A Blog of Seattle Arts & Lectures

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Winter Reads: SAL Staff Edition

What books did you gift this winter? While we love a good “Best of 2019” reading list (and share them with abandon), sometimes our favorite book recommendations come from taking a peek at the holiday shopping lists of avid readers.

With that in mind, here is our compilation of 32 titles the SAL team gifted, were given, or treated themselves to on the cusp of a new decade.

Woogee Bae, Donor Relations Associate:


  • Hello, the Roses by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge—A lovely meditation on the environment that surrounds us, from the smallest atoms, to the shimmering universe, to the single roses that grow into fields.
  • The Taiga Syndrome by Cristina Rivera Garza, translated by Suzanne Jill Levine, and Aviva Kana—Not the usual detective mystery or fairy tale, this book will weave you in and out of strange encounters and unsettle you in the best ways.
  • Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat—A book (shared with me by Alison!) that teaches the fundamentals of cooking. And, as a reader, I’m learning to love the experience of cooking and sharing those moments with others.

Sarah Burns, Event & Corporate Giving Manager: 


  • Wild Words by Nicole Gulotta—A collection of practical lessons for building up your writing practice.
  • An Unexpected Gift by Charles Noel Van Sandwyk—An art book that tells the untold tale of Bartholomew the Green.
  • Bibliostyle: How We Live at Home with Books by Nina Freudenberger, Sadie Stein, and Shade Degges—A peek at the private libraries and bookshelves of passionate readers all over the world.

Letitia Cain, Marketing Coordinator:


  • The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye—I gave this as a gift to one of the children in my life, because how can you go wrong with a book about a turtle that moves with his family from his home in Oman to Ann Arbor, Michigan?
  • The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom—I just finished reading this stunning memoir centered on the youngest member of a large family, who grows up in a yellow house in New Orleans, with Hurricane Katrina looming on the horizon.
  • Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett—I’m excited to read this, which has been described as darkly funny, both macabre and irreverent. That’s a good enough reason to read it, but an even more compelling reason is it takes place in Florida, the land described as “the Eden of dangerous things” by Lauren Groff, and which has been written about by Zora Neale Hurston, Karen Russell, and many others. Mostly Dead is about Jessa, a 30-year-old Floridian taxidermist whose father just committed suicide, and how she, her mother, and brother all process his death in their own ways.

Amanda Carrubba, Finance & Operations Director:


  • What Color Is Night? by Grant Snider—I gave this book to my daughter; the illustrations are gorgeous and help make night less intimidating, and every time we read it we find more surprises in the subtle, yet beautiful, illustrations.
  • A gift certificate to Paper Boat Booksellers—My mom has unique taste in books, and I am constantly surprised by what she loves and doesn’t, so I got her a gift card to West Seattle’s new bookshop, so she can go pick it out herself!
  • Pachinko by Min Jin Lee—I’m starting the year reading this book by this upcoming Literary Arts Series author because everyone has told me what a wonderful read it is!

Alicia Craven, Education Director:


  • What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsun—I’m re-reading this right now. It’s such a beautiful, intriguing, illustrated exploration about what’s happening in our imaginations when we visualize images in literature. The author is one of the world’s most famous book jacket designers, so he brings a fascinating approach to examining how we distill images from the page.
  • The Topeka School by Ben Lerner—An immersive novel that spans different narrators and times and brings a poet-novelist sensibility to the beauty and possibility of language.
  • Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe—This is on my “to read” non-fiction list: from the back cover, it’s “a stunning, intricate narrative about a notorious killing in Northern Ireland and its devastating repercussions.”
  • Madness, Rack and Honey by Mary Ruefle—Inspired by our recent SAL Poetry Series star.

