A Blog of Seattle Arts & Lectures

Book Bingo: The Tropical Edition

Summer Book Bingo is a partnership with The Seattle Public Library and Seattle Arts & Lectures to provide free summer reading fun for adults. When your neighborhood library closes tonight, Bingo officially ends—so be sure to drop off your completed board for your last chance to win fabulous prizes!

In this guest post from Lynne K. Varner, Washington State University’s Associate Vice President for Advancement Relations & Communications Strategies, it all begins with one lucky ticket to Hamilton. Inspired by the musical, Lynne shares some of her favorite summer reads, all set in sweltering tropical climates…

By Lynne K. Varner

I don’t know how anyone else is greeting the sudden coolness signaling fall’s approach, but I welcome it. I’m due for a cooling off after a summer spent absorbed in five delectable books all set in sweltering, humid climates.

My tropical literary getaway started in late June. I hit the lottery, so to speak, managing to snag a ticket to Hamilton, the rousing hip-hop musical about a founding father few of us had thought about before his name became the hottest ticket on Broadway. To prepare, I picked up Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow’s biography of our first U.S. Treasury secretary, setting off on an imaginary journey to Hamilton’s birthplace, the island of Nevis in the British West Indies.

I inhaled the 826-page book and wished there was a second volume. Where was this brilliant, witty, bombastic man who loved pistols and ladies with equal measure when I was studying the Federalist papers in high school?

During Hamilton, the musical, the Aaron Burr character wonders jealously how Hamilton, a “bastard, orphan, son of a Scotsman and a whore,” goes on to build the complex financial system that finances the most powerful country on earth. I’m glad I read Alexander Hamilton to find out.

Next up was Jessmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones, featuring the Batiste family of Bois Sauvage, La., in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina. The mother is dead. The father is an abusive drunk. The four children, ranging in age from seven to 17, spend their sweltering days playing in a clay pit or running through the swampy woods, stopping only for hasty meals of potted meat and Vienna sausages. I could practically feel the damp, heavy air as Katrina drew moisture from the clouds to unleash her fury. What came next was a terrifying yet moving lesson in love, hope and resilience.

Queen Sugar, was also set in Louisiana, on “soil as dark and rich as ground French Roast,” writes the book’s author, Natalie Baszile. I loved this lyrical narrative about a widow and her tempestuous young daughter setting out from their Los Angeles bungalow for Saint Josephine Parish to save an 800-acre sugar cane farm. I had a sense that back-breaking work goes into producing those sweet granules we stir into our coffee, but Queen Sugar hid none of the harshness of sugar cane farming, with its waist-high stalks tough enough to rip the skin off your hand. Not to mention the harsh racism that was a way of life in the rural South.

As August wound to a close, I re-read two classics: Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe’s brilliantly dark telling of the British arrival in rural Nigeria and No Longer at Ease, an evocative depiction of the tug of Western and African cultures on one man. The dog days of summer drawing to a close, I sat curled in a lounge chair feeling the heat of Africa at midday and the festering tensions of the British and African employees in the colonial civil service.

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