Lit Life

7 Iconic Seattle Books to Read Right Now

Essays, fiction, and graphic novels: Beloved Seattle-based authors have books across the board.

By Stefan Milne September 21, 2018 Published in the Newcomer's Guide 2018 issue of Seattle Met

Shrill by Lindy West

Former Stranger writer Lindy West’s essay collection is—much like its subtitle, Notes from a Loud Woman—an outspoken, brazenly feminist, and funny examination of fat shaming, internet trolling, and coming of age. But don’t let the volume level distract: West is adroit as hell, constantly dispatching wise and nuanced turns of thought and phrase.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Seattle satirist Maria Semple’s breakthrough novel is a flurry of contemporary, epistolary wit. Passive aggressive e-mail threads, report cards, personal-assistant bills—all converge in a biting look at Queen Anne’s chard-growing, Microsoft-employed privilege. Let it stand as testament: We don’t all take ourselves that seriously.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

Snagging comparisons to Unbroken, Brown’s non-fiction saga tells the unlikely story of the University of Washington men’s row team, which competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics and beat out Hitler’s German rowing crew. The Boys in the Boat is a triumph of sportsmanship, of local history, and of story-telling from a local author.

Truth Like the Sun by Jim Lynch

This sweeping novel examines the inciting incident of Seattle’s futurism: the 1962 World Fair, which gave us the Space Needle. The book bounces between the Fair and a plot about a journalist in 2001 investigating Roger Morgan, the Fair’s mastermind who’s now running for mayor. Through that, Lynch charts the rise of a city and its accompanying travails.

Black Hole by Charles Burns

In this graphic novel, a mysterious STI creeps through a Seattle suburb’s teenagers in the 1970s. The infected grow a tail, or maybe webbing between their fingers; then people start dying. Burns’s stark, nearly Rorschachian illustrations remind us that the region has a spooky past—and horror is rarely far from our art. 

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Jamie Ford’s 2009 novel immerses readers in a lost segment of Seattle history: Before World War II internment camps wiped it out, Seattle had a thriving Japantown. Centering on the Panama Hotel, which still stands at Sixth and Main, the book leaps between 1986 and wartime Seattle, when young Henry Lee, a Chinatown resident, falls in love with a Japanese classmate only to see her sent to a nearby camp.

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

This region has a way of spurring monster, science-minded tomes. Dune issued from Port Townsend; Gravity’s Rainbow surely got its start while its author worked at Boeing. But the most indicative of Seattle is Neal Stephenson’s 918- page 1999 novel Cryptonomicon. In a city whose contemporary identity stems from grunge and tech what could be a more fitting introduction than a book that zips them together into an aesthetic? This is the cyberpunk bible.

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