20 Essential Seattle Books, Part 3: Place

Next in our ongoing series of 20 books that capture the essence of Seattle, we look at a variety of titles that capture a sense of our city and its environs. Whether you’re new in town, just passing through, or you’ve lived here all your life, these titles will enhance your awareness of and appreciation for the misty charms of this city on the Sound.

cliff-massThe bluest skies that you’ll ever see are in Seattle, unless of course they’re hidden by fifty shades of grey. While less extreme than many other areas of the country, our soggy maritime weather has always been a big part of our identity and outlook: not for nothing are Puget Sound natives called “mossbacks.” Given that weather forms a lion’s share of our small talk, reading Weather of the Pacific Northwest, by local climate celebrity Cliff Mass will up your game when it comes to discussing convergence zones, onshore flow, and our Seattle specialty, the “occasional sunbreak.”

tim-eganMeteorology not your thing? Check out Tim Egan’s 1990 The Good Rain: Across Time and Terrain in the Pacific Northwest for a more personal and evocative exploration of the beauty and fragility of the Northwest landscape. In vivid prose Egan etches the water-shaped, forested home looking back over a century into the past, and presciently forward to the increasing sprawl, clearcutting and traffic of the past twenty-five years. (For more particular approaches to our environs, check out Richard Morril and Michael Brown’s Seattle Geographies, David Williams’ Too High and Too Steep: Reshaping Seattle’s Topography, and Matthew Kringle’s Emerald City: An Environmental History of Seattle. Or for a disturbing look at what simmers beneath our city’s surface, locals are well advised to check out Sandi Doughton’s Full Rip 9.0: The Next Big Earthquake in the Pacific Northwest. (Long story short: have your emergency plans ready.) 

hugoRaised in the south end neighborhood of White Center, poet Richard Hugo’s verse was often deeply infused with a sense of place, as in these evocative lines quoted near the beginning of his memoir The Real West Marginal Way: A Poet’s Autobiography:

One tug pounds to haul an afternoon
of logs up river. The shade
of Pigeon Hill across the bulges
in the concrete crawls on reeds
in a short field, cools a pier
and the violence of young men
after cod. The crackpot chapel,
with a sign erased by rain, returned
before to calm and a mossed roof.

A dim wind blows the roses
growing where they please. Lawns
are wild and lots are undefined
as if the payment made in cash
were counted then and there.

These names on boxes will return
with salmon money in the fall,
come drunk down the cinder arrow
of a trail, past the store of Popich,
sawdust piles and the saw mill
bombing air with optimistic sparks,
blinding gravel pits and the brickyard
baking, to wives who taught themselves
the casual thirst of many summers
wet in heat and taken by the sea.

Some places are forever afternoon.
Across the road and a short field
there is the river, split and yellow
and this far down affected by the tide.

You’ll find many such other evocations of our city in his collected poems, Making Certain It Goes On, and poets will gain a keen appreciation of how place inspired his work in The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing.

lukoffAs skillfully as poets can paint a scene with words, sometimes you just want to look at a picture. A good starting place are the photographic juxtapositions of Seattle Then and Now, by Benjamin Lukoff (as well as the earlier Seattle Now and Then, by beloved local historian Paul Dorpat). From there, take a look at the many various
profusely illustrated Images of America titles
 about Seattle’s neighborhoods and people, including Clark Humphrey’s popular Vanishing Seattle.

  – Posted by David W

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