Reading is a cornerstone of conversation, and we like to talk at The Spokesman-Review. What newspaper doesn’t like a good story? What we know here is that good stories are everywhere. The newspaper is one place to share them – but Northwest Passages Book Club created another space to share them in our community.
How did we do it?
With best-selling authors and their latest projects
In town hall meetings with the opportunity to hear directly from politicians and candidates for office. Over a beer!
By giving fans the chance to talk with local legends on our hometown sports teams, or those locals who break into the big leagues and return home to Spokane.
With movie events that reveal behind the scenes stories – cool tidbits of information that not everyone knows.
By gathering together creative talents whose work expands beyond words – storytellers in food, art and music.
Northwest Passages Book Club can take you to any number of places … all without leaving downtown Spokane. You are invited to come to one of our events and see what we mean!
If you weren’t able to catch any of our 2019 events, here are some of the highlights:
‘Non Sequitur’ rebound
Wiley Miller, the cartoonist behind the popular comic panel “Non Sequitur,” told an audience for the first time Aug. 5 that he almost lost his livelihood and marriage after he scribbled a vulgar note to President Donald Trump that appeared in newspapers nationwide.
The comic that ran on Feb. 10, 2019, was created weeks before on a day like many others since Trump took office. The president had said something that upset Miller, so he penciled the note.
Now almost six months later, Miller’s “Non Sequitur” is slowly returning to papers across the country, including in Spokane. Miller traveled to Spokane this past summer for a Northwest Passages Book Club event at the Bing Crosby Theater centered on his career as an artist and to welcome “Non Sequitur” back to the paper.
In an apology letter to “editors and readers” that ran in The Spokesman-Review, Miller wrote “Remorse is an understatement.”
“It still boils down to – I have to take ownership,” Miller said Monday evening.
Egan shares spiritual journey
Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Spokane native Timothy Egan brought his sense of humor with him Oct. 29 when he spoke to a packed house at the Bing Crosby Theater about the future of the Catholic Church, his admiration for Pope Francis and walking until his toes turned to hamburger.
Egan is promoting his ninth book, “A Pilgrimage to Eternity,” about his physical and spiritual journey along the Via Francigena, a 1,300-mile route that stretches from the English city of Canterbury to Rome.
“If you walked this thing in the Middle Ages, you thought all your sins were forgiven,” he said.
Egan’s journey led to some changes, including his attitude toward miracles. He was originally a skeptic, but said he came to agree with St. Augustine’s view.
“Miracles are not contrary to nature,” he said. “They’re just contrary to what we know about nature.”
Gonzaga basketball legends took the Fox Theater stage on June 27 and the Bing stage on Nov. 4, with both events celebrating former players and current coaches.
Former players Steven Gray, Kelly Olynyk, David Pendergraft and Heather Bowman shared experiences as players with SWX sports director Sam Adams and Hoopfest co-director and former Gonzaga player Matt Santangelo.
“It’s humbling,” Gray said of returning to Spokane with his wife and kids for the forum. “I’ve been gone so long it feels like it would be easy to think the fans would forget about us.”
In the second event, the international flavor and the teams was celebrated, with a special emphasis on Quentin Hall, who was part of the Gonzaga backcourt that shook up the 199 NCAA bracket by reaching the Elite Eight. Hall, one of the men’s program’s first international recruits, survived Hurricane Dorian in September, but his house in the Bahamas was heavily damaged. The event served as a fundraiser for Hall and raised more than $50,000.
More than 20 Gonzaga women’s and men’s players and coaches stuck around to sign posters afterward and accept donations.
“I’ve lost everything, but I’ve got everything,” Hall said of his friends and teammates on stage. “I got you guys.”
Women of the Year
Karen Wickre and Tess Vigeland were at the Bing on Nov. 14 to have a conversation with Eastern Washington University President Mary Cullinan on “Making Life Work on Your Terms.”
Wickre and Vigeland were there to help celebrate 15 women who were recognized as Inland Northwest Women of the Year.
