The Decade in Books
As this decade draws to a close, Seattle is presented with yet another opportunity to reflect on the city’s myriad contributions to the American literary canon. Despite the city’s apparent shift toward a more tech-focused economy in the last 10 years, and the cultural changes implied in such a shift, Seattle’s creative core has remained vibrant and robust. In 2017, UNESCO declared Seattle the second city in the United States to earn the designation as a City of Literature.
We’ve checked out the most notable books from the past decade, but what about the bestsellers? As Seattle bookstores look back on the decade’s bestselling titles, it is clear that the literature of our city has made national impressions.
To get an idea of the decade’s bestselling Seattle-based books and titles from Washington-state authors, I spoke to Third Place Books, Elliott Bay Books, Eagle Harbor Books, the University Book Store and Queen Anne Book Company. Based on point-of-sale data and observations from the booksellers, I crafted this list to find out what titles flew off Seattle shelves in the 2010s. (Note: The booksellers asked that specific sales numbers not be disclosed.)
“The Boys in the Boat” by Daniel James Brown (2013)
For Seattleites that haven’t yet encountered this title, “The Boys in the Boat” tracks the journey of the University of Washington crew team as they make it to the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin and eventually take home the gold. Taking place at the intersection of the Great Depression and the rise of the Nazi party, this sports narrative represents a significant historic moment not just for Seattle, but for the world.
“Our No. 1 bestseller for the last 10 years is, hands down, ‘The Boys in the Boat.’ It has sold almost double of any other single title during that time,” said Robert Sindelar, managing partner of Third Place Books. “That was one of those books whose momentum just would not stop. Every time we thought it was slowing down, it seemed like a whole new audience would discover it.”
This is also true for Queen Anne Book Company, for which sales for this title were just under double those of the second-bestselling title.
“Where’d You Go, Bernadette” by Maria Semple (2012)
Another crossover pick from our list of most notable books, the breakout novel from Seattle resident and veteran TV writer Semple has topped both local and national charts. “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” spent an entire year on the New York Times bestsellers list and 72 weeks on NPR’s paperback fiction bestsellers list. Quirky and full of Microsoft references, Semple’s novel is an enjoyable romp through a contemporary Seattle landscape and beyond.
Rick Simonson, head buyer at Elliott Bay Book Company, says that the book “continues to go into readers’ hands” and that “[Semple] has been a wonderfully visible presence in Seattle, quite supportive of us and independent bookstores in general.”
“Dog Man” (series) by Dav Pilkey (2016-Present)
Pilkey’s “Dog Man” series tops the charts for children’s literature — not just in Seattle, but nationally. The Bainbridge Island resident and 2019 Publishers Weekly Person of the Year released the first in the “Dog Man” series in 2016, and on Dec. 10th, published the eighth: “Dog Man: Fetch-22,” which boasted a 5 million-copy first printing. Pilkey’s profound success represents what the publishing industry has identified to be a huge growth area. In the last year, Random House launched its Random House Graphic imprint, and Lion Forge Comics launched both Caracal and CubHouse imprints, all aimed at the young-readers graphic market.
“So You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo (2018)
Beloved Seattle writer Oluo’s panoramic book about race in America has been a perennial bestseller at Seattle bookstores since its publication in early 2018. A frequent book-club pick, “So You Want to Talk About Race” was the second-bestselling title last year at the Third Place Books location in Seward Park, only after Michelle Obama’s “Becoming.”
“Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis” by Timothy Egan (2011)
Egan — New York Times columnist and one of Seattle’s most distinguished authors — writes about the life of early-19th century photographer Edward Curtis in “Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher.” A prolific but since-forgotten ethnographer, Curtis noticed the lack of cultural documentation of Native American nations and embarked on a journey that resulted in more than 40,000 photographs.
The University Book Store said of Egan, “Just about everything this National Book Award winner writes is popular with his Northwest fans.”
“Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” by Jamie Ford (2009)
Although published in 2009, both Elliott Bay Book Company and Eagle Harbor Books report Ford’s Seattle-based novel to be one of their top sellers this decade. Split between the Seattle of the 1940s and 1980s, “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” is a family drama about the Japanese Americans who were sent to incarceration camps during World War II, and the close Chinese American communities that bore witness.
“Amulet” (series) by Kazu Kibuishi (2008-Present)
The stars of the ever-growing genre of middle-grade graphic novels are authors such as Raina Telgemeier, Svetlana Chmakova, Pilkey and Seattle’s very own Kibuishi. Kibuishi published the first book in his “Amulet” series in 2008, but the last six installments in the series have been published in this decade. In the Seattle area, the sales of Kibuishi’s fantasy series, which follows a young girl who discovers a magical amulet in her great-grandfather’s house, are a close second to Pilkey’s.
“Shrill” by Lindy West (2016)
Seattle writer West’s wildly popular memoir typified a surging genre of internet-inspired confessional writing in the form of personal essays and memoirs. Readers and watchers alike were drawn to West’s bold and painfully intimate style, and it clearly made a national impression: the Hulu adaptation of “Shrill” was picked up for a second season earlier this year.
“White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo (2018)
University of Washington education professor DiAngelo’s “White Fragility” is both a race-studies book and a bestseller, a once-rare phenomenon that was perhaps kick-started by the 2015 publication of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me.” Another frequent book club pick, “White Fragility ‘continues to hold its high sales rankings in Seattle bookstores.
“Seattle Walks: Discovering History and Nature in the City” by David B. Williams (2017)
Seattle is consistently voted to be in the top 10 of America’s most-active cities, so it’s not surprising that a guide to Seattle’s best places to walk was a hit in the Seattle bookstores. Elliott Bay’s Simonson said it best: “Seattle does like to walk.”