A Blog of Seattle Arts & Lectures

Summer Book Bingo: A Recommendation from Alison Byrne Fields of Aggregate

Summer Book Bingo, a joint program of Seattle Arts & Lectures and The Seattle Public Library, is designed to provide free summer reading fun for all ages. Last summer, participants read a whopping 10,870 books, submitting 668 entries and 323 blackouts—let’s do it again! Download the Adult Card or Kids Card and spend the summer of ’18 reading great books.

By Alison Byrne Fields, founder of Aggregate

I’m behind.

I made a commitment (to myself) to read 36 books this year (three per month) and I am behind. I won’t tell you how far behind I am because public shaming is counterproductive. Books are not broccoli; my commitment was a strategy to remind myself — throughout the year — to pause. To put down the to-do list. To revel in a well-written sentence. To empathize with a fully-realized character. To consider a new idea. To smile at a recognizable observation about the people with whom I share the world.

I am behind, but I am accomplishing these goals.

I recently finished reading Harvey Milk: His Lives and Death by Lillian Faderman, which is part of Yale University Press’ Jewish Lives series. While the series highlights important Jewish figures, the books themselves are not necessarily about their Judaism. In Harvey’s case, for example, Faderman examines many aspects of who Harvey was, but addresses how — while Harvey was not a religious man — his cultural identity as a Jew impacted his perspective, including adding another dimension to his experience as an outsider in a bigoted society.

I’d read about Harvey previously and had seen both Gus Van Sant’s Milk and Rob Epstein’s The Times of Harvey Milk, but this new book (published in May) provided me with an opportunity to have a better sense of the full trajectory of Harvey’s life, the path — filled with u-turns, hills, and potholes — he took toward becoming an iconic gay leader.

We tend to lionize our heroes, stripping them of the human fallibilities that allow us to see ourselves in them and to believe that we too can change the world. As a result, what was most striking to me in reading the book was just how long — particularly relative to his short life — it took Harvey to find his purpose and to succeed in carrying it out. For years, he did work that did not fulfill him and he failed numerous times in his effort to secure elected office. And then he served for such a brief time (less than a year) before he was assassinated.

Particularly in the midst of an election year where the outcomes are so fraught, Harvey’s battle against candidates with much larger campaign coffers — using ingenuity and organizing marginalized communities to come together — was inspiring, serving as a reminder that we don’t need to be heroes; we just need to persist.

I’m behind, but I am moving forward nevertheless.

Alison Byrne Fields is the founder of Aggregate, a Seattle-based creative strategy group that works with nonprofit organizations and foundations, as well as filmmakers and authors who are creating work that could have a positive impact on social and policy change. Alison grew up in New England, but has been a Seattle resident for eight years and currently lives in Queen Anne, the perfect location for walking to Key Arena all summer to see her beloved Seattle Storm play (and win). An avid traveler, Alison has very strong feelings about hotel design (a new website on this topic is in the works) and, for the past few years, has taken a photo of every bed in which she has slept (she is up to 185). She is currently conducting research for her first book, a biography of a gay Catholic priest who was excommunicated for preaching to his community in the midst of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. Alison earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Hampshire College and her Master of Public Policy degree from Harvard University.

Posted in Summer Book Bingo