Read in a Sitting

If the idea of blowing through a 500-lb book is as appealing as running a marathon in a parrot costume, read on. Maybe it’s all the heavy slogging we’ve done this past year, but I find myself shying away from longer reads. I reach for thinner books, and I often have success browsing the library for leaner literature.

Quick reads or fast reads are generally 200 pages or less, and it’s gratifying to knock out a couple in an afternoon. I can still read a meaningful book–whether it’s being “well read” with a short classic, or tackling more contemporary novels, generally considered to be titles published 1970 and after.

Try your hand at a fast read. I’ve collected a pile of quick read suggestions to assist in your slide to the shorter side, available from the Everett Public Library! Ask a librarian for even more suggestions.

God-level Knowledge Darts : Life Lessons from the Bronx By Desus Nice & The Kid Mero. Nonfiction. Full of irreverent, witty humor writing, this book is a bright light. 

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett. Fiction. Uncommonly funny, this little fable offers pleasures no book lover should forego. Starring Queen Elizabeth II!

A Month in the Country by  J. L. Carr. Fiction. A divorced, WWI veteran’s own reconstructing of his faith in life coincides with his restoration of a mural.

We Love Anderson Cooper by R. L. Maizes. Fiction. The characters in this humorous and deeply human short story collection remind us that even in our most isolated moments, we are never truly alone.

The Hole by Hiroko Oyamada, Translated by David Boyd. Fiction. Asa moves with her new husband to a rural area close to where his family lived. On an errand for her mother-in-law one day, she came upon a hole perfect for her. This is the first of many bizarre happenings, and she begins to wonder if she is losing her mind. 

The Factory by Hiroko Oyamada. Fiction. The story follows three workers at a sprawling industrial factory. With hints of Kafka and unexpected moments of creeping humor, it casts a vivid–and sometimes surreal–portrait of the absurdity and meaninglessness of the modern workplace.

The Vegetarian: a Novel by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith. It is “An unusual and mesmerizing novel, gracefully written and deeply disturbing… In her first novel to be published in English, South Korean writer Han divides a story about strange obsessions and metamorphosis into three parts, each with a distinct voice.” –Kirkus Reviews

Ethan Fromme by Edith Wharton. Fiction. Published in 1911, “Ethan Frome” is a perfect example of the way in which Wharton’s painstakingly detailed portrait of a community and its landscape proves that the environment decides an individual’s behavior, personality, and ultimate fate. 

The All of It by Jeanette Haien. Fiction. A priest stands fishing in a salmon stream, pondering the dark secret that “the death of a parishioner has revealed, and the astonishing tale the woman who survives the deceased has told him.” –“Publishers Weekly.” “The only book I know in which innocence follows experience. A truly amazing thing.”  – – Poet Mark Strand 

Train Dreams By Denis Johnson. Fiction. “The story of a turn-of-the-century logger and railroad laborer who loses his family to a wildfire and retreats deep into the woods of the Idaho panhandle as the country modernizes around him. Johnson’s spare, strange, elegiac prose conjures a world that feels both ancient and ephemeral, full of beauty and menace and deep sorrow. . . . A haunted and haunting reverie.” — LitHub 

Passing by Nella Larsen. Fiction. An upper middle-class woman reconnects with a lighter-skinned friend who has left the black community to pass as white.

The Small Hand: A Ghost Story by Susan Hill. Fiction. A bookseller is plagued by nightmares after stumbling across a derelict Edwardian house in this suspenseful quick read. 

The Book Shop by Penelope Fitzgerald. Fiction. On the heels of “The Blue Flower” (1997), here’s a slighter, equally charming, half as deep little novel—about snobbery and meanness in the provinces—that the immensely gifted Fitzgerald published in England in 1978. –Kirkus Reviews  

An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten. Translated by Marlaine Delargy. Mystery. Five connected stories about a murderous old Swedish lady. Pure fun and irreverent as all get out.

We have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. Jackson’s beloved gothic tale of a peculiar girl named Merricat and her family’s dark secret.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Comedy science fiction. In this, the first book in the series, we meet bemused human protagonist, Arthur Dent, who wanders the Universe after the destruction of Earth with alien travel writer Ford Prefect. The broadcast from which the book comes is so gleefully silly, I was immediately smitten. 