Ruth Dickey, Executive Director:


  • Topeka School by Ben Lerner—Perhaps it’s partially because I debated in high school, but I thought this book was absolutely brilliant: gorgeous language and an insightful exploration of how toxic masculinity is born and nurtured.
  • There You Are by Matthea Morais—Set in St. Louis in the wake of Michael Brown’s murder, and then flashing back and forth in time, this lovely book traces the love, friendships, and community that form around a beloved record store.
  • Dominicana by Angie Cruz—A moving and insightful portrait of immigration, family, love, and loss.

Bre’Anna Girdy, WITS Program Coordinator:


  • Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia Butler—I bought this book for myself. I actually read Butler’s short story Bloodchild during my black speculative fiction class, and I really loved her simple yet harrowing storytelling about possible futures. Butler has been my favorite ever since reading her novel Parable of The Sower, published in 1993, in which future America (set in early 2020s) is in environmental, economic, and social ruin. The fictional president’s slogan? Make America Great Again.
  • Blindness by Jose Saramago—SAL volunteer Heather Kelley actually gifted this to me way before the holidays. I’m moving through it slower than Butler, but my biophysics background draws me to stories about strange epidemics and how we as a people overcome the epidemiological and sociological consequences.
  • Neuromancer by William Gibson—This another book I bought three days ago. I was actually going to read this first, but my partner, Daniel, stole it from me before I could. Turns out, it’s his favorite book that he’s been meaning to read again. Gibson is considered the father of cyberpunk because of this novel, and I really love books that contemplate the relationship between humans and technology.

Christina Gould, Patron Services Manager: 


  • Me by Elton John—I gave this book to my brother, who has been obsessed with Elton’s music since we were kids.
  • The Flame: Poems, Notebooks, Lyrics, Drawings by Leonard Cohen—This book was a Hanukkah present to a dear friend, who is still mourning the loss of this poet and singer-songwriter.
  • Upstream: Selected Essays by Mary Oliver—I gave this book to another dear friend, who recently said, “I would love to read this,” when she spotted it in West Seattle’s new local independent bookstore, Paper Boat Booksellers.

Rebecca Hoogs, Associate Director:


  • Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert McFarlane—I read this gorgeous and moving meditation this summer and gave it to my father for Christmas. It’s part adventure tale, part poetic meditation on what the underworld has meant to humans since the beginning of time.
  • Vincent Comes Home by Jessixa Bagley—This local author/illustrator visited my son’s school, and he immediately put this book on his Christmas list. Done!
  • Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry—This year, my husband read and loved Milkman by Anna Burns and Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe, so I continued the Irish theme by gifting him this book, which was his first read of 2020.

Leanne Skooglund, Development Director:


  • And the Pursuit of Happiness by Maira Kalman.
  • Circe by Madeline Miller.
  • The Lachrymose Report by Sierra Nelson.
  • A Tear at the Edge of the Universe by Marcelo Gleiser.

Alison Stagner, Communications Manager:


  • Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann—I gave this nonfiction book to my history teacher husband, thinking he would really enjoy all the shocking twists and turns in a story that’s one-part about the creation of the FBI, and two-parts about the brutal murders of over twenty wealthy Osage tribe members in the Prohibition-era West. It’s astonishing that a frontier story this gripping dropped out of public consciousness. I’m looking forward to the Martin Scorsese adaptation!
  • Crime and Punishment: Pevear & Volokhonsky Translation by Fyodor Dostoevsky—This was a gift to myself! A little high-brow for my January brain, maybe, but I’ve never read any classic Russian novel, and I heard this was a fantastic translation to start with. Plus, it will help me fill out my “translated into English” category for Winter Book Bingo, a project created by WITS writer Shelby Handler and partner Beck Gross. Six squares down, eighteen more to go.
  • And the Pursuit of Happiness by Maira Kalman—Like Leanne, I also gifted Kalman’s art-book-meets-personal-meditation this winter. This one went to my mother, who is always creating these elaborately illustrated journals about her day-to-day life that remind me so much of Kalman’s work.

We want to hear what books you bought this winter, whether for yourself or a friend! Tag us on Twitter or Instagram and let us know!

Posted in SAL Staff/Board2019/20 Season