A Blog of Seattle Arts & Lectures

Summer Book Bingo: Uplifting

2020 Summer Book Bingo, our free summer reading program with The Seattle Public Library, is nearly here—early! We’re giving a sneak preview of a Book Bingo square each week until the full card is released in early May. Follow along with our category reveals on social media using the hashtag #BookBingoNW2020, and learn more about the program here.

The first square—drum roll please—is “Uplifting,” a welcome theme during this challenging time of Stay Home, Stay Safe. We thought we’d ask the SAL staff to help you find some funny, heartwarming, and life-affirming stories for your “Uplifting” (or “Uplit” for short) category.

Woogee Bae, Donor Relations Associate

In a Jar by Deborah Marcero. This children’s book is a charming story between two bunny friends who collect ordinary objects, and eventually their experiences together, into jars (of all sizes!). My colleague, Sarah, lent it to me a few weeks ago, before everything shut down, and it was a beautiful reminder of the memories I’ve made with loved ones and the memories we will make from a distance. Plus, the illustrations are colorful and gorgeous!

Sarah Burns, Event & Corporate Giving Manager

I’m in Charge of Celebrations by Byrd Baylor, with illustrations by Peter Parnall. I bought this book for my children, but I consider it “my” book. It reminds me that we can turn moments into celebrations whenever we choose, even on ordinary days, and especially now during this time when we are all isolating ourselves at home during a pandemic. With Peter Parnall’s instantly recognizable illustrations, I am immediately transported back to a special trip my family took to the Southwest desert. The story is narrated by a young girl who tells us why she isn’t lonely:

How could I be lonely? I’m the one in charge of celebrations.

Friend, I’ll tell you how it works.

Last year I gave myself one hundred and eight celebrations, besides the ones they close school for. I keep a notebook and I write the date and then I write about the celebrations. I’m very choosy about what goes in that book. 

You can tell what’s worth a celebration because your heart will POUND and you’ll feel like you’re standing on top of a mountain and you’ll catch your breath like you were breathing some new kind of air.

Letitia Cain, Marketing Coordinator

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. This period piece, which takes place right after the Great Depression and just before World War II, centers on the life of a young, clever woman that lives in Brooklyn. It follows the heroine through the year 1938, which changes the course of her entire life.

I consider books that totally envelope the reader as “uplifting,” since I love to be transported elsewhere in place and time. With this book, I didn’t want to put it down! A great deal happens to the main character as she travels all around New York City—and all I wanted to do was to become totally absorbed in the world of this spirited woman, to see how she resolves her challenges, and to figure out how George Washington’s notes of proper social behavior would fit in her world.

Amanda Carrubba, Finance & Operations Director

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins. There is no description that can do the amazing characters and story of this book justice. Hitchhiking, cowgirls, whooping cranes, and so much more… What more can I say? Sissy is such an inspiring and intrepid character who reminds us to be true to ourselves. And cowgirls, of course! Tom Robbins is a genius—the worlds and characters he creates are always favorites of mine to visit over and over.

Alicia Craven, Director of Education

Essays of E.B. White by E.B. White. While many of us first came to E.B. White’s genius through Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web, his essays are so charming—delicately rendered, with simple, clean, beautiful language that relish in both small moments and big questions. Example essay titles include: “What Do Our Hearts Treasure?”, “A Slight Sound at Evening,” and “Some Remarks on Humor.”

As in his children’s books, White mixes humor and melancholy in a way that feels very true to life and is comforting to me. This collection also contains his famous essay “Here is New York” which was written in late summer of 1948—the city more quiet than usual with some of the hustle bustle diminished as people tried to flee the summer heat. So, he’s looking out a window, reflecting on what he loves about living in a big city. The magic of people coming together, while also in a quiet moment, really struck home, tonally, reading it now.

Piper Daugharty, WITS Program Associate

How to Write An Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee. In this collection of essays, Chee explores how much grit and perseverance it takes to become a writer, and explains how even then, the work is never finished. I love so many of these essays because they perfectly blend the deeply personal with the grittiness of history, cataloging the effect of the political on an individual. I have never read an essay about 9/11 that haunted me so. Plus, the essays are just beautiful and made me want to start a rose garden.