The Chemical History of a Candle by Michael Faraday. Nonfiction. This engaging special collection contains six demonstration lectures Faraday gave to young people at the Royal Institute in London in 1860. This mastermind could write simply and clearly and is best known for his contributions to our understanding of electricity.

Heartburn by Nora Ephron. Fiction. It has no spies, no world crises, no acts of Congress—only love, betrayal, and heartbreak, set against a Washington backdrop. Ephron’s first and only novel chronicles her marriage to real life Washington Post journalist Carl Bernstein, who, along with Bob Woodward, won a Pulitzer Prize for their series of articles exposing President Nixon and the GOP staffers who broke into the Watergate. Ephron wrote many essays and screenplays, including the rom com hit, “When Harry Met Sally.”

Night by Elie Wiesel. Nonfiction. Hungary, 1944: a Jewish boy manages to survive the worst that man can do to man, only to wonder what in this life could be worth the cost of survival. Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. Fiction. Okonkwo’s greatest fear is not the forest, not savage beasts, not black magic, not even the white men who are taking over Nigeria. More than these, he fears himself. 

A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro. Fiction. Set in postwar Japan after the country’s defeat in World War II, the debut novel of Ishiguro explores the country’s move towards Western ideals, and follows a family in the thick of it through various characters–conservative and liberal alike. The focus is largely on the oppression of women in traditional Japanese society.

The Story of a Brief Marriage by Anuk Arudpragasam. Fiction. Orphaned by the Sri Lankan civil war, a young man hopes an arranged marriage might make his last days in a refugee camp more meaningful.

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff. Nonfiction. An exchange of letters, all through the ’40’s and ’50’s, between Miss Hanff and Marks & Co., Booksellers, 84 Charing Cross Road (London, of course). “No volume conveys the enduring and serendipitous charm of books as happily as this one.” — James Mustich, former editor of “A Common Reader”


Mark your calendar! Tune in May 25th. Everett Public Library librarians will chat about books that made them drool with anticipation of their arrival as well as books that have been a source of pleasure–or pain. Book Bites is back this Month, May 25th from 12 to 12:30. Bring your lunch and let us know what you’re reading or looking forward to in the chat the day of the discussion. Register beforehand, and then join us on Crowdcast. It’s easy! See you at lunchtime! 

Recent Reads

Last month I found myself with some unexpected time to read several fiction books that are hard to find a common theme for, but perhaps the common denominator is that they all transport us into another place, culture, or time.

The Removed by Brandon Hobson follows a Cherokee family, the Echotas, as they plan their yearly bonfire remembrance for their son Ray-Ray, who was killed by police at a mall at age 15. Their remaining son struggles with addiction and ignores their calls, escaping to a nightmarish town and the home of an old friend who is up to no good. Daughter Sonia gets herself tangled up in multiple unhealthy relationships with younger men. A mysterious child, Wyatt, who reminds the Echotas so much of Ray-Ray, comes into their lives briefly for foster care. Interspersed is the story of ancestor Tsala, who was killed on the Trail of Tears, and who tries to effect change in the here and now.
Kirkus Reviews states: “Spare, strange, bird-haunted, and mediated by grief, the novel defies its own bleakness as its calls forth a delicate and monumental endurance. A slim yet wise novel boils profound questions down to its final word: “Home.”

Who Is Maud Dixon by Alexandra Andrews
Florence is trying to get ahead in her job in publishing but makes a grave mistake. A new opportunity comes out of nowhere – a position as assistant to a wildly popular but extremely private author, known as Maud Dixon. The two of them travel to Morocco so that Maud can work on research for the setting of her next book. Florence begins to question Maud’s ability as a writer and the progress being made on the book. The two of them go out drinking, and the next day, Florence discovers that Maud has disappeared and presumes she is dead. Is it possible for Florence to assume Maud’s identity, finish to book, and grab the glory and the money? I had to find out!
Kirkus Reviews: “At every diabolical twist and turn, Andrews’ impish sense of humor peeks around the corner to jack up the fun. Terrific characters, vivid settings, and a deliciously dastardly, cunningly constructed plot.”