Karen Wickre, a former executive at Google and Twitter, and Tess Vigeland, a former host of NPR’s “Marketplace” and winner of an Edward R. Murrow Award, encouraged the audience to follow their gut and live their best lives.
“I’m thrilled that it’s a conversation as opposed to a talk,” Wickre said. “We’re a layer of the layer cake tonight. And so the idea that the whole evening is about celebrating these women – we want to have a conversation that amplifies for them what accomplishments they’ve had and hope that we can continue to do work that – I don’t know if ‘inspires’ would be the right word, but – kind of reinforces that.”
Vigeland and Wickre took unique paths to get to the top of their industries and then took the unprecedented step of moving on from those “dream jobs.”
“Both Karen and I – and I think a lot of the women tonight – have decided that, no, maybe there’s another option,” Vigeland said. “You don’t always have to follow the path that has been set out for you. That if you want to go your own way – what the hell? – try it.”
At the first stop on Tom Mueller’s national tour for his book “Crisis of Conscience: Whistleblowing in an Age of Fraud” in his hometown of Spokane, the author discussed tracing the history of whistleblowing back to America’s founding fathers with book club members at the Montvale Events Center on Oct. 28.
“They took on a supreme monarch and a heavy load of tradition,” Mueller said about their legacy of questioning authority.
“Now we’re faced with how important whistleblowing can be,” Mueller said about the possibility of impeaching a president.
Local impressions: Chris Bovey explains connection between city, art
Everyone has their own take on Spokane, but the way Chris Bovey captures the Lilac City has caught on.
The local artist’s prints hang in homes, are worn on T-shirts, are splashed across the walls of local businesses and are now collected in a new coffee-table book called “Vintage Spokane: The Art of Chris Bovey.”
At a book club gathering at the Montvale on Nov. 12, Bovey to the audience his art is simple, bold and straightforward – qualities he hopes keep his art accessible.
“When you see a little kid come up to you at a show and they have 10 bucks in their hand, you’re like, ‘I’m definitely going to sell you the print for 10 bucks,’ and it’s their first piece of art,” Bovey said. “It’s a magical moment.”
Finding truth in Rene Denfeld’s ‘The Butterfly Girl’
Perhaps the most thoughtful discussion on homelessness in Spokane happened Oct. 23 at the Bing when award-winning author Chris Crutcher interviewed Rene Denfeld, author of “The Butterfly Girl.”
On Denfeld’s book, Crutcher wrote: “Once in a while, we come across a novel so true we know the author has been there; has highlighted those tiny, exact details that only an intimate could include. That’s ‘The Butterfly Girl.’
“ ‘The Butterfly Girl’ is a novel for every literary aficionado of that pitch-perfect whodunit with characters so true, you really care whodunit.
“The issue of homelessness here in Spokane has been brought to the fore in our current mayoral race, the fulcrum of the argument balancing on how to deal with the problem.
“Denfeld tells us, through her own personal story, and through her novel, that it is up to us as a community/society to see these human beings and to understand that prevention has to be our attack strategy.”
Beavers take the spotlight
With beavers in the spotlight, the Montvale was packed on Sept. 18 to hear Ben Goldfarb speak about his book “Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter.”
The discussion ranged widely but focused on how beavers act as ecosystem engineers to transform their environment and how they they engineered their own comeback from the brink of extinction.
“One of the reasons I was excited to come here is because it’s a city that is very connected to the river and its beaver population,” Goldfarb said.
He quickly immersed himself in the conservation and outdoors communities in Spokane, where he met Spokesman-Review outdoors editor, Eli Francovich, who led the discussion.
With strong conservation advocacy in the area, including the work of the Lands Council, an organization that helps relocate beavers in the Inland Northwest, Goldfarb said Spokane is where he can “make the biggest impact.”
Curt and Ana Warner share life with autistic sons
Ana Warner, who once was an aspiring model, and Curt, a star Seattle Seahawks running back in the 1980s, shared the story of when they lost their home to fire, and how they raised two severely autistic sons, to a book club crowd at the Bing on May 14.
