to-day accounting of every homicide in (L.A.) County.”  The blog ran for two years, in which she reported on “about a thousand” homicides.  Just think about that figure!  What have you been doing in the past two years?  And that’s only taking into consideration deaths, not assaults, not rapes, not robberies.  Typical of the striking detail of Ghettoside is the definition of “almocides” - almost homicides - a portmanteau reference to the “four or five injury shootings for every fatal one in South Los Angeles,” leaving thirty, mostly black, males per month “paralyzed, comatose (or) brain injured” in the early 2000s.  

There are many, many statistics in this book, as well as a survey of the great black migration from southern states after World War II, and much time is spent on minutiae of the inner workings of the LAPD.  So, in a way, it’s a sociological text, as well as a police procedural.  Another heartbreaking detail reported by Leovy:  three generations after that initial migration from the South, numerous parents sent their sons out of L.A., back to the areas where the families originally lived – explicitly so that the young men wouldn’t be killed. A police chaplain describes “homicide eyes,” a flat gaze common to the grief of family members losing loved ones to violence.

Regarding the always-controversial LAPD, Leovy’s approach is not at all the usual “us-vs-them” (i.e. cops-vs-criminals) narrative.  She doesn’t take sides, nor really discuss, the legacy of the LAPD.  Rather, she focuses on the interface between the criminal justice system and the communities it polices. She writes, “To assert that black Americans suffer from too little application of the law, not too much, seems at odds with common perception.” 


Where this already extraordinary book truly excels is in the depth of its characters, the details of individual cases Leovy witnesses in real time.  She relates the separate, seemingly random, shootings of two young black men, Dovon Harris (aged 15) and Bryan Tennelle, (aged 18 and the son of an LAPD detective who lived and worked in the precinct, a rarity) and the aftermath to their families.  She narrates the efforts of detectives Wally Tennelle, John Skaggs, Greg de la Rosa, and others, to navigate law enforcement protocol, bureaucracy, and complicated relationships within the force, as well as the maddening (to me) complexity of working with underserved communities, the codes and dynamics which prevail there, and the wracking reality of families’ bereavement living under what one detective termed, “The Monster – the whole mess of it.” 

In her epilogue, Leovy writes that, as of 2015, “homicides in Los Angeles County have fallen to levels that (were) unimaginable…at the turn of the (21st) century…the Monster is in retreat.” You’ll have to read the book to understand the complexities behind The Monster’s unraveling. Since the epilogue was written, homicide rates have once again increased in Los Angeles, and  Leovy’s summary remains pertinent: “Anyone who tracks homicide in L.A. County can’t escape the obvious: black men remain disproportionately victimized…we should not disagree about the problem’s urgency.”  It’s a stunning and brave work. 
-Amelia, Book Soup Bookseller

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Fire Next Time

By Dan Graham

In chapter one of his new book Stand By Me: The Forgotten History of Gay Liberation, the Historian Jim Downs writes of the largest massacre of gay people in U.S. history. It was on June 24, 1973 at the Up Stairs Lounge in New Orleans. It was a fire, intentionally set on the ground floor of the bar as a gay church group met upstairs. Thirty two people died.  It took a long time to identify the bodies because they were burned so badly, and to this day, two bodies remain unidentified.  The fire and deaths were met by a largely indifferent public.  I was just one year old in 1973.

That could have been it, a piece of history forgotten by even the most demonstrative queens among us, but the events of last Sunday morning at another nightclub, the Pulse in Orlando, Florida, changed all that.  Forty nine people dead in three hours and a hail of bullets at the hands of a monster. It was a sobering thing to wake up to, especially as Angelenos began to gather in West Hollywood, just down the street from the Soup, to march in or observe the annual gay pride parade.

There has been a long and rambling conversation this week in person and online about the purpose of this attack - was it terrorism, homophobia, the result of lax gun laws and the proliferation of mass casualty assault rifles, inept or uncaring politicians, religion?

Can't it be all of those things?

I, like many of you, soaked in it for days. I was stunned, tearful, and finally angry. And then it came to me - James Baldwin.

"God gave Noah the rainbow sign, no more water, the fire next time!"

I went digging around my house for my old dog-eared copy of The Fire Next Time, Baldwin's searing indictment of his country, a country that couldn't or wouldn't accept him. It's the one book that probably best captures my state of mind after this catastrophe. 

I watched talking heads on television ask me to pray and I seethed with rage. Many of them had previously gone on record as being against the very freedoms that gay people had only recently been granted. I know they'll do nothing.  Prayer is all they have; they lack the courage or will to do anything else.

You might be sick of people working this out in writing. I'm not. I can't read enough essays and opinion pieces, news reporting, and Facebook posts.  Thirty two people died in a gay bar just 40 years ago, and no one cared.  So I'll take the help from well meaning people who donate blood, or money for funerals, or simply a social media post in solidarity.

I'll think about Baldwin as I reread this book, and how disappointed he'd be by the present day - the problems of racism and homophobia, and how we thought we had turned a corner but it's still here, still burning.