As 40 million of you know, the soft-porny best seller Fifty Shades of Grey is set in Seattle. In its original incarnation, the story appeared on a fan fiction site for the panting followers of the Twilight series. In book form, the names have been changed to protect the copyrights, and instead of high schooler Bella being tortured by her attraction to Edward the vampire in Forks, it’s Anastasia the coed who’s all tied up in knots by Christian the sexy sadist in a penthouse at Escala. Conveniently, Seattle also happens to be home to Sharon Cumberland, a literature professor at Seattle U whom you’ll meet here. Her own forays into fan fiction (she has a thing for Antonio Banderas) led her on a scholarly exploration of why readers go crazy for this stuff.
The Fifty Shades series, by a British writer who sets foot in Seattle for the first time on a book tour this fall, hardly contributes to a Northwest literary tradition. But other current books, by people who actually live here, do. The sense of place in these novels directly acts on the characters, often with surprisingly comic results. Summer’s hot book, Where’d You Go, Bernadette, the epistolary novel by a transplant from LA, wickedly skewers Seattle’s self-absorbed high-tech culture and our penchant for self-important indignation over the slightest of irritations. Just published is the second book of the Wildwood Chronicles, a darkly enjoyable children’s series by Colin Meloy of the Decemberists and illustrated by his wife Carson Ellis (see here). The settings will seem strikingly familiar to anyone who knows Portland’s Forest Park and that city’s network of underground tunnels. And coming in October is Sherman Alexie’s Blasphemy: New and Selected Stories, reviewed here. Substance abuse, poverty, and death among Native Americans in the Northwest figure prominently—hardly cheerful subjects, but always leavened by Alexie’s sardonic touch.
If these books happen to inspire you with regional wanderlust, the cover story has some suggestions for, shall we say, a literary pilgrimage. In addition to our picks for top trips and tours, places to eat and sleep, and things to see and do, we’ve bestowed Seattle Met’s Northwest Travel Awards on five independent bookstores in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and British Columbia. What better place to begin a journey.