Seattle is one of my favorite cities, so I was happy to receive this guest post from Karen Adams, a talented local writer. I love her focus on a side of Seattle that tourists don’t see, but authentic travelers can really appreciate. If you’re planning a trip to the Emerald City, this post is a must-read. There’s also good travel info in this earlier Seattle article.
From its humble beginnings as a logging town, through its riveting role in producing aircraft during WWII, to its evolution into a hub for computing technology, Seattle has always been a place filled with independent thinkers and pioneer spirit.
We are the birthplace of Starbucks, Microsoft and Grunge, but we are also home to a burgeoning community of independent bookstores, fantastically stocked, and often beautiful libraries, and of course readers. I would like, if I may, to introduce you to this quieter, and less well-known side of Seattle, far away from the bedlam of the cruise ships and souvenir shops.
Twice Sold Tales
Just as how in some books, a location becomes a character in the story, sometimes in bookstores the characters that run them can become the location. This is particularly true in the case of Twice Sold Tales, which is by far my favorite used bookstore in Seattle. From the moment you encounter the old brick building located in the heart of the Capitol Hill area, you can just tell you are going to be in for an adventure. Inside, the labyrinth-like maze of shelves and stacks twist and turn you around in so many directions that it is hard not to get lost as you search through the thousands of volumes on hand, finding treasures both sought after and unexpected.
However, what truly makes this place special is owner Jamie Lutton. She is a true book lover and a real character. Passionate about books, and incredibly well read, this high octane woman will happily gush with you, or to you, about the merits of a book all while, artfully leading you through the store’s labyrinth like Daedalus, and probably finding another half-dozen tomes along the way. Likewise, she will let you know with equal animation and vigor if the book you are inquiring about is unworthy, and in doing so is bound to recommend another book, or twelve, that are better. While the store is primarily fiction, there are also ample children’s, history, travel, dramatic arts, and LGBT sections. It is also the home of four beloved cats, which have full run of the store, but do not share their owner’s frenetic tendencies.
Seattle landmark: The Elliot Bay Book Company
From the moment you walk in to the beautiful vintage building, which started life in 1918 as the original Ford truck service center for Seattle, you will realize that The Elliot Bay Book Company is about as quintessentially Northwestern as you can get. The first thing you will notice is wood – and lots of it. From the fir floors, to the cedar shelves, up to the (nearly) 100-year-old exposed beams far above, you cannot help but be reminded that Seattle’s roots lay in timber. But this expanse of lumber also serves to make the immense store feel cozy and homey and yet still fresh and modern; think the love child of a rustic but tasteful cabin and any large modern repository of books.
Like the Rock Crabs you find in the waters the store is named for, over the years it has outgrown its exterior shell several times. Yet, with each and every expansion, it has continued to stay true to its unique vision of highlighting amazing works of both the famous and the unknown alike. In the last decade alone The Elliot Bay Book Company has hosted over 3,000 author readings and events. There is, of course, a full service café in the store – not exactly a rarity these days, I know – but these guys did it first, back in 1979. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, be prepared to be blown away by the wonderfully inclusive and broad reaching range of books available, especially when it comes to the arts.
The Suzzallo Library
Across Lake Washington, on the University of Washington campus, is what I can only describe as a cathedral to knowledge: The Suzzallo Library. Like the rest of the UW campus, this library speaks to Old World influences, but with New World sensibilities. Think classic architecture with space.
The library’s exterior is festooned with sandstone sculptures of some of the greatest minds in history. Entering the building is much like entering any collegiate library with metal detectors and an information desk. However this is where the similarities end, because just beyond these banal items is a sweeping stone staircase with steps worn uneven from nearly a hundred years of students treading upon them. The stairs lead to an echoing hall that is home to one of the world’s largest tomes: The Bhutan Book.
But the jewel in the library’s crown is the Suzzallo Reading Room. To say that this room is magnificent is an understatement. The leaded glass, the spired ceiling, the aged oak bookshelves, and row after row of long study tables each with a mounted table top light running the length of it, makes the room feel both grand and comfortable. You will not regret spending a few of your Seattle hours here, whether wandering or reading.
Enjoy more of Karen’s literary journeys on her blog, BookTrekker. I especially enjoyed her thoughts on bookstores in La Jolla, California, where I live. If you know La Jolla, you’ll love this one.