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Archive: Arts & Culture / Spokane and North Idaho

Bookish: Get a Pet with Dr. Seuss

Twenty-five years after the publication of the perennial graduation gift Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, a new book by Dr. Seuss is hitting shelves today.

Although legendary children’s book author and illustrator Dr. Seuss, whose real name is Theodor Geisel, passed away in 1991, several unpublished manuscripts were discovered by Audrey Geisel, his wife, and Claudia Prescott, his secretary and friend, during a house remodel in 2013 (hmmm, sounds vaguely familiar…). Random House plans to publish at least two more books based on the uncovered materials in the future (source PRNewswire).

What Pet Should I Get? features the same children depicted in One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish as they visit a pet store in search of the perfect pet.

Book Notes At-A-Glance
Title: What Pet Should I Get?
Author: Dr. Seuss
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: July 28, 2015

For local author events and book news, visit The Spokesman-Review’s Literary Calendar.

Stockholm: Sun, sights and a sunken ship

Above: The stern of the Vasa, stored in its gigantic warehouse museum. Photo by Mary Pat Treuthart.

Sea cruise 2015 continued: Then, finally, the sun came out – just in time for us to emerge from our cruse-ship cabins and see … Stockholm.

And this much was clear: Even two full days, which is all the time we were given for St. Petersburg, wouldn’t be near enough to explore everything the Swedish capital has to offer.

This time we opted for a Hop-on/Hop-off boat service. Showing just how ignorant I am about Baltic geography, I discovered that Stockholm is known as a “city of islands.” In fact, this is how Rick Steves describes it: “One-third water, one-third city, surrounded by woods, bubbling with energy and history, Sweden’s capital is green, clean, and underrated.”

I couldn’t agree more. And the same holds true with Steves’ other sentiment. “If I had to call one European city home, it might be Stockholm.”

I’m ready to move there tomorrow.

As to the city’s being “one-third water,” that, if anything, is an understatement. And it’s a fact that was hidden from us as we arrived at the cruise-ship piers in the dark of night.

So it just made sense: We would take the boat around the city center and stop off whenever the mood struck us.

This allowed us to see much of the Old Town, if hardly anything of the outlying area. We did see the City Hall, the Royal Palace, the National Museum and so on. But before getting off and walking around Old Town, and having lunch, we had to check out the Vasa.

Never heard of it? Well, the Swedish navy wishes it had never heard of it either. It was in 1628 that the brand-new but top-heavy warship, Vasa, capsized and sank just 40 minutes into its maiden voyage – settling in the mud of Stockholm’s harbor. And despite a bit of Swedish hand-wringing, and an inquiry that held no one accountable, there the Vasa sat for some three-plus centuries.

Then in 1956, the wreck was discovered and – through a complicated, careful process – was raised. Now it sits in its own museum, a vast warehouse that includes multi-media displays (including a documentary film) and the preserved ship in some, though hardly all, its former glory.

I’m certain that Stockholm has things that will appeal more to those into art, music, archaeology, natural science, history, etc. But the Vasa Museum is bound to appeal to anyone whose tastes run to maritime history, if not disasters – if not all our inner little boys.

I liked it even better than the place where we eventually had lunch, Barrels Burgers & Beer, which served one of the best burgers I’ve ever eaten – though this being Sweden, the price was enough to make me wonder whether I was being ask to fund the country’s health-care system all by myself.

Then, after a short walk through the city center on this suddenly hot and sun-baked day, we experienced another treat, one that might serve as a high point for this entire cruise: Sailing out of Stockholm, for more than four hours we passed through a series of islands – known as the Stockholm Archipelago – before emerging back into the Baltic Sea.

As we progressed through them, the islands gradually grew smaller and more barren until we passed a final outcropping of land, marked by a lighthouse.

I remember feeling like the Vasa. I didn’t want to leave Stockholm either.

Real life is more than just a headline

By now you’ve likely read about the bombing that took place a few days ago in Suruc, a Turkish town on the Syrian border. The authorities have arrested a suspect, and news reports are explaining the complexities involved in the case.