There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job by Kikuko Tsumura is the first English translated work by the author who is well known in Japan. The main (unnamed) character is in her thirties, and after experiencing burnout at her former job, returns to live with her parents. She signs on with a temp agency hoping for a stress free job, and begins a series of strange occupations which range from surveillance, to writing ad copy for busses, to sitting in a hut in the woods in a huge park, so vast that many people get lost and need her to find them. Things get more complicated and mysterious as she progresses through the jobs. Just like the small number of other Japanese fiction I have read, I was sorry when this audiobook ended. There’s something peaceful yet oddly fascinating about the mundane details of every day life. See – I cannot describe it. Just give it a try!

Raft of Stars by Andrew Graff is an adventure story that I could not put down. This one really transports the reader to a very different place. ‘Fish’ and ‘Bread’ as they call each other, are 10-year-old summertime friends from very different life situations. Fish is loved, yet has experienced a tragic loss, while Bread has dealt with years of abuse from his father. Fish knows how scared Bread is of his dad, and one evening has the feeling he needs to turn around and check on him after he leaves him at home. A gun goes off, Bread’s father is shot, and the two boys take off on an ill-advised quest to travel many miles through dense forest and by river, supposedly to reach Fish’s father and get help. A new, inexperienced sheriff and Fish’s grandfather set off to find them, while Fish’s mother and a local young woman begin their own search. All sorts of trouble ensues, from thunderstorms to rapids, and finally a deadly waterfall.

Three O’clock in the Morning by Gianrico Carofiglio feels a bit quiet and contemplative in comparison to some of the others on this list, but it still had a lasting effect for me. Due to an epilepsy diagnosis, Antonio’s teen years have been negatively affected by restrictions placed on him by doctors. His father finds him a new specialist located in Marseille. Trips from their home in Italy to see this doctor force the two, who have not been close after a divorce, to spend time together. As Antonio nears adulthood, his doctor who believes he has outgrown the epilepsy, gives one last test: stay up for two days straight to try to trigger a seizure. During that time, father and son explore the city and talk about everything from literature to love, and subsequently learn to love and respect each other. The title is from an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote:
“In a real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning.” 

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
Saving my favorite for last! We meet Klara in the shop where, along with many other Artificial Friends (AFs), she is waiting patiently to be bought and taken home by a child who needs her. Klara is last year’s model, and worries she doesn’t have the features that will attract discerning kids, but Klara has gifts of perception and understanding that are beyond the usual abilities of AFs. Finally Klara is chosen by a very sick girl, and goes go live in a home where the mother’s attitude is puzzling. Slowly, Klara learns the truth about Josie and her late sister. You may feel that Klara is more human than any of the actual humans. The Guardian’s review stated: “People will absolutely love this book, in part because it enacts the way we learn how to love.” Love it I did!

Short Story Averse

While I’ve always loved short stories, I know there are some people who are hesitant to try them out. One of the major complaints I’ve heard over the years is that short stories are, well, just too short. You start getting interested in a set of characters and plotlines, the argument goes, and then everything seems to end abruptly and doesn’t resolve.   

While it is true that short story writers have less time to get their characters and ideas across, I’ve always found that good story collections have a consistent mood and style that makes up for the choppiness the reader might feel.  

I was reminded of this while reading three recent collections. While the tones are very different, each collection has a distinct feel. This unifies all the different characters and situations making the book seem like one long work where the characters and situations just happen to change. Read on to find out more. 

You Want More by George Singleton 

In addition to an outstanding cover, this collection is chock full of quirky characters, biting satire and absurd situations. While the stories are taken from the author’s 20+ year career, they are all grounded in the same tragicomic milieu. Set almost exclusively in rural South Carolina, the characters, and their dogs, are definitely unique. While hard to choose, I would have to say my favorite is “This Itches, Y’All” the story of a man haunted by his childhood staring role in an educational film about head lice, and the catchphrase that follows him to the grave. 

Bluebeard’s First Wife by Ha Seong-nan  

A sense of fear, mystery and unease permeates all of the stories in this excellent collection. While the characters are diverse (a young mother coping with the loss of her child, a policeman assigned to a rural posting, a couple distressed by noisy downstairs neighbors) there is always a sense of something disturbing and possibly violent, just beneath the surface. Ha’s use of simple and elegant language adds to this sense of a normalcy that isn’t quite right. “The Dress Shirt”, the story of a woman whose husband goes inexplicably missing, is a particular standout.  

