Ed Murray became the 53rd mayor of Seattle on Jan. 1. He was born in Aberdeen, lived in the Alki neighborhood of Seattle, then moved to Lacey, where he graduated from high school. He earned a degree in sociology from the University of Portland, and served in the Washington state Legislature for 18 years. Murray lives on Capitol Hill with his husband, Michael Shiosaki. Politico Magazine named Mayor Murray one of “50 thinkers, doers and dreamers who really matter in this age of gridlock and dysfunction.”
Val: What books are open on your nightstand right now?
Mayor Murray: I devour at least two books a week, so I always have a stack at my bedside. The two on top currently are “Lincoln and the Power of the Press,” by Harold Holzerm and “Francis of Assisi: the Life and Afterlife of a Medieval Saint,” by Andre Vauchez.
Have you read a truly great book lately? One you’d unhesitatingly recommend to friends and colleagues?
I really enjoyed “The Boys in the Boat,” by local author Daniel James Brown. And everyone should read “The Ungovernable City: John Lindsay and His Struggle to Save New York,” by Vincent Cannato.
Do you read mostly fiction or non-fiction? Any favorite genres?
I love both fiction and non-fiction. I would say my favorite genre is political biography, and reading history is a favorite way to relax. I always make literature part of my travel adventures. I dive into a region I’m visiting loaded down with books set in the location. But I can also get absorbed in a good murder mystery. When I need something more spiritual, I reach for Buddhist and Christian theology.
Is there a political/civic type book you hope every citizen of Seattle would read?
There are three titles I’m always recommending: “Triumph of the City,” by Edward Glaeser; “The Metropolitan Revolution,” by Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley; and “The Man Who Saved New York,” a book by Seymour Lachman and Robert Polner about New York Gov. Hugh Carey’s work to rescue New York City from financial crisis in 1975. These volumes inspire me in my work every day. “Triumph of the City” is required reading in my office.
Which newspapers, blogs, magazines do you turn to regularly to stay current?
I’m a daily reader of the New York Times and I have copies of the New Yorker, Commonweal and New Republic on my coffee table. In the local press, I love all my children equally.
As pretty much a life-long Seattle-area resident, do you have favorite local authors?
We’ve developed a vibrant literary culture here in Seattle, but I have to say that “Snow Falling on Cedars” by David Guterson is still my favorite book set in our area. It’s such a beautiful tale from one of our community’s most painful chapters. I am also a big fan of local writers Charles Johnson, author of “Middle Passage,” and Douglas Smith, who wrote “Former People.”
What were your most cherished books when you were a child?
In grade school, I was having trouble learning to read. My mother helped me by working through the Dr. Seuss series. They were very influential and introduced me to the lifelong joy of reading. When I was 9, the same year President Kennedy was assassinated, I received the book “John F. Kennedy, President” by Hugh Sidey for a Christmas present. That was it. I was hooked. It started me on the genre of political biographies — Abraham Lincoln, FDR — I can’t get enough.
Do you have a book or two that you’ve re-read over the years and will no doubt read again?
Recently I reread a book set in New York in by Colum McCann, “Let the Great World Spin.” Everyone interested in public policy should read the book “The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York,” by Robert Caro. One of my favorites is “The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of the Legendary Catholic Social Activist, ” by Dorothy Day. And I always come back to the biography “Charles Stewart Parnell,” by F.S. Lyons. [Parnell was a 19th century Irish politician and reformer.]
Can you recall a powerful passage from a book that’s stayed with you?
In a book of Patrick Daniel Moynihan’s published letters, he wrote in reference to JFK’s death, “I don’t think there’s any point in being Irish if you don’t know that the world is going to break your heart eventually. I guess that we thought he had a little more time.”
Dorothy Day used this quote from Dostoevsky to describe her exploration of Christian faith, “Love in practice is a hard and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.”
How have your reading interests and tastes changed over the years?
The thread of the political biography runs throughout my life, but I love to explore. As I become interested in a subject, for example the civil rights movement, I will read through several volumes. I will do that with periods of history, cultures or locations I’m visiting.
Have you been disappointed lately by a well-reviewed or popular book that didn't live up to the hype?
As mayor of Seattle, I have no comment.
Any book you've read lately that caught your imagination, inspired you or changed how you look at the world?
I read Elie Wiesel’s “Night” in high school and it still haunts me. “Ways of Dying” by South African writer Zakes Mda is a fascinating story about social class and authority. “The Asian Journal” of Thomas Merton opened new spiritual doors for me.
What do you plan to read next?
I’m looking forward to “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt. And I just bought “Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” by Charles Marsh.
What Val’s Reading This Week: I’m re-reading, for winter comfort, one of my favorite of all books, “The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden,” by Stanley Kunitz with Marnie Crawford Samuelson. Kunitz was still gardening at age 100. This little book is laced with love of place, fond memories, gardening lore and Kunitz’s wild and evocative nature poetry.