My wife and I were in Istanbul shortly after the bombing and witnessed demonstrations that took place in that city’s Taksim Square. Thousands of placard-carrying protestors marched past the hotel where we were staying, their chants filling the air for hours.

Unwilling to engage my inner Tom Clouse and join the crowd, I remained a bystander, watching. And it was only later, when the maitre d’ of the hotel restaurant where we were eating hurriedly began closing windows that we learned the demonstration had turned violent.

“Pepper spray,” he said.

BBC and other services reported that the police employed firehoses, too.

The next day, not a sign of the event could be seen. Life resumed as normal, and we caught a ride to the train station so that we could travel to the western Turkey city of Eskisehir.

Of course, nothing will ever return to normal for the people who lost loved ones in Suruc. The world can be such a willfully violent place.

Helsinki: no time to do it justice

Sea cruise 2015 review continued (see below): OK, before we get to the Vasa, let’s talk about our stop in Helsinki. Yeah, I forgot that our cruise ship stopped in Finland.

Not that I have anything against Finland. In fact, I’m a big fan. A few years ago, when I spent a month In Cali, Colombia, studying Spanish, I met a cool Finnish guy named Walter, whose English was as good as mine – and whose Spanish was even better. Of course, he had a Colombian girlfriend, so that wasn’t particularly surprising.

We even became Facebook friends.

So I was looking forward to our stop in Helsinki. But, again, some cities can’t be explored in the few hours that Celebrity gave us from the moment they let us disembark (10 a.m.) to the moment we were due back on board (4:45 p.m.). Especially when rain threatens our every step.

Again, we opted to buy Hop-on/Hop-off passes. And we did manage to check out one of the city’s main attractions, the Temppeliaukio Church – better known as the Rock Church. Which though it dates back only to the late 1960s, and so is a contrast to virtually every other church that we have seen – or will see – on this trip, the church is an impressive sight. Hey, a half million visitors a year can’t be wrong.

And we spent some time in Stockmann, the department store that reportedly isn’t just the biggest department store in Finland but is the biggest – in terms of area and total sales – in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland as well. Oh, and the Starbucks next door.

But – and here’s the refrain so far – we still had the rain to deal with. So we dried out at a restaurant whose name we got out of Rick Steves’ guidebook, a buffet-type place called Café Lasipalasti, and ate our fill for bargain prices. A premium, actually, because it’s easy to bleed money in the north of Europe.

The rest of the city we saw from the inside of the Hop-on/Hop-off bus. All the way back to the cruise ship, we passed the city by — we even caught a glimplse of Market Square, cenral Helsinki's square that — on sunny days, at least, offers an open market. Things we missed: the draws of Mannerheim Street, the Finnish National Museum of Art, the Finnish National Museum, Finlandia Hall … and so on. So many more reasons to one day return.

And now, for sure …

We look for the Vasa.

St. Petersburg: There is no smiling in Russia

Above: The Peterhof Park and Gardens, which some refer to as "Russia's Versailles."

2015 cruise review continued: (To catch up, check out the posts below)

I’ve already made the point that you can’t experience more than cursorily any city larger than Ritzville in the relatively short time provided by a cruise ship line. So how, then, do you make sense of a metropolis (pop. 5 million) such as St. Petersburg, Russia?

Well, you make do with what time you have. And if you don’t have unlimited funds, one of the tricks is to find a good guided-tour company. The tours offered by Celebrity can be good – we toured a penguin habitat in New Zealand and had a great time – but they can also be prohibitively expensive. So we opted to find our own.

And SPB Tours was our choice. It wasn’t cheap (almost $700 for two of us), but it did come with two Russian visas (a $300 savings in itself), and it provided: a two-day package, van service that picked us up and returned us to the cruise ship terminal each day, the expertise of an English-speaking tour guide (ours was an assertive little blond named Olga B.), access at no additional cost (and only marginal waiting) to a number of the major tourist sites, lunch at no additional cost for both days, two different river cruises and plenty of time to take photos, ask questions, buy some souvenirs (chocolate bars with pictures of Vladimir Putin on the cover) or just sit and rest our aching feet (so many streets in the city, so few unoccupied benches).