I find several of the final essays to be most uplifting, but this book makes me believe that as artists, we have no choice but to tear down the institutions which tell us art is never enough—that destroying art is the first step in destroying people. Especially now, it can feel debilitating to live with loss and grief—but that is our channel, our wound that unites us to others.

A quote I’ll leave here: “I have new lessons in not stopping… If you are reading this, and you’re a writer, and you, like me, are gripped with despair, when you think you might stop: Speak to your dead. Write for your dead. Tell them a story. What are you doing with this life? Let them hold you accountable. Let them make you bolder or more modest or louder or more loving, whoever it is, but ask them in, listen, and then write. And when war comes—and make no mistake, it is already here—be sure you write for the living too. The ones you love, and the ones who are coming for your life. What will you give them when they get there?” These essays have pulled me out of despair, validated the work, and made me dig in deeper towards what haunts me. Chee knows what we are up against, and tells us to keep, keep going.

Ruth Dickey, Executive Director

A Man Called Ove and My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, both by Frederik Backman. Oh, and one more—The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. In A Man Called Ove, a man grieving his wife is interrupted in his plan to take his life in a variety of ways, and in My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, a young girl and her dog set out on a quest to honor her late Grandmother’s wishes to make amends.

While each premise may sound grim, the books are delightful. In each of these books, characters struggle with grief, complication, and grumpiness, and ultimately find connection and community, and with them, the sweetness and beauty in life—what’s not to love about that? The books are also an ode to difficult characters in our life, and to the fundamental good in shared humanity. And The History of Love is such a beautiful and winding tale that gives me hope that things will work out in the end—I had to add it to the list.

Bre’Anna Girdy, WITS Program Coordinator

The Source of Self Regard by Toni Morrison. During this time, I’ve really needed the extra push to stay inspired. I find that reading essays by prominent voices such as Toni Morrison really grounds me in my own will to write—so, I’ll be reading her as time (and emotions) allow.

Christina Gould, Patron Services Manager

Becoming by Michelle Obama. This honest, inspirational, warm, and witty memoir of a remarkable woman embodies the definition of uplifting for me. Her story from beginning to end is filled with love, support, and hope for her family, friends, and the world. Her integrity, strength, resolve and determination carry her through all the joys, losses, obstacles, and decisions of her life and inspire the reader.

I recommend Becoming as an audiobook. Michelle reads her own story, and her voice is comforting. While listening, I felt like I was having coffee with a friend who had lots to tell me. I laughed and cried and interjected really? when she complained about Barack leaving his clothes on the floor and his papers everywhere! Hers is an intimate story that has enriched and uplifted me; she represents the best of times, and her story is healing in this worst of times.

Rebecca Hoogs, Associate Director

Less by Andrew Sean Greer. It’s a tale of a semi-failed (or semi-successful?) author who embarks on a round-the-world book tour to escape his ex-boyfriend’s impending marriage to someone else. Any book that makes me laugh out loud qualifies as “Uplit” for me. It was funny, heart-warming, and poignant all at once.

Leanne Skooglund, Development Director

When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron. Pema has been a go-to sage for me for many years. With great wisdom, humor, and gentleness, in this book she encourages the reader to move toward and be open to painful experiences in our life in order to open our hearts and ultimately feel deeply connected with others.

Alison Stagner, Communications Manager

Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby. You might not expect that a personal essay collection dedicated to Wellbutrin is my top “Uplit” pick for our quarantine era, but thanks to Irby’s deadpan, irreverent humor, this is the funniest and warmest book I’ve read all year. I highly recommend reading Irby’s two other essay collections first—Meaty and We Are Never Meeting in Real Life—to get a full sense of her life’s trajectory. This book lands us in the midst of her success as a writer in Hollywood. Whether her essays are about aging, depression, ridiculous TV executives, or living with her wife in a Red state, she takes an unflinching look at the chaos of her newfound domesticity, and invites you to laugh along.

Posted in SAL Staff/BoardSummer Book BingoBehind the Scenes