The Low Desert by Tod Goldberg 

All of the characters in this gritty and darkly funny collection have hit rock bottom or are headed that way. Set in the desert lands of California, mostly in and around Palm Springs, each seems trapped in a noir film, sans the traditional ‘big city.’ A grifter with a fondness for karaoke and a bullet hole in his foot tries to dispose of a body; a professor of hydrology develops a super efficient sprinkler system and promptly takes to marijuana cultivation; a waitress hops from town to town trying to escape the inexplicable loss of her daughter. All told in a snarky and biting tone. 

So even if you are short story averse, why not give one of these collections a try? You will find them well worth your limited reading time.

Stay Home, Stay Reading

As the world moves online in response to the coronavirus, virtual book gatherings have grown in popularity. At Everett Public Library, we have also moved many events and programs online in an effort to continue supporting the community while our buildings are temporarily closed. Check out our website, and you will find that many of our pre-pandemic events and programs have moved online.

We are devising educational and useful, as well as fun and funny, virtual programs and events to meet community needs, and there is no admission fee for any of it. Families can take part in virtual child-centered events and book lovers can attend virtual author talks, interacting with writers directly. But what about book discussions you might ask?

We are happy to report that those who would like to discuss a book, can now hop online and come to the library’s monthly virtual book club: Stay Home, Stay Reading.

The library recently kicked off our Fall programs with a virtual author talk with Ellen Feldman, who joined us on August 25th from New York City for a conversation and questions about her latest novel, Paris Never Leaves You. Appropriately this month, Stay Home, Stay Reading will be discussing her novel. Check out our virtual book club event, Saturday, September 26th from 11 a.m. until noon. Information on how to join the discussion can be found here

Feldman’s novel, published in June, follows survivors of occupied Paris throughout and after World War II. It is a story of love, hardship and thorny choices in this vivid depiction of history. The story alternates between 1940s Paris and 1950s New York City, where Charlotte faces tough decisions and life is exhausting for both her and her daughter, Vivi.

In 1940s Paris, they fight to leave and seem to be growing weaker and more hungry with every moment. Charlotte, who works in a Parisian bookstore, gets a reprieve when a soldier comes into the shop, takes a liking to her and helps the mother and daughter get to America.

In 1950s New York City, Charlotte works in publishing where she doesn’t exactly fit in. Matters complicate when Vivi is interested in unearthing her roots and starts asking dangerous questions. Survival comes at a cost, and Charlotte, who has lived with her secret past with a German officer in war-torn Paris, would rather Vivi not dig too much. 

If you enjoyed Paris Never Leaves You, you may also like these titles. They are all available from the library.

City of Women by David Gillham, 2012, 400pp.

Most World War II stories–movies or books–include Nazis, black marketeers, Jewish children hiding in root cellars and attics, and a mysterious, blonde German woman who appears to be keeping secrets, probably underneath her trench coat. When these elements are used over and over, they can become very familiar, losing their intrigue and complex meaning. Fortunately for readers, Gillham takes those parts often at the heart of many World War II tales and puts an original spin on them. In his historical fiction debut about 1943 Berlin, the city is almost empty of men. It has become a City Of Women. This being the height of World War II, most able-bodied men are at war. Sigrid, the wife of a soldier away at war, cares for her disagreeable mother-in-law, goes to work every day, does what she can with rations and wearily keeps up a facade. There is a lot at risk–life and death is not relegated to the front lines. She is secretly in love with a former flame–he is a Jew. She trusts no one until she is forced to, which brings this page turner to an end that is full of suspense.

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan, 2017, 448pp.