Over the two days in St. Petersburg, our itinerary was: click here.

Are you exhausted yet? By the time we piled back aboard late in the afternoon of the second day, we certainly were. But here were the high points:

The subway: Seriously. The Metro escalator Olga B. took us on descended into the bowels of St. Petersburg. And as we passed 500, maybe a 1,000, people coming up – not a single one, by the way, who was smiling – we wondered: Why the hell is she taking us down here? Well, in addition to giving us a look at ordinary Russian life, some of the ornate mosaics were fairly impressive. We left, well, impressed.

Peter and Paul’s Fortress and Cathedral: Hey, look, that’s where Catherine the Great is buried!

Peterhof Park and Gardens: We took a hydrofoil ride here and, after trying not to freak out because I couldn’t see where the vessel’s emergency exit was, we disembarked to see what some call the “Russian Versailles.” Dating back to Peter the Great and the early 1700s, the palace and its gardens give ample evidence of the czar’s desire to emulate the greatness he saw in Europe’s capital cities.

The Amber Room: A room in Catherine Palace. Made of amber. The fact that it’s a re-creation (the original disappeared during World War II) makes it no less … ummmm, garishly impressive?

The Hermitage: People spend weeks touring this maze of rooms, each one more splendiferous than the next and filled with more paintings than any museum in the world. We had 90 minutes. Still, if ever we wondered why people eventually revolted against the Russian nobility, well …

The Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood: Great name, right? Oh, great design, too.

Yusupov Palace: Where Rasputin was murdered. The whole story is told, complete with wax dummies.

Also: The Russian pierogies that we had for lunch were scrumptious.

Then it was time to head back to the ship. As Olga B. said (imagine her speaking in a thick Russian accent, ending most every sentence with a throaty chuckle): “There is no time to see everything. You will just have to come back – hyeh-hyeh-hyeh.”

That invitation is tucked away with my passport.

Next up: Vasa, Vasa, where is the Vasa?

Auntie’s online campaign for George R.R. Martin

Worldcon 2015 is less than a month away, and Auntie's Bookstore is getting psyched with an online campaign to entice George R.R. Martin to stop by their store during his trip to Spokane for the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention.

The local bookstore is requesting that fans and followers use #SpokaneLovesGRRM on social media to show their appreciation for the A Song of Fire and Ice scribe. Participants are also eligible to win prizes from Auntie's Bookstore and Uncle's Games.

The lineup of science fiction and fantasy authors for "Sasquan"—a nickname for this year's convention inspired by the notorious Northwest cryptid—includes guests of honor Brad Foster, David Gerrold, Vonda N. McIntyre, Tom Smith and Leslie Turek, plus a special guest aboard the International Space Station, via remote, NASA Astronaut Dr. Kjell Lindgren.

Visit Sasquan.org for convention details.

Image via Auntie's Bookstore Facebook page.

Tallinn, Estonia: Hopping through the rain

Above: A Hop-on/Hop-off bus is a cheap way to see the sights.

Sea-cruise 2015 report continued: Tallinn, Estonia, is about as approachable a tourist destination as the former Soviet Union has to offer. Unlike other cities on our Baltic Sea cruise, its heart – Tallinn’s Old Town – is barely a 15-minute walk from where the cruise ships dock.

Like all tourist experiences, though, the ease of that approachability depends on weather. And as it turns out, the rain that had hit the night of our return to Warnemünde, Germany, followed us east. And so we found our arrival in Tallinn to be marked by both rain and wind – the kind of wind that can turn umbrellas inside out.

So we opted for what many European (and other) cities these days offer: a hop-on/hop-off bus tour. For just 20 euro (about $21.66) a person, you get access to a double-decker bus, off-on service to a predetermined list of tourist destinations and a cheap set of earphones that gives you access to a prerecorded explanation of what you’re seeing. Never mind that much of what is said is either unintelligible because the system at your seat doesn’t work, offers up information that is too obscure to be of any real interest or is self-aggrandizing to the point it would gag Donald Trump.

