Seattle is the sort of city where people stroll down the sidewalk with their noses buried in novels, where bar crawls revolve around author readings, where locals support their neighborhood bookstores with a fervor. Long story short (pun intended): If book people are your people, you’ll feel right at home here.
In October 2017, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Seattle as an official city of literature—an honor bestowed on only 28 other cities across the globe. Seattle (consistently ranked as one of the most literate cities in the US) is a natural fit.
While UNESCO chose Seattle for its diversity of publishing, wealth of programming, and overwhelming community support for local literary culture, the city’s bookish roots run much deeper than its modern lit scene. Native Americans set the groundwork for the storytelling culture here, offering an inspiring connection between tale, people, and place. That love of stories is engrained in the city’s fabric, resulting in a multitude of authors and those who devour their works.
“Seattle is unique in its number of nationally known writers across different genres,” says Stesha Brandon, Literature & Humanities Program Manager at the Seattle Public Library and board president at Seattle City of Literature, the nonprofit behind the bid for designation. The region is famous for sci-fi and fantasy (think Richelle Mead), narrative nonfiction (Erik Larson), and breakout novelists (Maria Semple).
For those less familiar with lit culture, the designation helps tell a story about the city that people may not be aware of, Brandon says. “Seattle is known for Starbucks, Microsoft, Boeing, and grunge music, but this is a lens people don’t know as much about—the ecosystem of amazing local writers, a huge reading community, and the independent bookstores and literary nonprofits.” This also includes recognizing indigenous voices as contributors to American literature, and supporting intercultural and intertribal connections through workshops, public readings, and an indigenous writer exchange.
For visitors expressly hoping to explore the literary scene, there are events held throughout the year, including a rousing celebration of independent booksellers in April, complete with a race to visit them within one day. October, in particular, brings an “embarrassment of riches,” Brandon says, with a brimming schedule of author readings culminating in Seattle’s highly anticipated Lit Crawl at the end of the month.
While Brandon is admittedly partial to Seattle Central Library, she encourages bibliophiles to explore the literary scene by visiting local branches like the Ballard Library, with its airy reading rooms and environmentally friendly green roof (no card needed to take a tour).
And you thought Seattleites were serious about their coffee? Don’t get us started on our independent bookstores—there are nearly 20 within city limits, not counting the numerous secondhand shops—where locals and visitors turn for handwritten recommendations, likeminded community, and the tangible pleasure of leaving the store with a new book in hand (and a latte in the other).
Multilevel Elliott Bay Book Company (1521 10th Ave; elliottbaybook.com) in Capitol Hill draws bibliophiles with its knowledgeable staff, frequent author readings, and tucked-away coffee spot, Little Oddfellows. Neighboring Ada’s Technical Books and Cafe (425 15th Ave E; seattletechnicalbooks.com) pays homage to the first computer programmer, Ada Lovelace, with a title selection spanning coding to sci-fi. The neighborhood is also home to Twice Sold Tales (1833 Harvard Ave; twicesoldtales.com), a three-decade stalwart where resident felines roam charmingly haphazard stacks.
Cozy, community-owned Queen Anne Book Company (1811 Queen Anne Ave N; qabookco.com) might remind you of the spunky shop in Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail, with well-stocked shelves helmed by passionate booksellers. Third Place Books (multiple locations; thirdplacebooks.com) boasts three equally inviting locations across Seattle—the sprawling Ravenna outpost has all the trappings of a well-loved living room, plus a cafe and outdoor patio. In Fremont, Book Larder (4252 Fremont Ave N; booklarder.com) holds the title of Seattle’s only cookbook bookstore, anchored by a sprawling kitchen around which classes and author talks are held.
DC and Marvel fans will want to head south to graphic novel and comic emporium Fantagraphics (1201 S Vale St; fantagraphics.com) in the Georgetown neighborhood, while adventurous lit lovers can make a day of it by catching a ferry to Bainbridge Island to browse at Eagle Harbor Book Company (157 Winslow Way E; eagleharborbooks.com), a local institution connecting readers with writers since 1970.
Seattle-based titles and author recommendations from the exceptionally well-read folks at Seattle Public Library, Elliott Bay Book Company, and Third Place Books.More