20 Essential Seattle Books, Part 5 – Tales of the City

Arriving at our fifth and final post suggesting twenty essential Seattle books, after posts highlighting historyraceplace, and Northwest classics, we finish with a handful of novels evocative of our city and its culture.

There are several good mystery series set in Seattle, but when a fictional detective has been on our rain-soaked streets for three decades his casebook offers real perspective. Homicide detective J.P Beamont made his debut in 1985 in J.A. Jance’s Until Proven Guilty, hunting the twisted killer of a young girl while frequenting such vanished local landmarks as the Doghouse. Over twenty titles later, Beaumont still patrols Seattle’s seamy side, most recently in Dance of the Bones. (For readers who prefer a lighter touch, check out G.M. Ford’s classic Who the Hell is Wanda Fuca? starring wisecracking Seattle P.I. Leo Waterman.) Continue reading “20 Essential Seattle Books, Part 5 – Tales of the City”

20 Essential Seattle Books, Part 4: Northwest Classics

For the fourth of our posts suggesting twenty essential books for Seattleites, having focused on history, race and place, we now attempt to suggest some writers whose work best characterizes our “regional literature.” In previous posts we’ve already mentioned Richard Hugo and Sherman Alexie, both of whose works certainly belong on this post. Here are some more Northwest classics for your shelf.

With his mischievous, playful tone, Tom Robbins has certainly helped to define our offbeat Northwest style, but when it comes to picking one book for readers new to Robbins, we’re torn. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues and Another Roadside Attraction are both classic early gonzo Robbins. Then again, Jitterbug Perfume and Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas are both terrific, and set right here in Seattle. In the end, we’ll go with our heart: Still Life With Woodpecker. Why? Maybe it’s the way he writes about blackberries, how they force their way into polite society, engulfing dogs and small children, entwining the legs of virgins and trying to loop themselves over passing clouds. Maybe we’re still a little sweet on the girl who gave us this book in college. Does it really matter? Read it. Continue reading “20 Essential Seattle Books, Part 4: Northwest Classics”

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.)  Continue reading “20 Essential Seattle Books, Part 3: Place”

20 Essential Seattle Books, Part 2: Diversity

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.

no-no-boyThere 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
Continue reading “20 Essential Seattle Books, Part 2: Diversity”

20 Essential Seattle Books, Part 1: History.

Here at the library, we’re often asked by old timers and newcomers alike, “What are must read books for people living in Seattle?” While others have offered intriguing suggestions, librarians aren’t really big on shoulds and musts, knowing how readers have such diverse tastes, moods and motivations. That said, we thought we’d venture a little list of titles that capture essential aspects of this place, its history and culture. In today’s post, we look backwards in time.

Skid Road First EditionThere’s ample reason that Murray Morgan’s Skid Road: An Informal Portrait of Seattle has been the most popular work of local history for sixty-five years running: it is as entertaining as it is informative. There are more detailed and objective histories available (check out Richard Berner’s multi-volume look at Seattle in the 20th Century), and folksier books too (see Sons of the Profits, by beloved local raconteur Bill Speidel). But Morgan hits the sweet spot, combining a good basic outline of how this city got here with a diverting and often wry look at opportunistic settlers who kicked of a cycle of boom and bust that continues to this day. Continue reading “20 Essential Seattle Books, Part 1: History.”