(And as an aside: Not every hop-on/hop-off experience is the same. We got good use out of a similar service a couple of years ago in Delhi, India, especially because the service there had hired an actual English-speaking guide instead of relying on a recording. But the service in Rome, which we used on two separate occasions, is run by employees who take glee in racing past official stops filled with paying customers waving their arms.)

But in a rainstorm, you take what you can get. So hop-on/hop-off it was. We hopped off ever so gingerly after a short tour around the modern part of Estonia’s capital city (pop. 413,782), which included looks, as I recall, at a lot of apartment buildings. Tallinn is known as a technological center, and for tourists it boast a few museums and even a zoo, but not much of anything the city has to offer was available during the limited time we had – especially considering the weather forced us to find shelter whenever we could.

So we concentrated on the Old Town, which is definitely worth the effort, though again rain and wind caused us to skip past much of even that small area, which is split into Upper and Lower sections. Narrow stone streets lead past churches, small shops and restaurants, each of which was calling our name – especially one inviting eatery that allowed us both the luxury of drying ourselves off and at least three of us getting some pretty good food (my “risotto with roasted tomatoes” tasted like something canned by Chef Boyardee, but maybe the rain was affecting my mood just a bit).

Anyway, following our lengthy lunch, we tentatively made our way back down the stone streets, trying not to slip into the Gulf of Finland, eventually joining the others who were returning to the cruise ship Silhouette.

Oh, and I bought a stocking cap that says “Estonia.” How cool is that?

Verdict: No way did we see anything close to even some of what Tallinn has to offer. But the taste that we carried away was tantalizing – even if mine seemed a bit canned.

Next up: Why the Russians revolted.

Berlin: Mad dash to Checkpoint Charlie

Above: A photo of tourists cavorting at what used to be the portal to East Berlin.

Cruise 2015 report continued (see prior posts for more info): The first stop our Celebrity line cruise ship made outside of Amsterdam was the port at Warnemünde, Germany. Our stay there followed a full day at sea — and, to be frank, follows the plan that was included in our other two cruises, namely to add in a stop that nobody seems to want. (It's not as if Warnemünde rings with the same kind of city-envy as, say, Stockholm or St. Petersburg.)

So rather than take in what sites this seaside resort village has to offer, or sign up for one of Celebrity's own sponsored bus-to-Berlin tours at 175 euro (about $190) per person, we opted to rent a car and drive ourselves. We had only about 14 hours before we had to back on board, and the trip itself was going to take up almost five hours in itself, but we had an incentive: My brother-in-law's nephew lives there with his wife and two children.

So we drove. Or rather my brother-in-law Steve drove, which allowed him to indulge his race-car inclination on those stretches of the Autobahn where no speed limits were observed. Even so, we were passed by any number of cars. Even, once, by a minivan.

Our short afternoon stay in Berlin included a fine home-made lunch, prepared by the nephew — Patrick, aided by his German-born wife Katrin — but also a walk through the neighborhood that included a stop at the former Checkpoint Charlie. Funny that such a spot of once-deadly importance has now become a kind of joke landmark, populated by any number of foreigners using their selfie-sticks to photograph themselves with the actors wearing U.S. Army uniforms.

Anyway, in early evening, Steve guided us back to Warnemünde, we dropped off the car, reboarded the ship just before a rainstorm filled the sky with a driving rain and the occasional burst of thunder and lightning. This was to prove a precursor for our next stop.

Next up: A piece of preciousness called Tallinn. 

Amsterdam: Beware the bicycles

Above: A selection from the tasting menu at Amsterdam's MAX International Restaurant, which specializes in Indonesian cuisine.

So, the question persists: Why would an experienced traveler ever take a sea cruise? So many answers to that one, not the least of which is non-stop drinking and dining and the chance to just sit and let the world drift by.