The Pulitzer Prize winner (A Visit From The Goon Squad, 2010) does it again. This time, Egan seamlessly weaves together stories and time periods in this, her first traditionally written novel. The book opens in 1934, and the depression is in full force for Eddie and his 12-year-old daughter, Anna Kerrigan. They are going to the Manhattan Beach home of Dexter Styles, a mobster, in search of work for Eddie. Eddie’s tired of the other job he has for a crooked union boss. He needs something that will pay enough money to purchase a wheelchair for Lydia, his severely disabled youngest daughter. The story jumps forward. Anna has become, at age 19, the first diver at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, and she alone is supporting Lydia and their mother because Eddie disappeared 5 years ago. Anna has a great amount of moxie and determination, which serves her well when she decides she will become a diver. Egan researched the naval yard and its divers for years which makes for detailed descriptions of diving at that time, including the diving suits: what a suit felt like on as well as moving underwater in one. One night Anna approaches Styles for information about her father, and they become involved. Egan successfully combines details of the 30s and 40s, crime fiction and compelling three-dimensional characters to vividly immerse readers in a layered, fluid world which makes great efforts to look at what makes us tick. 

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly, 2016, 496pp.

Kelly’s compelling first novel features the stories of three women, who alternate first-person narratives for 20 years–between 1939 and 1959, during and after World War II. In 1939, Hitler is on the march. Poland is captured. In northern Germany, Ravensbrück, the women’s concentration camp, becomes home to 74 “rabbits,” women selected for medical experimentation. Two of the three characters are based on the actual women–one a Ravensbrück doctor, the other an American actress. The third character, Kasia, a rabbit, comes from a compilation of actual camp residents. Despite being set in a world of vicious Nazis, this story is about second chances and determined, gutsy women who help each other survive–in camp and beyond. 

Dynamic Fluids

Photo by Pixabay on

I’ve always found books about scientific ideas oddly comforting. In times of stress, books in the sciences, with their often specific and single-minded focus, allow me to take a step back and ignore the chaos all around. If only for a little while. 

Since I’m not of a naturally scientific bent myself (the curse of being a humanities major, alas) I need my science explained to me in layman’s terms. In addition, I especially like books that focus on quirky and often overlooked ideas. You can imagine my anticipation and delight when I came across Liquid Rules: The Delightful and Dangerous Substances that Flow Through Our Lives by Mark Miodownik. I was not disappointed. Read on to find out why. 

The author smartly realizes that many may not initially find the liquid state fascinating. To help convince the skeptical, he grounds his discussion in a common experience (well what used to be common): a transatlantic flight from London to San Francisco. While most of us might be making sure our phone is in airplane mode or perusing the inflight magazine, Miodownik has one thing on his mind: kerosene, the primary ingredient in aviation fuel. 

Kerosene is a transparent, colorless fluid that, confusingly, looks exactly like water. So where is all that hidden energy stored, all that secret power? Why doesn’t the storage of all that raw energy inside the liquid make it appear, well, more syrupy and dangerous? And why is it not mentioned in the preflight safety briefing? 

Thus begins an immensely entertaining, quirky, uproarious, and, yes, informative deep dive into the mysterious world of liquids.  

As we continue on our flight, we are introduced to liquids that are not only explosive (kerosene) but also intoxicating (alcohol), sticky (glue), refreshing (tea or coffee), cooling (freon), visceral (saliva), and cleansing (liquid soap) to name just a few. The author’s style is the furthest thing from a lecture you could think of and you will find yourself learning a lot without even realizing it.  

He accomplishes this by lots of self deprecating humor and a keen sense of human foibles. You will come to sympathize with his fictional, but long suffering, airplane seatmate who must put up with his awkward attempts at dialogue and odd unsolicited observations. 

So why not distract yourself for an hour or two with some keen insight about an often encountered, but rarely discussed, state of matter? You will be entertained, informed and gain a new appreciation of the liquids in your life. Well, most of them anyway. 

Spot-Lit for February 2020

These titles – from established, new, and emerging authors – are some of the most anticipated new releases of the month, based on advance reviews and book world enthusiasm.

Click here to see all of these titles in the Everett Public Library catalog, where you can read reviews or summaries and place holds. Or click on a book cover below to enlarge it, or to view the covers as a slide show.

All On-Order Fiction | 2020 Debuts

Spot-Lit for October 2019

These titles – from established, new, and emerging authors – are some of the most anticipated new releases of the month, based on advance reviews and book world enthusiasm.

Click here to see all of these titles in the Everett Public Library catalog, where you can read reviews or summaries and place holds. Or click on a book cover below to enlarge it, or to view the covers as a slide show.

