A Blog of Seattle Arts & Lectures

What SAL’s Reading: Winter Break Edition

“So, what was going on the week before Thanksgiving?” This is the question I anticipate coming from my husband, when we wait to board our plane to Santa Fe for the holidays tomorrow. It will be provoked when I pull The New Yorker out of my bag, which will be from the week of November 23rd this time. While most of the blame rests on me, I can now at least attribute part of my negligence to the avalanche of impassioned book recommendations I began receiving when I started working at SAL a little over a year ago.

Whether it takes the form of a passing conversation at a WITS Writer meeting, an iMessage exchange with a colleague about the books we mention in our email signatures, or a friend passing me a book on her way out of a SAL lecture, insightful commentary on literature is never in short supply. An e-newsletter series the staff penned this past summer, called What SAL’s Reading, didn’t help, either. But, an overabundance of book recommendations from smart people who are particularly fond of literature is one of the best problems to have, even as the New Yorkers keep stacking higher above (and beneath) my nightstand.

All of us enjoyed reading about each other’s books this summer so much, we wanted to bring back the What SAL’s Reading series, to share the writing SAL’s staff, board members and WITS Writers are thinking about now, as the year draws to a close. This first set looks at what we’re reading over winter break. We hope these leave you with a new stack of books and ideas to line your bedside, too.

–Erin Langner, Sonder Editor & WITS Program Associate

Michael Overa, WITS Writer-in-Residence:
“It’s a toss up. I’m eager to read Go Set a Watchman, but I’ve put it off only because I loved To Kill A Mockingbird so much. That said, I also somehow also missed out on reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Embarrassing to say. But, there. I’ve said it. Now I must read.”

Tim Griffith, Vice President, SAL Board:
“I’m looking forward to reading Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart and Fun Home by Alison Bechdel.  Having four adult daughters, I am always interested in kick ass female characters.”

Christina Gould, Patron Services Manager:
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff, My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem and, if time allows, Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart.”

Corinne Manning, WITS Writer-in-Residence:
“I’m most looking forward to reading The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson and Mary Gaitskill’s The Mare.”

Peter Mountford, WITS Writer-in-Residence:
“I can’t wait to read Alexander Chee’s forthcoming novel Queen of The Night. It’s scheduled to be published in February of 2016, but I have an advance copy. It’s historical fiction, set in second empire Paris, and it tells of the famous opera singer of that period, Lilliet Berne.”

Rebecca Hoogs, Associate Director:
 “The books I’m looking forward to reading are:

  1. My Beautiful Friend, by Elena Ferrante. I tend to focus my reading on authors who might conceivably visit SAL, and we all know that Elena Ferrante is a reclusive Italian author unlikely to grace our stages in the near future. But I’ve heard so many great things about this series of books, I might just relax my “read for SAL” rule to dive into this novel.
  2. Hold Still, by Sally Mann. I’m a sucker for memoirs, and I love photography, so this acclaimed account from Sally Mann should be right up my alley.
  3. Ada Limón, Bright Dead Things. This book was a finalist for the National Book Award this year and I’m excited to dive into her work, which is new to me.”


Jenn Pearsall, Secretary, SAL Board:
“I am looking forward to some juicy thrillers and books that have been adorning my night table for the last six months. Throughout the year, I’m often reading books to prepare for SAL lectures or for book group—all enjoyable, but still ‘assigned,’ if you will.

The First Bad Man by Miranda July—it’s going to be weird—I love her!

 A Pleasure and a Calling by Phil Hogan (looks good and creepy!)  I was house hunting and stumbled upon this recommended book at the Queen Anne Book Company.  I grabbed it immediately but wanted to move past the real estate agent part of my year before reading.

No Better Friend: One Man, One Dog and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage and Survival in WWII— I’m going to have the tissues close by for this read. As a rule of thumb, I don’t read books with animals—my poor heart can’t take it, but this one just sounded so interesting, I couldn’t pass it up.

Friday Night Lights: A Town, A Team and A Dream by H.G. Bissinger—I grew up in Texas, and Friday night football was a very big deal.  We had a huge stadium with lights and the whole works—it’s where everyone in town was on Friday nights.  I heard Bissinger interviewed on NPR earlier this year (it’s the 25th anniversary of the book), and he was such a character I picked up the book to read.

And I may try to slip in one or two others…”

Erin Langner, WITS Program Associate & Sonder Editor:
“I’m excited to finally read Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff, which a friend handed me way back at Ta-Nehisi Coates’s lecture. I’m also eager to start White Girls by Hilton Als, since I have been holding on to that one since last Christmas.”

Rachel Kessler, WITS Writer-in-Residence:
“I’m looking forward to reading, er, this is what is teetering at the tippy top of my architecturally unsound nightstand pile:

Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman
There but for The, by Ali Smith
When God Talks Back by T.M. Luhrmann
Creating a Movement with Teeth: The George Jackson Brigade and the Anti-Capitalist Underground of the 1970s by Daniel Burton-Rose
Native Seattle by Coll Thrush”

Wood Graham, SAL Board Member:
“After starting then stopping, then starting, then stopping  A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, I’ve recommitted myself to its completion. I want to like it more than I do, but its narrative is strong, faceted, grim, hidden and much more.

I’d like to read M Train by Patti Smith, and all the recent rabidly appreciative words I’ve read about Elena Ferrante make me want to start in on the Neapolitan Novels:  My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay and The Story of the Lost Child.”

Sierra Nelson, WITS Writer-in-Residence:
“This winter, I’m looking forward to reading Thunder & Lightning: Weather Past, Present, Future by Lauren Redniss (I loved her previous book Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout — the art and the writing).

Anastacia Tolbert, WITS Writer-in-Residence:
“I rarely get a chance to read for the pleasure of reading! This holiday I plan to read: Natasha Ria El-Scari’s Screaming Times, Khadijah Queen’s Fearful Beloved, Kamilah Aisha Moon’s She Has a Name and Bettina Judds’ Patient.

Ruth Dickey, Executive Director:
“I must begin with a confession – I secretly love plane trips, because they are one of the few times there is literally nothing I am expected to do except read. On my last flight, my seatmate even asked, ‘Don’t your eyes get tired?’ I should also confess that I am notorious for bringing too many books, more than I could possibly read. So with that in mind, it will be no surprise that I’m planning to pack more books than is probably wise. But that’s part of the fun! I will be carrying, and hopefully finishing: Purity, by Jonathan Franzen; People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks (both for my book club AND because she’s coming in January); and the first two Elena Ferrante Books.”

Posted in Sonder