Three New Discoveries

Things keep appearing on my plate; unexpected things that suck me in. Books are the prime offenders, because I’m always thinking about what to read next. The list is long but constantly in flux because “what’s next” keeps changing. New books scoot to the head of the line because of a review or a friend’s recommendation, and old friends in the bookcase jump out and demand rereading. Last week the new book was The Financial Lives of Poets by Jess Walter (more on that later), and earlier this spring a conversation with the novelist Alexander Maksik led me to reread three novels by James Salter. The list grows at both ends. The new one jumps the line and the old one gets tacked on to its tail. I’m usually reading two or three things at the same time – hardcover, Kindle, and paperback. It depends on where I am, where I’m going, and how much space I have. It’s exciting and frustrating at the same time, but I’m always ready to rearrange the list and move on to a new chapter – so to speak.

Financial Lives - Pig Part of the fun of writing this blog is digging through the sources looking for interesting events, plays, films, readings or exhibits to write about. Last Friday I saw an ad in the Weekend section of the Seattle Times for The Financial Lives of the Poets. It’s a catchy title. I’d seen it before but it hadn’t worked its way to the surface of my consciousness. I knew it was a novel but the ad was for a play with the same title.

Until then I hadn’t paid much attention to the Book-It Theater either. It’s a quiet little local secret. I thought it was just another small theater company in a town with more that 20 venues and associated theater companies, but last weekend I discovered that it was formed 24 years ago as an artist collective to adapt works of fiction for the stage. It’s a genius idea and over its life Book-It has adapted more than 90 full-length novels for theater productions. The Financial Lives of Poets is its latest adaptation and it is sensational. It’s a quirky story about a guy whose life is coming undone. He’s losing his job, wife, house, and mind all at the same time. If it doesn’t sound funny you need to read the book or see the play to find out why it is.

I don’t have the space to give you Jess Walter’s full bio, but he lives in Spokane, is a working journalist, has written six novels and several short story collections, won an Edgar Allen Poe Award, was a finalist for the National Book Award, and recently published a novel called Beautiful Ruins that the NY Times called “a high-wire feat of bravura storytelling.”

My Book-It Theater experience makes me realize I was only scratching the surface of the Seattle arts and culture scene when I started writing about Surviving Seattle. I had no understanding of how wide and deep the scene was and how committed Seattle is to supporting its art, music, and theater communities. The truth is that at the time I was more worried about surviving the coming cold and rain than focused on the depth and variety of ways to deal with it.

I’m not given to depression, but I might have a slight case of SAD (Sunlight Affective Disorder) when the winter fog and drizzle settles in around my ears. Still – a 12-ounce double latte usually kicks it up and lets a little light in. In addition to new books, films, plays, music and the like I’m always on the lookout for the perfect espresso drink. It’s no secret that Seattle is Mecca for caffeine aficionados and the minor decorative art of coffee design. I’m not talking about Starbucks. Among connoisseurs, the brands that rise to the surface are names like Diva, Caffe Ladro, Vivace, Uptown Espresso, Monorail Espresso, Caffe Vita, and Herkimer Coffee – yes, Herkimer Coffee.

IMG_0459 Herkimer is another local secret. I don’t know the derivation of the name. I’m quite sure they didn’t hire a marketing guru to brand the product, but it’s my latest coffee find and current favorite. Ladro is a close second, but Herkimer lattes have that strong, dark, smooth, rich taste I search for. Like most of the others Herkimer is a roaster as well as a retail provider. I always believe that where they care enough to make art part of the experience the coffee will be good. Here is last week’s latte.
Herkimer has only two retail locations at the moment – on Greenwood Avenue in the Phinney Ridge neighborhood and University Way at the north end of the U District. A third location is under construction on Dexter close to the exploding South Lake Union biotech and IT development. The outlets are fitted out in industrial-chic – polished concrete floors, blond wood table tops with zinc trim, and good lighting. It’s a great workspace and seems to be popular with the laptop off-site IT crowd.

Those are my three discoveries of the week – The Financial Lives of the Poets, Book-It Theater, and Herkimer Coffee. There’s a hamburger blog cooking but I’m told groups of three are better remembered, so burgers will be on the grill in a future post.


  1. A few years ago in my ongoing search for a good cup or coffee, I stopped in at the Herkimer coffee shop on the Ave and asked them where the name came from. I was told the owner came from Herkimer, N.Y. (half way between Syracuse and Albany.). I always enjoy your blogs–keep them coming.

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