The Help Desk: Seattle is a toxic pit of hate and failure right now. Can books help?

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

Between the soaring real estate prices, the changing character of the city, and the NIMBYs trying to criminalize homelessness, I’m feeling very disappointed in Seattle, and I’m wondering what I can do.

Is there a way to use bookishness as a weapon for good in the battle to make Seattle an affordable, livable place again?

Deborah, Ravenna

Dear Deborah,

Did you know it is tick season? And boy, what a season we're having! Unfortunately, books can't make Seattle affordable any more than sprinkling a sack of thirsty ticks in Jeff Bezos's bed can improve my credit score. Building equitable cities is not job of books; it is the job of people. What books can do is improve the quality of our society by introducing people to experiences and perspectives that are far outside their own, essentially turning reading into an exercise in empathy and patience. It's embarrassing that the richest man in the world – a man who built a near-trillion-dollar empire on selling books – has neither of those qualities himself, and even more embarrassing that Seattle's civic leaders lack the sack of ticks to hold him and his miserly company accountable to the community in which they both thrive.

Some day, when I am elected to human office on an eight-legged platform, misers like Jeff Bezos who prosper from society without contributing meaningfully in return will be banished to the sewers (or forests!) where they will be used sparingly by their spider (or tick!) captors as a food source – not drained completely, certainly not killed, simply juiced for an appropriate amount of time so they can fully appreciate how it feels to be helpless and without resources.

But that will probably take a few years – at least until the Great Spider-Tick Peace Talks of 2018 resolve themselves. In the meantime, what you can do is this: Support Seattle's public libraries, which make reading accessible for everyone and are an especially vital resource for the poor and homeless. You can also contact the homeless shelter or tent city closest to your neighborhood and ask if you can bring by some supplies, including books (for instance, Mary's Place is in need of current children's books). This lets your homeless neighbors – because they are still your neighbors, whether they have homes or not – know that there is support for them in their community.