Well Read

5 Seattle Books for the End of Summer

A zombie comedy? A history of Silicon Valley? A sci-fi recommendation from Barack Obama? Yup.

By Stefan Milne August 20, 2019

Exhalation by Ted Chiang

In 2002, Bellevue sci-fi writer Ted Chiang’s first story collection, The Story of Your Life and Others, arrived and eventually saw its semi-eponymous novella (“The Story of Your Life”) adapted into the 2016 movie Arrival. This year Chiang finally released the follow-up collection, Exhalation. Like its predecessor, the book abounds with crisp prose and ingenuity: a parrot narrator, its species facing extinction, ponders the vast silence of the universe; a product called Remem functions as a prosthetic memory. Not convinced? Barack Obama wrote that “it’s a collection of short stories that will make you think, grapple with big questions, and feel more human. The best kind of science fiction.”

Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton

Crows are a big deal in Seattle. Rarely, though, do they get to verbalize their role. This debut comic novel by Seattleite Kira Jane Buxton changes that: S.T., a domesticated crow who calls humans MoFos and loves Cheetos (who can imagine a couth crow?), narrates as people fall apart around him. Quite literally. The MoFos are becoming zombies, which S.T. first senses when one’s eyeball falls out. If you need a sample, or a signed copy, Buxton reads at the Queen Anne Book Company on Tuesday, August 27. 

Huge Cloudy by Bill Carty

This debut collection from local poet Bill Carty is perhaps best typified by the lines that open “Constellations” about halfway through the book: “I’m eating duck with pleasure / in a borrowed gray suit / at one of those 'bury me / in drink' funerals because the airline / lost my luggage / somewhere over Nebraska, / and this funeral won’t stop losing / my friend.” By typified, I mean conversational but verbally limber, and mordantly funny but suddenly heartfelt.

The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America by Margaret O’Mara

Starting in 1949 Palo Alto and ending in 2018 San Diego, The Code, by UW history professor Margaret O’Mara, is not merely an investigation of Seattle’s southerly “sister technopolis” (her phrase). O’Mara’s focus here is on the part of the story that is often overrun in the nebbish Wild West narrative, in which a few brilliant kids bootstrapped empires into existence. Instead, she writes, “the Valley’s tale is one of entrepreneurship and government, new and old economies, far-thinking engineers and the many non-technical thousands who made their innovation possible.”  

Seattle Prohibition: Bootleggers, Rumrunners, and the Graft in the Queen City by Brad Holden

Probably you’ve heard of Roy Olmstead, Seattle’s “good bootlegger.” Maybe you know how intertwined Seattle jazz was with prohibition. Probably you know little else about this city's prohibition history. While rummaging through a local basement, historian Brad Holden found a moonshine still, then documents saying the still’s owner had gone to jail. He turned this curiosity into a book, pulling up stories on people like Johnny Schnarr and Frank Gatt, the state’s major moonshine slinger. Conveniently, Seattle Prohibition is a slim volume (122 pages), as easy to tote along to the beach as to the bar.

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