But the one that fits at least two of the three cruises that my wife and I have taken over the past few years involves convenience. Our first was up the Alaska Inside Passage, which took us from Vancouver, British Columbia, to just short of Anchorage. Our second was around New Zealand, beginning and ending in Sydney, Australia. And the one we took most recently was through the Baltic Sea, beginning and ending in Amsterdam.

Yeah, we could have flown from Sydney to, say, Auckland and rented a car. But in all three cases, it just seemed easier to cruise our way around.

We left Spokane on June 30, and after connecting in Salt Lake, flew to Amsterdam. We'd arranged to meet my wife's sister and her husband a couple of days before our cruise set sail just to enjoy some of the city's qualities.

Which is the perfect opportunity to make a point about travel. To me, travel — like appreciation of the arts — is a personal thing. You either connect with a place, or you don't. And unless you stay in a village, a city or even a country long enough, you can't really say that you've given it a chance. I admit that I had to visit Florence, Italy, at least a half dozen times before I got over my aversion to its narrow, dark and often crowded streets. And now I love Florence.

So maybe someday I'll love Amsterdam, as others do. But not at the moment. For one thing, our stay was short, barely a day and a half. For another, it was marked by 97-degree temperatures. And while I commend the city's commitment to bicycling, after getting nearly run over the first three times I attempted to walk along the street, I began to lose my patience. Few cars, many bicycles, great. But make sure you have passable sidewalks, people.

We hit a number of the standard sites — the Van Gogh Museum, the Anne Frank House, the Amsterdam Museum, the Rijksmuseum — and, in the time we had, we also walked the canals, had great gin and tonics, a couple of tasty meals and — because why not? — we stopped in at one of Amsterdam's famous coffee houses. Only we didn't order coffee, if you know what I mean.

So, as I say, Amsterdam has lots going for it. And my experience there wasn't necessarily typical. So take everything I have to say about it with a grain of salt. Or, better, with a twist of herb.

Next up: A quick trek to Berlin.

Istanbul: a mosque on every picturesque corner

This trip report will start in the middle. I left Spokane on June 30 and have been traveling nearly non-stop, with short (some merely hours long) stays in various Baltic and Scandinavian ports. I am now in Istanbul, as the photo above shows, and the contrast couldn't be greater.

For one thing, the means of transportation. I spent the first dozen days of the trip aboard a Celebrity line cruse ship, the Silhouette. Along with 2,882 (or so) other passengers, my wife, her sister and husband, and I slept and ate and drank and (sometimes) exercised aboard a ship that, at 319 meters, is just 14 meters shorter than a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier.

Let's just say I grew to appreciate a good margarita, if not a recumbent bicycle.

We arrived in Istanbul yesterday, having left the cruise ship at 6:30 a.m., flying from Amsterdam to Rome, then on to Istanbul, arriving after a full day's travel with only a few mishaps. One involved a near riot caused by a fracas between Turkish passengers on our Alitalia flight and a belligerent Italian official (the Turks slapping the bus windows in support of their fellow countrymen proved particularly impressive). The other came when Turkey's answer to Rambo decided to chastise me for thinking it was OK for me to join my wife at the passport desk, even though another couple had just done the same thing.

News at 11: International incident narrowly averted.

Then came some 50 minutes in a car (we'd arranged online for a drive-for-hire) in which our driver kept saying, "Fifteen minute. Bad traffic. Good traffic? Five minute." We finally arrived at the comfortable Hotel Sultania, were greeted by Turks of the opposite attitude from Passport Rambo, joined our friends Karen and Allen for a late dinner and then fell into bed.

Today we walked for miles, in the sunshine (another contrast: much of the Baltic part of our trip was marked by 60-degree weather, overcast skies and intermittent rain), visiting three of Istanbul's greatest mosques, its shopping mecca Grand Bazaar and touring the various side streets where real life (not to mention better bargains) occurs.

For dinner, we took a taxi through the narrow streets, along the coast north of the city, to the sea-side restaurant Sur Balik (Istanbul sits on a waterway known as the Straits of Bosphorus that connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, which flows into the Mediterranean). After a dinner of various appetizers (called mezes), both cold and hot, accompanied by red wine and glasses of raki, topped off by baklava, we headed back to our hotel.

