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Reading Seattle: what I read and remember

July 27th, 2004 · No Comments

In May I put Reading Seattle: The City in Prose on my reading list and my blog. Through the library, the book came to my home recently and I had some time to skim and enjoy it. I can’t say I read every piece in this anthology. The book is a smorgasboard, with thin slices taken from longer works by local authors from past and present.

Despite my desire to read it, I don’t know why I didn’t devour the book. Perhaps it is that I have other activities, such as my aggregator, that take time and reading energy. I do think that the anthology works against itself in a sense. Without a compelling theme or linking thread, other than Seattle, the pieces sometimes didn’t appeal to me. Reading an excerpt can be difficult or seem awkward. It can be work rather than fun. But it also introduced me to some authors I want to meet again and some sides of Seattle I was glad to see.

Here are my notes of what I will remember:

What characters! – Sherman Alexie’s compassionate Sandwich Lady excerpt from his book Indian Killer.

I was glad to get to know a bit of Never Mind Nirvana by Mark Lindquist .

I want to read more Paisley Rekdal.

Too true: Lynda Barry from Cruddy

Today I saw a jellyfish. Today I saw a jellyfish I stood near a ferry dock and kept breathing the air in, I could not get enough of that kind of air. […]
I had heard of clam chowder. Sometimes people ate it in books. But I didn’t know what it was and it didn’t sound good to me.

From The Strangeness of Beauty by Lydia Minatoya I enjoyed her gentle phrases such as “in their argument is the melody of marriage”

It was great to read “classic” authors of the ’80s and ’90s such as Thom Jones, David Guterson, and Timothy Egan.

I was surprised to find a writer I knew when I was in school. An excerpt of Emily Baillargeon Russin’s Seattle Now: A letter is included in the book. I could relate to her experience of moving away from Seattle in the late ’80s and watching it grow and change from afar. But her trip to a Microsoft campus seemed to me – with the exception of the subsidized cafeteria – no different from the companies I visited when Ted worked in the Valley. The tone of her piece helped me realize and remember the feelings many residents of this area have towards the Redmond giant. Her piece reminded me how both Seattle and I have changed in time. I was glad to discover her writings.

The book contains excerpts from Richard Hugo, Monica Sone, Jonathan Raban, Betty MacDonald and John Okada.

One image that stays with me comes from Murray Morgan’s piece “One Man’s Seattle” from Skid Row: An Informal Portrait of Seattle

The hills are so steep in downtown Seattle that some of the sidewalks have cleats. They used to be steeper. Less than fifty years ago Seattle seemed to have reached the physical limit of its growth; it had climbed the hills as far as a town could go. The streets were so steep that members of the Seattle Symphony, who had to climb three blocks to reach their practice hall from the place they stored their instruments, arrived winded, and sometimes rehearsals were over before all the horn players caught their breath. The musicians rigged a pulley to carry the instruments uphill so that strangers in town were sometimes startled to have a cello or tuba swoop past them on the street. The rest of Seattle’s residents couldn’t solve their problems with pulleys, and they called in engineers to take the tops off the worst of the hills.

By washing nearly as much dirt from the downtown hills as was removed during the digging of the Panama Canal, the engineers made it possible for a modern metropolis to be built on the halfl-drowned mountain that lies between Puget Sound and Lake Washington.
“A mountain at sea level,” a visitor called it years ago, when most of the shore was still outside the city limits. It still feels like a mountain lake.

Note: on Google I discovered these Reading Seattle questions for teachers…inspires me to think about using the book to teach my own children…

Tags: books