Summer Book Report

Pacific Northwest Beach Reads

School is out and self-motivated erudition is in. If a Seattle summer ever materializes, these are the local authors you should bring to the beach.

By Taylor McKenzie Gerlach June 22, 2022

There’s nothing wrong with a fluffy bit of literary escapism. But with an ever-waning number of sunny days ahead, in a season that’s already running late, we’re feeling the pressure to make our sand-filled page turning more meaningful. Enter the Pacific Northwest beach read: Much like our rugged coastline, these books aren't all straightforward, balmy fun. They'll keep your brain moving through the warmer months—no book report required.

Being Seen by Elsa Sjunneson

Frank, sharp, and necessary, this work is part memoir, part cultural criticism, and part history of the Deafblind experience. At times an intentionally uncomfortable call to action, Deafblind author and professor Sjunneson sheds light on the contradictory space she inhabits in a world of intersectional ableism and sexism.

Being Seen author Elsa Sjunneson.

Essential Labor: Mothering as Social Change by Angela Garbes

In the throes of a global pandemic, one universal truth rose to special prominence: Parenting is hard. In a work that is equal parts intimate personal memoir, rigorous research, and inquisitive cultural analysis, Garbes challenges the value (or lack thereof) assigned to child rearing, and presents a path forward for creating social change through the essential act of mothering. By using the term mothering as a verb, Garbes draws attention to the countless little acts that go into raising a human, while allowing other caregivers to claim space in the conversation.

Fresh Banana Leaves by Jessica Hernandez

Western conservationism isn’t working, argues Hernandez, in a read that shatters existing frameworks and centers age-old perspectives in the conversation on climate change and faltering environmental policy. Hernandez employs case studies, personal stories, and family histories that spotlight the voices of Latin American women and land protectors. All the while, she argues that Indigenous models just might be the excluded perspective that could turn the tide.

How to Raise a Feminist Son by Sonora Jha

How does one teach consent? Or counteract problematic messages about masculinity that manifest as cultural realities? Jha presents practical answers via a blend of research and her own experiences as a single, immigrant mother of color striving to raise an American feminist son.

Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century by Kim Fu

Twelve short stories blur the lines between the real and the fantastical. Each story is a world of its own, from a girl who sprouts wings to a woman trapped in a suffocating, bug-infested house. In a collection that wrestles with themes of death, technology, guilt, and sexuality, the contradictions we inhabit reign supreme. 

Ma and Me by Putsata Reang

Journalist and author Reang’s memoir chronicles a daughter striving, and failing, to live up to lofty familial expectations. Reang started life as a seemingly lifeless bundle that her mother clutched for twenty-three days aboard a vessel bound for the Philippines, away from war-torn Cambodia. Miraculously revived by American military doctors, she would spend the following decades hustling to repay her life debt. Reang untangles the threads of love, debt, and obligation that form her story, alongside inherited trauma and the crushing weight of cultural and filial duty.

Nisei Daughter by Monica Sone

In a lucid personal account of growing up in what is now Seattle’s Chinatown–International District, Sone chronicles her childhood as a first-generation American daughter born to Japanese parents. For Seattleites, her depictions of the early 1900s C–ID offer a first-person tour through history. And with a striking lack of bitterness, Sone asks readers to witness the unsanitary living conditions, terrible food, and cramped quarters that marked her family’s imprisonment in Idaho’s Camp Minidoka during WWII. 

Secret Seattle by Susanna Ryan

In a quirky illustrated guide that makes for an excellent walking companion, Ryan illuminates the weird and the whimsical: coal chutes in Capitol Hill, stunning boulevards, the last bit of the original Chinatown in Pioneer Square, pocket parks, and the century-old sidewalks that bear the tread of history. 

Skid Road by Josephine Ensign

Ensign’s novel unearths the layers of Seattle history underlying our current housing crisis. Centering long-silenced perspectives of those in the margins of society, the provocative read is informed by Ensign’s own lived experience of homelessness and over three decades of her work providing primary health care to unhoused populations.

Josephine Ensign, author of Skid Road.

Spear by Nicola Griffith

A fresh story emerges from old bones. The reimagined tale adds to a growing body of literature that offers fresh takes on Arthurian legends via queer and feminist perspectives. A ragtag adventuress armed with a broken hunting spear, mended armor, and a skinny steed braves the wilderness to fight sorcerers, meet great knights, and steal the hearts of beautiful women along the fraught path to her fate.

The Final Case by David Guterson

When an Ethiopian-born girl dies just feet from her home one night, her conservative, white adoptive parents are charged with her murder. With gripping narration that reads like a memoir, the novel follows the Seattle criminal attorney who takes on the case as the final work of a storied career. While the central storyline is one of hate, it’s surrounded and softened by the tenderness and love of a father-son relationship in a striking examination of privilege, power, and what it takes to lead a meaningful life.

The Golden Spruce by John Vaillant

Equal parts historical account, granular environmental explainer, and true-crime murder mystery, Vaillant’s debut novel chronicles the complex relationship between humankind and the environment. When a chainsaw-toting man swims naked across the freezing Canadian Yakoun River to cut down the most famous tree in the Pacific Northwest, then promptly disappears from under the noses of law enforcement, onlookers are left to ponder the delusional adulation of one beautiful spruce while loggers fall countless conifers each day.

Tiny Imperfections by Alli Frank and Asha Youmans

Once a catwalk queen in the fashion world, Josie Bordelon now spends her days fighting off helicopter parents as an admissions director at San Francisco’s most prestigious private school. Outside of her demanding workplace, she barely attends to her simmering love life and makes empty attempts to herd her own daughter toward a secure future. With strong, relatable characters throughout the snappy read, Frank and Youmans craft an authentic, hopeful book about the unbreakable bonds of family and the minefield of child rearing.

What Comes After by JoAnne Tompkins

The Port Townsend author’s debut novel was named one of Oprah’s 35 best beach reads last year. When the death of two teenage boys is punctuated with the sibylline arrival of a pregnant teenage girl, the grief-stricken families unite. While the poignant work is a mystery at heart, the real thrill comes from a meditation on how we move forward from suffering and loss.

When There Were No Borders by Raúl Sánchez/Tlaltecatl

From the former City of Redmond poet laureate comes a second collection of prose. Words lift readers across miles of borderless land to meet the ancient Mexican figures of Sánchez’s birthplace, and back to the Salish Sea where he resides today. Magical Latinx fables weave throughout a collection that oscillates between Spanish and English just as effortlessly as it transcends geographical space.

Honorable Mentions: Black Spokane by Dwayne A. Mack, Serious Face by Jon Mooallem

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