Notable New Fiction 2019 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction | 2019 Debuts

Heartwood 9:1 – The Life and Opinions of Zacharias Lichter by Matei Calinescu

Zacharias Lichter is an ugly man with a deformed face, in tattered beggar’s clothes, who is said to be one of the city’s most familiar, bizarre, and picturesque figures. He has haunted the streets and parks for years, and people (who mostly try to avoid him) tend to see him as a madman. We come to learn that he was touched by a divine flame in his youth which caused him to shake off his merchant-family upbringing to study philosophy, but then to withdraw from opportunities in academia despite his well-regarded dissertation on the Enneads of Plotinus. He is known to let loose a torrent of words on his vision of an ideal society that would do away with ownership and in which more people would be beggars, as begging “is the profession that brings one closest to God.”

Lichter shares with us his experiences and opinions packed into very brief chapters with headings such as “On Courage,” “On Women,” “On Comfort,” “The Metaphysics of Laughter,” and “The Significance of the Mask.” He believes strongly in the spoken word but is also a poet who scribbles down his poems only to throw them away (though his biographer has preserved some of these and they are sprinkled throughout the book.) He is critical of an acquisitive society, and of the lying he finds everywhere. He is obsessed by the absurdity of a God who would torment Job, and he seeks wisdom in silence. The focus is solidly on Lichter and his ideas but among other characters are his barfly friend Poldy (who is presented as a great philosopher, though he says next to nothing); a chameleonic apprentice, Anselmus, who wishes to develop a “pedagogy of beguilement;” and the feared and detested Dr. S. who wishes to psychoanalyze Lichter.

I suspect you may find Matei Calinescu’s The Life and Opinions of Zacharias Lichter to be unlike anything you’ve previously read. It was originally published in Romania in 1969 and has only recently been translated into English (by the author’s wife, Adriana Calinescu, and Breon Mitchell). Despite frequent mentions of the torrential outpouring of his prophecies, Lichter’s sprightly ideas are presented in a concise and careful fashion which makes you slow down as you try to follow their unconventional logic, all the while wondering how seriously you are intended to take them. But there’s a method to his madness, and key concerns are revisited in different ways throughout the book; some of these touchstones include the nature of being, voluntary poverty, poetry, vitalism, orality, the ineffable, and the via negativa. Be prepared to embrace iconoclasm and what Lichter calls perplexity – and to be suffused with a strangely vibrating joy.

Spot-Lit for January 2019

January is looking like a stellar month for fiction readers. It is rare for a book to win a coveted starred review from each of the four big trade book review sources (Booklist, Kirkus, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly), but this month we see three such titles: An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma, The New Iberia Blues by James Lee Burke, and Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty.

Additionally, readers here in the northwest might want to pick up Lake City by Thomas Kohnstamm, about a backsliding young man set in the less-than-glamorous north Seattle suburb of that name in 2001, or Lyndsay Faye’s racially-charged Prohibition-era thriller, The Paragon Hotel (3 starred reviews), set in Portland.

All around, great stuff from established, new, and emerging authors. Click here to see all of these titles in the Everett Public Library catalog, where you can read reviews or summaries and place holds. Or click on a book cover below to enlarge it, or to view the covers as a slide show.

Notable New Fiction 2019 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction

Movers and Shakers – the Women who Helped Build Snohomish County

A group of women, some seated and some standing. All are wearing light-colored dresses with long white aprons over. All are also wearing ruffled white nurses caps, as well as ruffled collars.

Nurses at Everett’s first hospital, which opened on Broadway in January of 1894. Image from the Everett Public Library’s Northwest Room Collection.

In our last A Reading Life post about Women’s History Month, Mindy wrote about the importance of personal stories when describing the history of a place. We make history every day, just in living our lives and being a part of our communities. These individual contributions can be hard to trace unless a person leaves a written record or participates in something like the Everett Public Library’s oral history projects. The farther back we go, the more difficult it can be to track down the stories of women and people in minority groups; these individuals were rarely granted space in written accounts of the time. One thing that improves the chances of learning more about the activities of these underrepresented individuals is if they were a part of a larger group. Whether we learn from the records that groups kept or the occasional newspaper coverage that larger projects may have attracted, the trail is a little bit stronger.

