Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Seattle: A Biblioholic’s Paradise

A few things you might not realize about Seattle (WA). Seattle has the highest per capita spending on books in the United States. Also, we have the highest per capita number of residents with library cards.

Nancy Pearl the executive director of the Washington Center for the Book at the Seattle Public Library started the nation’s city reads a book movement. As you might have gathered we like to read. During those damp winter days we like to curl up with a double tall latte, a scone, and the newest releases reviewed in the Seattle Times. You will find that carpenters, plumbers, teachers, attorneys, physicians, mid-level managers, and of course baristas in Seattle are all readers and are often reading and discussing the same book at the same time. Reading is considered “cool” in Seattle; everyone does it.

We regard writers like rock stars here (and a lot of both are Seattle residents) and author events are packed at Town Hall, our many book stores, and the multitude of branches of the Seattle Public Library.

The Central Library actually is a tourist destination. It opened in 2004 and has arresting architecture that draws visitors from around the world. The structure is 11 stories and is 367, 987 square feet (but who’s counting?) and was designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Rem Koolhaas; the building received Time magazine's top award for architecture in 2004.
The library offers both general and architectural tours that are limited to 20 people; to participate you must sign up in person. The library is only a short walk from the NACAC conference center hotels (0.38 miles). Traveling from the Sheraton, for example, you walk down 4th Avenue ( 0.2 miles) and make a right onto University Street (0.1 miles) and a left onto 6th Avenue (0.1 miles). And you’ll feel virtuous walking. My office held a staff retreat there last year and all found it fascinating.

While Seattle has its share of large box/mass retail bookstores like Borders and Barnes and Noble, the city is known for its superb independent bookstores. They include boutique book stores like Bailey-Coy on Broadway in eclectic (read bohemian/alternative) Capitol Hill (an area that is lots of fun, but like a National Geographic special) and Left Bank Books (Collectively Owned and Operated Since Its Workers since 1973) next to the Pike Place Market (a great source for far left bumper stickers and lapel buttons). The bookstore that everyone in Seattle refers to in reverential tones is the Elliott Bay Book Company.

Elliott Bay is a temple to reading and intellect. Located in historic Pioneer Square (101 South Main Street) it has over 150,000 titles housed on cedar shelves along bare brick walls. The store’s booksellers are not only well read but smart, nice, helpful and interesting. It is less than a mile from the Conference Center. Besides its location in Pioneer Square, an added incentive to visiting is the Ellott Bay CafĂ© in the store’s lower level where you can munch while read one of the newspapers or magazines from across the world upstairs for sale.

So while in town, eat your way through the Pike Place Market and digest at Left Bank, check out the wildlife on Broadway and reflect in Bailey Coy, do the tourist thing trekking around Pioneer Square and rest at Elliott Bay, or tour the majestic Seattle Public Library. These are just a few of the myriad delights that await you in the Emerald City.

Michael K. McKeon
Dean of Admissions
Seattle University