2019 Summer Book Bingo: SAL Speaker Square
June 11, 2019
By Brooke Densmore Williams, Summer Book Bingo Player
I have always been an avid reader, but I easily get into reading patterns and ruts—I have loved the way that Book Bingo has pushed me to read outside of my standard patterns (and often outside of my comfort zone); Seattle Arts & Lectures supported my reading habits with a truly stellar 2018-2019 Season.
I’m happy to say that their recently-announced 2019-2020 Season is filled with even more authors I love, so there are even more excellent choices for the “Seattle Arts & Lectures Speaker (Past or Upcoming)” Book Bingo square.
Here are a few of my favorites, both future and past:
2019-2020 Season Favorites
Carol Anderson: I’m perhaps most excited for Dr. Anderson’s SAL visit this coming April, as her books White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide (2016) and One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying Our Democracy (2018) are absolutely critical reading. Anderson covers the systemic and institutional racism that undergirds the founding of the United States, and how to fight these forces to salvage our fraying American democracy. She’s a tremendous speaker to boot! My copies of Dr. Anderson’s books live on my “Reference” shelf (next to fellow SAL Speakers Ijeoma Oluo and Soraya Chemaly!), and I truly cannot wait to hear her speak again.
Ta-Nehisi Coates: I’m thrilled that Ta-Nehisi Coates is returning to SAL this season, but with his novel The Water Dancer (September 2019) this time! I still think about his sold-out 2017 conversation and his incredible Between the World and Me and We Were Eight Years in Power, and I look forward to hearing him again this season (wearing his novelist hat this time!).
Min Jin Lee: I was late to Pachinko (2017) after hearing from several friends that it was one of their favorite reads in recent years, but once I picked it up, I couldn’t put it down, and I cannot wait to hear her speak about the decade-long process of researching and writing this epic novel.
Carmen Maria Machado: Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties short story collection has been described as “queer, feminist ghost stories,” and I think I now know my favorite sub-genre of not-quite-realistic fiction. Machado is inspired by Shirley Jackson and the way that women writers can express characters’ complex inner lives through a mixture of horror, surrealism, and dark fairytales in a way that has traditionally been out of reach for female characters in realistic literary fiction.
Patti Smith: Smith’s National Book Award-winning memoir Just Kids (2010) is one of the hands-down most gorgeous books I’ve ever read. The book is a love letter to her friendship with the artist Robert Mapplethorpe, and if you love Smith’s music as much as I do, you may want to consider listening to the audiobook version (she reads it!), or (re)reading it in the form of the new illustrated edition, which is filled with photos of Smith, Mapplethorpe, their friends and fellow artists and New York City as it was in 1969.
Lindy West: We are so lucky to have Seattle’s own shero Lindy West(!!!) back on the Benaroya Hall stage this season. Between the TV adaptation of her (BRILLIANT) Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman (2016) and her role as a New York Times columnist, I don’t know how she’s managed to find time to write another book, but I am eagerly awaiting The Witches Are Coming, which will be released in November 2019.
Past Season Favorites
Soraya Chemaly: Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger (2018) was recently released in paperback, and it’s a must-read. This book completely changed my understanding of and perspective on women’s anger, and I find the book to be a useful tool rather than just a one-time read. My heavily marked-up copy lives on my aforementioned “Reference” section.
Tayari Jones: Little can be said about Tayari Jones’ brilliance that hasn’t already been said, but I wasn’t prepared for how funny and endearing she would be! I’m still riding high off after hearing Jones read and talk about the craft of writing, and I’m so glad I read An American Marriage (2018) for my SAL Speaker Book Bingo square this year.
Valeria Luiselli: Luiselli’s Tell Me How it Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions (2017) and her new novel Lost Children Archive (2019) read as companion pieces, and they’re an incredible look at the humanitarian crises of unaccompanied minors, both the present edition and the 2014 surge that occurred during the Obama administration. Luiselli plays with the essay and novel formats, and stretches the boundaries of both genres to great effect.
Helen Oyeyemi: Gingerbread (2019), Oyeyemi’s take on the Hansel and Gretel story, is one of my most-anticipated reads of 2019. I absolutely love her unique form of magical realism, which can be in turn joyful, funny, eerie, dark, and funny. I also recommend her earlier books, including her breathtaking collection of short stories, What is Not Yours is Not Yours (2016).
Danez Smith: Their Don’t Call Us Dead was a finalist for the 2017 National Book Award and is just wow wow wow, even for the poetry skeptics among us. Their 2018 performance was easily the best poetry reading I’ve ever been fortunate to witness, so if you have an opportunity to hear Danez read, RUN, DON’T WALK!
There are too many authors I’ve loved to list them in a comprehensive way here (see also: Zadie Smith, Ijeoma Oluo, Phoebe Robinson, Solmaz Sharif, Tracy K. Smith, Tommy Orange, Terese Marie Mailhot, Roxane Gay, and Colson Whitehead, to name a few), but that is the joy of reading—there are always so many more incredible books to enjoy.
President Obama, avid reader, aptly described the importance of fiction in a 2015 interview with novelist Marilynne Robinson:
When I think about how I understand my role as citizen, setting aside being president, and the most important set of understandings that I bring to that position of citizen, the most important stuff I’ve learned I think I’ve learned from novels. It has to do with empathy. It has to do with being comfortable with the notion that the world is complicated and full of grays, but there’s still truth there to be found, and that you have to strive for that and work for that. And the notion that it’s possible to connect with some[one] else even though they’re very different from you.
President Obama’s words really resonated with me, so I have been so pleased to have Seattle Arts & Lectures speakers, Seattle Public Library librarians (and Shelf Talk Blog), and Summer Book Bingo to keep me on my toes.
I hope you’ll join me in reading along with Summer (or really year-round) Book Bingo, and I look forward to talking about all things Bingo-related at a future SAL event. I’ll see you there!
Brooke Densmore Williams is an avid reader who averages 50 books per year, and can frequently be found at one of Seattle’s many independent bookstores, stocking up on stacks of books written by BIPOC, LGBTQIA+ and womxn-identifying authors to share with friends, colleagues, and her fellow year-round Book Bingo devotees. She loves attending author talks (mostly SAL events, of course!), and one of her proudest moments happened when Michael Bennett answered one of her questions from the stage while on tour for his book “Things that Make White People Uncomfortable.”
Brooke has a B.A. in Geology from Vassar College and a J.D. from the University of Washington School of Law, but she really should have gone to library school. She currently serves on the Boards of the Progress Alliance of Washington and Child Care Resources, and is an active volunteer with several organizations focusing on access to democracy, justice and education. Find her on Instagram if you want to talk about #OwnVoices books, dogs with jobs, voter suppression, or perhaps most importantly, #BookBingoNW2019!