Towards the end of the 19th Century, women in what would become Washington State began to form groups and clubs for a variety of reasons. This was a reflection of a larger Women’s Club Movement within the country, but also the outcome of homegrown political movements and a reaction to some specific needs within communities. In Washington State many women were deeply involved in movements to gain the right to vote. When Washington was still a territory, women organized and won the right to vote in 1883; unfortunately they lost that right when Washington became a state in 1888. It eventually became the fifth state to grant women the vote in 1910 – 10 years before the ratification of the 19th Amendment. More on that amazing story can be found here.

A group of women are seated on the steps of an ornate Victorian front porch. The women are dressed in clothing typical of the late 1800s, with puffy upper sleeves that taper into form-fitting lower arm coverage, corseted waists, and long skirts. All of the women are wearing some style of hat either decorated with flowers, or ribbons.

The Everett Woman’s Book Club sits on the steps of the old Monte Cristo Hotel. They were responsible for founding Everett’s first library. Image from the Everett Public Library’s Northwest Room Collection.

In Everett and Snohomish County, socially and politically active women were also engaged in acts of community building. As the men in the area worked at the clearing of land and the building of mills, the women were involved with founding the first schools, hospitals, and libraries. Women made sure that the children of the community had access to healthy food, clothing, and shelter. They provided for the social activities of the growing communities in the county and invited newcomers in to participate in book clubs, garden clubs, and other special interest groups. The Northwest Room collection has records from a small assortment of Everett-based women’s clubs that can be made available by request in which you could read about their efforts.

A brown document box with a label that reads "Wash State Federation of Women's Clubs - Acc. No. 3436-015 - box 4 of 10."

Just one of the many boxes of records in the University of Washington Special Collections pertaining to the activities of club women in Washington State.

Though immensely important to their home communities, these clubs were not without flaws. Nationally the Women’s Club Movement was, more often than not, segregated by color lines and ethnic backgrounds; Washington State was no different in this regard. There was a Washington State Federation of Women’s Clubs, and a Washington State Federation of Colored Women’s Organizations. As noted in my last post, one of the earliest presidents of the latter group lived in Everett. We can learn about the work of both groups by visiting the University of Washington’s Special Collections Department to view collections of their records (these are open to the public though it’s best to email ahead so that they can pull materials for you).

If you don’t have time to go be a historian for the day, there are resources in the Northwest Room and online that can provide you with information about the role of women in the Northwest – from indigenous life before contact, though today. Some of my favorites include the following:

As mentioned in Mindy’s earlier post, The Snohomish County Women’s Legacy Project is one of our go-to resources.

Washington Women as Path Breakers by Mildred Tanner Andrews does a wonderful job of representing the many different cultural groups who have played a role in the development of this region. is full of scholarly articles on a wide range of local history topics. On the topic of the history or organized women’s movements, I would recommend the ones on Nettie Asberry, Women’s Club Movement in Washington, Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, Western Washington and YWCA – Seattle-King County/Snohomish County.

A group of middle-aged and elderly Native American women who are seated in a cedar longhouse. The women are dressed in non-Native attire, some with simple head wraps.

Women at the Tulalip Reservation, seated in a newly-built long house. 1914, photographer J.A. Juleen. Image from the Everett Public Library’s Northwest Room collection.

Herstories Northwest: Women Upholding Native Traditions by Jay Miller talks about the important role women have played in preserving and sharing indigenous culture within the region.

Organized Womanhood: Cultural Politics in the Pacific Northwest, 1840-1920 by Sandra Haarsager delves deeply into the impact of women’s clubs on the region.

The History of Snohomish County, Washington edited by William Whitfield contains sections on the different women’s clubs in towns and cities in Snohomish County and provides a good point-in-time look at what the County was like in the early decades of non-Native settlement.

Bridging Two Centuries: Everett Women from the 1890s to World War I by retired Northwest Room Historian, Margaret Riddle is an excellent audiobook that provides local context for the topics discussed in this post. Unlike the other resources listed above, the library owns circulating copies of this resource so it can be enjoyed at home or in your car.

While the other books mentioned are reference copies that must stay in the library, we encourage you to come to the Northwest Room to work with them. The Northwest Room is staffed on weekdays from 10-5pm but the materials in the room can be accessed any time the library is open. If you are interested in accessing any of the Northwest Room’s archival materials, contact us to make an appointment and we would be happy to pull boxes for you.