Book City: Mayor McGinn's reading up on public safety

Once a voracious consumer of history books, these days Mike McGinn is turning his attention to books on cities and social justice.
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Seattle mayor Mike McGinn

Once a voracious consumer of history books, these days Mike McGinn is turning his attention to books on cities and social justice.

Mike McGinn has been mayor of Seattle since 2009. He’s an attorney, and a big proponent of bikes and parks. A former neighborhood activist who served as state chair of the Sierra Club, McGinn campaigned against the deep bore tunnel. Now that he’s in office, McGinn is reading mostly nonfiction related to his work, but thinks the rest of us should read just what we want to.

Valerie Easton: How has your reading life changed since you became mayor of Seattle?

Mike McGinn: I have so many briefing papers to read that I just don’t have the time to read as many books. I used to be a voracious reader. That great pleasure doesn’t happen so much now, and I miss it. My biggest window to read is on vacation, or on flights to the east coast. I do read more newspapers and blogs, and pay more attention to Facebook and Twitter; the crowd is now curating our reading.

What books/magazines are open on your nightstand?

“The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City,” by Alan Ehrenhalt is about how people are again choosing to live in cities. What are the factors behind this dramatic shift? It’s an historic moment for cities and relates to the work we do here. 

I’ve spent the last few years learning more about public safety; I’m now reading “The Criminology of Place: Street Segments and Our Understanding of the Crime Problem,” by David Weisburd, Elizabeth R. Groff and Sue-Ming Yang.

I’m also reading “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander and "This Is Your Brain on Music" by neuroscientist and musician Daniel J. Levitin.

Do you have any favorite Seattle authors? Any local authors you follow in newspapers or magazines?

My favorite local Seattle authors are Sherman Alexie, who writes both fiction and non-fiction, and Charles Mudede at The Stranger. I think I read every Seattle area blogger and reporter. A wonderful part of my job is keeping track of local artists, musicians and performers, reading all the cultural reporting.

Have you read a truly great book lately? One you’d unhesitatingly recommend to friends and colleagues?

“The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration” by Isabel Wilkerson. I’m recommending it to everyone I know. It is the story of the African-American migration out of the South, and its transformative effect upon America. The story is framed around the personal stories of three individuals, and it is eye opening. I can’t recommend it enough.

What political/civic type book would you hope every citizen would read?

People should read what they enjoy.

Do you tend to buy books, get them from the library? Download them?

I buy books, often from used stores. But now that I'm mayor, people often give me books to read. I keep a list on my phone of recommended books for stocking up before a trip, or if I find myself with a few minutes and near a bookstore. I read books less than I would like too — and I find myself reading lots of briefing papers!

What were your most cherished books when you were a child? Can you name a childhood favorite that influenced you?

I recall my mother reading us Winnie the Pooh books. I still have the copy she read from. Once I learned to read, I gobbled up books. Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, Sherlock Holmes, the World Book Encyclopedia — whatever was available.  

As a teenager, “Catch-22” was revelatory, and I think I read almost every book by Kurt Vonnegut. “To Kill a Mockingbird” was one of my favorites as was "The Grapes of Wrath.” In general, I remember reading a lot of biographies and books on the Revolutionary War, Civil War and World War II. 

Do you have a book or two that you’ve re-read over the years and will no doubt read again?

I always want to read something new. I have a big stack waiting. 

Can you recall a powerful passage from a book that’s stayed with you?

"Tell me about the rabbits again, George,” from “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck.

Do you have any favorite genre?

I pretty much read all non-fiction now. I find it so much more gripping than fiction.

I love first person narratives, particularly historical. A few books that come to mind are “Nisei Daughter," “Son of the Revolution,” “Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China,” “When Heaven and Earth Changed Places,” “The Oregon Trail,” “Two Years Before the Mast,” “Three Years in Willapa Bay.” 

I enjoy history that covers intersecting cultures, like S. C. Gwynne’s “Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History.” 

Are you a fast or slow reader? Do you write in the margins/take notes?

Fast.  And I don’t take notes or write in my books.

When and where do you settle down to read?

In my living room, with some music playing.

What book do you plan to read next?

I want to finish the four books I already have open!

What Val is Reading This Week: “The Middlesteins: A Novel,” by Jami Attenberg, recommended by several Book City interviewees. It’s a family-in-crisis story about adult children dealing with their obese mother eating herself to death. Attenberg’s acute sense of poignancy and humor keep the book from being as grim as it sounds.


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About the Authors & Contributors

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Valerie Easton

Valerie Easton started her career as a librarian shelving books at Lake City Library when she was in high school. Now she writes full time, and has authored five books, includingThe New Low Maintenance Garden and her newest title Petal & Twig. She writes a weekly column and feature stories for Pacific Northwest magazine in the Seattle Times.