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Think Progress

ThinkProgress
Alyssa


I write about the intersection of politics and culture in my blog at ThinkProgress, which has traditionally been strictly a political news site. The way I try to explain my project is that I'm interested in what it means about us that we like what we like. If I'm writing about a book, a movie, or a television show, I'll write about prose, or dialogue, or how a shot is framed, but I also try to be attuned to the ideas in it. I'm curious about what it means that we've got a bunch of fantasy novels out that are all about the connection between magic and Islam, and what those novels mean as pushback against people who are afraid of Islam and believe that it's incompatible with modernity. I get excited when the fight choreography in The Avengers is as much about communicating the characters' gender politics as it is about sending sparks flying. While I read a great deal as a kid, I didn't actually consume a lot of popular culture growing up, and so I think I still find a lot of it exciting and strange-I'm not so familiar with tropes and conventions that they've stopped surprising me and striking me as powerful and strange.

 

Questions

1. What's one thing you love about independent bookstores?

Independent bookstores feel like an anchor to me whenever I'm traveling. I get a little twitchy if I can't find one to kill part of an afternoon in whenever I'm in a new city or a new country. When I was in China, there was a store that called itself the Lady Book Saloon near my hotel, and however much an accidental transliteration the title was, it made me feel as if I and that store's patrons were looking for company in books in the same way.

2. What's your blogging philosophy?

I try to give my readers a sense of what's making me curious and excited, even when I have questions or I don't have my opinion on a subject fully-formed: being in conversation with them is my goal much more than it is to be definitive. But I also try to preserve my capacity to get really angry when it's warranted. I think with culture, there's a real danger of letting truly outrageous things slide. We shouldn't give up and get used to certain ideas or biases or lazinesses.

3. Who are your readers?

They're a big, diverse group that includes super-smart consumers, professors who keep sending me fascinating studies, talented public servants who set high standards for my Parks and Recreation viewership, and people who write everything from novels to blockbusters, among other things. I feel incredibly lucky that I get to talk to-and sometimes argue with-and learn from them all day.

4. What's your favorite D.C. blog?

In terms of bloggers focused on Washington proper, I love my former colleague, Washingtonian associate arts editor Sophie Gilbert's takes on theater that's staged here and mainstream pop culture that tries to sum up our weird, magnetic city. And for a nationally-focused blog that's based here, I think Linda Holmes, who runs NPR's Monkey See blog, is unbeatable.

5. How can the analog medium of books & the digital mediums make beautiful creative babies?

Maybe it's me, but I feel like the iPad, and the way you can build interactive features and weave multimedia into stories has kind of pushed publishers to release more physically beautiful books. I've been really blown away by some of the jacket designs on books that are coming to me in the mail, and it makes me want to spend more time with these physical objects for their own sake.

Now for the really fun part. In the bookstore world, when a customer approaches us for our expert advice, we get to do our favorite thing: the handsell. This is when we put a book we love in the hands of customer who would probably have never thought to pick it out for themselves. I can't tell you how much joy this brings us.

 

Three Book Recommendations

-Alif the Unseen, G. Willow Wilson: This fantasy novel, out in July, is simultaneously an exploration of contemporary Islam and Middle Eastern oil states, a reexamination of the Thousand and One Nights, and a fairy tale, and it works on every level.

-Red Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson: The first in one of my all-time favorite trilogy, this hard sci-fi novel about what it would take to settle Mars feels eerily prescient about the current rise of corporate power and environmental degradation.

-Open City, Teju Cole: This is a great book about New York, about Nigeria, about memory, and about loss. It's very much a moral story, but beautiful and economical, and kind of out of time in a way I find very powerful.

Alif the Unseen (Hardcover)

$25.00
ISBN-13: 9780802120205
Availability: Not currently in the store – Usually ships in 1-5 days
Published: Grove Press, 6/2012

Red Mars (Mass Market Paperback)

$7.99
ISBN-13: 9780553560732
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Spectra, 10/1993

Open City (Paperback)

$15.00
ISBN-13: 9780812980097
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 1/2012