Tomorrow we plan on doing much the same, though probably with the help of some of the city's seemingly convenient mass transit. These legs aren't getting any younger.

Longmire author Johnson at Auntie’s tonight

Mystery fans should be interested in an author reading/signing event that will take place at Auntie's Bookstore tonight. Craig Johnson, the Wyoming-based writer of the Sheriff Walt Longmire series, will read from his latest novel, "Dry Bones," at 7.

Johnson's Longmire series revolves around his protagonist, the sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyo. As explained by the Christian Science Monitor, "Johnson tells of Longmire’s adventures from the sheriff’s perspective. A tough-talking female deputy and a best friend from the Cheyenne Nation, as well as Walt’s plucky daughter, give the stories texture and balance to go with Johnson’s commanding sense of place."

Longmire is featured in a TV series that ran for three season on the A&E cable network. After cancellation, it was picked up by Netflix.

"Dry Bones," Johnson's 12th Longmire mystery, involves the sheriff investigating a murder that involves dinosaurs — dead dinosaurs, I have to add — and greed. As the publisher explains, "When Jen, the largest, most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever found surfaces in Sherrif Walt Longmire’s jurisdiction, it appears to be a windfall for the High Plains Dinosaur Museum—until Danny Lone Elk, the Cheyenne rancher on whose property the remains were discovered, turns up dead, floating face down in a turtle pond. With millions of dollars at stake, a number of groups step forward to claim her, including Danny’s family, the tribe, and the federal government."

Kirkus Reviews says, "Johnson’s crusty sheriff … remains tough, smart, honest, and capable of entertaining fans with another difficult, dangerous case."

And from the Denver Post: "Johnson, as usual, offers colorful glimpses of Wyoming history and its physical features. Johnson is able to make the landscape itself at least as fascinating as the slightly off-kilter, and sometime murderous, folks that inhabit Walt's universe."

Seats at Auntie's events are sometimes hard to find. It never hurts to arrive early. 

Kirn and Vestal heat up Get Lit! tonight

I'm on page 157 (the beginning of chapter 11) of Walter Kirn's 252-page nonfiction book titled "Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade." I purchased the book long before I knew that Kirn was coming to this year's Get Lit! celebration, and obviously before I knew that he was going to participate in a literary conversation with Spokane-based author/columnist Shawn Vestal.

That conversation, by the way, will take place at 7 tonight at Riverside Place (formerly the Spokane Masonic Temple), 1110 W. Riverside Ave. Tickets are $15.

So far, "Murder Will Out" is fascinating, not just as a look at a murderous imposter but as an example of confessional writing. What's important to Kirn, who lives — according to his book — in Livingston, Mont., is not just his subject but his own experience leading up to his meeting, his getting to know, his gradual distrust of and eventual feelings of betrayal by his subject.

One of my favorite passages, though, has nothing to do with murder. It involves moment that, Kirn concludes, "sent a tremor through my life." It occurs when Kirn believes that he has run over his 1-year-old son, Charlie. Kirn had been sitting in his pickup, talking to a friend, unaware that Charlie had crawled in front of the vehicle. And he became aware of that fact only when his friend called out the boy's name, by which time Kirn had already driven over where the boy had been sitting.

"The truck rolled on, a good ten feet — momentum. I stopped it as time elongated and yawned and I became a speck or cinder drifting in a nauseating gray void. I shifted into Park. I climbed down from the cab. Life had just ended for me, so I was calm. I hurried, because one must, but I was calm. With forty more years to absorb the ghastly image already taking shape in my mind's eye, adrenaline and panic were irrelevant."

