Here at the library, we’re often asked by both locals and newcomers, “What books are must reads for Seattleites?” While we’re not much for ‘must’ or ‘should,’ we thought we’d list twenty titles that capture essential aspects of the history and culture of this place. Not a definitive list: a jumping off place. Our first post looked at Seattle’s history, and in today’s post we revisit that history through the lens of diversity.
There are many excellent books about the Internment of Japanese Americans during the second World War, but one of the earliest – and one that holds special significance for Seattleites – is John Okada’s 1957 novel No-No Boy. After two years in an internment camp and two years in federal prison for declining military service and a loyalty oath, Ichiro Yamada returns home to Seattle to find himself alienated on all sides. For another view of experiences of Seattle’s Japanese Americans before and during the War, check out Monica Sone’s 1953 memoir Nisei Daughter.
There are also a plethora of excellent books and resources on Black History in Seattle, including foundational works by Quintard Taylor and Esther Hall Mumford. With contributions by four activists in Seattle’s 1960’s campaigns against discrimination, Seattle in Black and White describes the work of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) striving though boycotts, demonstrations and campaigns to end racial segregation in employment, housing and education. To get a sense of just how far we haven’t come since then, check out Doug Merlino’s haunting The Hustle: One Team and Ten Lives in Black and White, which traces the starkly divergent fates of Seattle’s cross-city junior high basketball all-stars of 1986.
Always captivating author Sherman Alexie pulls no punches with his gritty 1996 novel Indian Killer. Race war simmers as a serial killer stalks the streets of Seattle, scalping white victims. Is the killer the increasingly disturbed John Smith, raised by white parents, divorced from his tribal roots, ‘an Indian without a country’? This dark, socially-informed thriller explores native identity in provocative, gripping fashion.
Gary Atkins’s well-researched, detailed Gay Seattle: Stories of Exile and Belonging provides a groundbreaking history of gay and lesbian social, cultural and political life in our city. Larger changes across the country are reflected through myriad local accounts covering a century of struggle, progress, and community building. As with other books on this list, it makes essential reading for understanding who we are, where we’ve been and where we’re going.
Of course we’ve only scratched the surface here. What are some of your favorite books that are expressive of our city’s diversity?
– Posted by David W.