Hand in hand with his wife, Ana, Curt said that raising four children, two of whom are autistic, has been scary and humbling. The couple, co-authors of the book “The Warner Boys” with former Spokesman-Review columnist Dave Boling, said their story isn’t a guide to autistic children or a how-to parenting manual; it’s their love story, and the story of their love for their children.
“We love them, regardless,” Curt said. “Even when they burn the house down, we love them. We may not be happy about what they’re doing at the time; we forgive them and move on.”
Peter Heller shares unnerving origin story of latest novel
The first line of author Peter Heller’s latest book “The River” reads, “They had been smelling smoke for two days.”
At the Montvale on June 25 Heller was interviewed by Spokesman-Review Editor Rob Curley and dived into the origin stories of his books, including “The River.”
“I start with the first line and a story comes out of it,” Heller said. “I follow the music and the language.”
But along the way, he said, he bumps into motifs and issues that he cares about.
Adoption stories told through eyes of an adoptee
Nicole Chung’s book “All You Can Ever Know” climbed up best-seller lists after publishing in 2018, and Chung said she received a lot of feedback from people in situations similar to hers.
On May 14 at the Bing, Chung discussed her book, a memoir detailing her experiences growing up with adoptive parents in a small, southern Oregon town that was about 1.5% Asian-American.
“Most (adoption stories) are from the parents’ perspective,” she said. “Of wanting a child or bringing a child up. I wanted to add an adoptee perspective.”
Chung often finds herself in the role of a de facto counselor as people reach out to her for her perspective as an adoptee. Her main piece of advice for adoptive parents: Have more conversations about race and give children the framework to understand the issues they will face before they face them.
“More talking and more honesty, even though it’s really hard,” she said.
Childhood and ranch life together in first memoir
Pam Houston’s newest book, “Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country,” is her first memoir and it is divided between her difficult childhood and her life on her 120-acre Colorado ranch. She discussed the book, teaching at multiple universities, climate change and her writing process with the book club audience March 26 at the Bing.
She said her ranch, near the small southwest Colorado town of Creede, came to her in an unusual way.
After brazenly falling short of earning her Ph.D. at the University of Utah because her book “Cowboys Are My Weakness” drew criticism from faculty and staff, she took to the road in her Toyota Corolla. She had a check for about $21,000 that she figured would be best spent on land.
She drove into the Rocky Mountains and into Creede, where she saw the towering, spirelike cliffs that surround the town.
The setting captured her as much as the people living there.
A local widow, a fan of Houston’s, offered to sell her the ranch, sight unseen, for 5 percent down and a signed copy of her first book.
“I didn’t know about fences or varnish or sweeping chimneys,” she said. “Over 25 years, the ranch grew me up. It made me responsible.”
“It gave me a place to be quiet and still,” she said. “And hear my own voice.”
Chris Crutcher on the ache of being a teenager
Chris Crutcher is hoping his most recent book, “Losers Bracket,” will be banned somewhere.
He won’t be happy if it doesn’t get banned, he said. It would be the first of his 15 young adult books to avoid such restrictions.
The retired therapist and author of young adult literature takes being banned with a sense of pride. To his mind, the words that make some parents and teachers reel are exactly what young adults need to hear to grow, to understand and to discover truths in the world. Talking about the rough side of adolescence targets and offers catharsis to “those things that make these kids ache,” he said.
That was one of the lessons that Crutcher imparted during The Spokesman-Review’s Northwest Passages Book Club Jan. 16. The event was attended by about 300 people, and moderated by Spokesman-Review columnist Shawn Vestal.
Shields dives through nuclear bomb history
Sharma Shields opened up March 13 to moderator Nancy Pearl and the audience at The Spokesman-Review’s Northwest Passages Book Club at the Bing Crosby Theater, where she talked about “The Cassandra,” a historical fiction novel set at the Hanford nuclear site during World War II.
Shields wanted her book to show the demeaning culture that gripped Hanford at that time. Women and African-Americans were segregated and treated poorly.
Before its publication, the book was put in a new light after Shields watched hearings on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination for the Supreme Court and heard allegations of sexual abuse and dishonesty against him.
“It was startling to see unfolded on a major stage like that,” she said. “It was odd.”
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