I'm tempted to leave things there, and tell you to go pick up a copy to see what happens. But that would be mean. Kirn continues:

"He was sitting upright under the license plate, halfway between the rear tires. My perfect boy. The pickup's jacked-up, four-wheel-drive suspension had allowed the chassis to pass right over him. It made no sense. The overlay of horror — the scene that should have been — persisted in my vision as I reached for him. Angels. Providence. Only they made sense. In the realm of logic and causality, I'd killed my child, but love had vanquished physics and here he was in my arms, against my chest, with nothing but a pink patch on his forehead where the truck's differential had scraped the skin."

The discussion between Kirn and Vestal, no slouch of a writer himself, should be fascinating. It will follow each writer's reading from his own respective work. Click here for ticket information.

Get Lit! treat: Bigfoot’s biographer and friend

As Get Lit! 2015 proceeds, one event after the next continues to offer quality literary content. Of today's events, the 7 p.m. reading/book signing by writers Benjamin Percy and home-grown Sharma Shields should prove satisfying.

Especially for Bigfoot fans.

Little joke there. Spokane-resident Shields is the author of the novel "The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac," as well as the story collection "Favorite Monster." Percy, an Oregon native and resident of Eugene, is the author of the novels "The Dead Lands," "Red Moon" and "The Wilding."

The two will read at Riverside Place (formerly known as the Spokane Masonic Temple), 1110 W. Riverside Ave. Admission is free and open to the public.

For the entire Get Lit! schedule, click here.

Get Lit! tonight with Alexie and Walter

Spokane is justifiably proud of its home-grown literary talent. Writers such as Sherman Alexie and Jess Walter both have roots in the immediate area, Alexie having grown up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit (and attending Reardan High School, Gonzaga University and then Washington State University), Walter having grown up mostly in the Spokane Valley (and attending East Valley High School and Eastern Washington University).

And both have earned national literary fame. Alexie was awarded the 2007 National Book Award for Young People's Literature for his book "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," while Walter won the 2006 Edgar Award for his novel "Citizen Vince," his novel "The Zero" was a 2006 National Book Award finalist and his novel "Beautiful Ruins" made the New York Times bestseller list.

Area readers will have a rare opportunity to see Alexie and Walter record an edition of their regular podcast, "A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment," at 7 tonight in the Lair Auditorium of Spokane Community College.

The event, which is part of the 2015 Get Lit! literary festival, is free and open to the public. Seating is limited, so get there early.

Get Lit! 2015: 17 years of literary appreciation

Above: Kurt Vonnegut Jr. before his 2004 Get Lit! appearance. Note the cigarette.

Since its inception in 1998, Get Lit! — Spokane's annual literary festival, founded and annually hosted primarily by Eastern Washington University — has attracted an amazing array of talent. From Kurt Vonnegut Jr. to Salman Rushdie, Jane Smiley to Richard Russo. Too many, really, to comfortably list here.

But the celebration, which is what Get Lit! truly is, has never been about individual writers. It's been about the discipline of writing itself, an art that is practiced by everyone from best-selling authors such as Vonnegut, acclaimed Northwest writers such as Sherman Alexie and Jess Walter to students in area schools learning the difference between a comma and a semicolon.

That celebration will continue next week when the 17th-annual version of Get Lit! begins on Monday, April 20, with three different sessions. While the 2015 version of the festival doesn't feature the literary firepower of years past, attendees will have the opportunity to meet, greet and listen to such writers as Alexie, Walter and a number of other notable visiting writers. For a full schedule, click here.

A personal note: In 2004, before Vonnegut's Get Lit! performance at what is now the Bing Crosby Theater (then the Metropolitan Performing Arts Center), I met with the then-81-year-old writer backstage. As a Spokesman-Review staff writer, I had interviewed Vonnegut by phone the week before. And I jumped at the chance to meet him in person.

We met in a small room off the theater's balcony level. A small group of students stood nearby as Vonnegut pulled a pack of Pall Mall cigarettes from his suit coat pocket. "Ya think I can smoke here?" he asked. Feeling friskily familiar — I mean, really, was this Kurt Vonnegut asking me if he could smoke? — I said, "Hey, you're Kurt Vonnegut! You can smoke wherever you want."

And so he lit up. I snapped the photo above. And I got a memory of a lifetime.

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