The Help Desk: Name one good thing and one bad thing about Seattle

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,

I’ve never been to Seattle, but I’m a fan of this site and, especially, your column. One day I’d like to visit your beautiful library and find some of the places I’ve read about in Seattle-set novels that I’ve read. So I’m curious about your opinion: Can you tell me what you think is the best thing about literary Seattle? How about the worst?

Diane, Providence

Dear Diane,

I believe Seattle is the best city in the world for readers and writers. The city suffers from an embarrassment of literary riches – nearly every neighborhood has an independent bookstore and the climate is perfect for reading: the right mix of moist and cool that encourages you to curl up next to a window with a book and a row of vitamin-deficient houseplants and soak in the sun's meager rays together. Literary events – from fancy billboard authors to open mics – are hosted almost every night of the week (and advertised on this site). Some of my best friendships were made at those events. One such friend, a burly poet, used to invite me drinking about town once a month. We'd bar hop and talk about books and writing, and drink until my body lost its posture, and then he'd smile and slur, "This used to be Raymond Carver's favorite place to drink in Seattle." And I'd feel special for learning an important secret about a writer I admired. That is until one night, while I was puking off a curb on First Avenue and Virginia Street, my poet friend mumbled, "Did you know this used to be Raymond Carver's favorite spot to drink in all of Seattle..." and it finally occurred to me that Raymond Carver was a drunk. Any spot in Seattle would've been his favorite spot to drink, including my puke curb.

But that poet no longer lives in Seattle and neither do I. Nor do a good number of my other writer and artist friends, all of whom have left a great city they loved and an artistic culture they helped build because it became increasingly unaffordable. That is the worst thing about Seattle – that in its new flush of wealth, not enough work is being done to ensure that people who want lives and careers outside of tech, and who work hard to make it a great arts city worth visiting, can still afford to call Seattle home.

I live in Idaho now – the cheap red state of my youth that frowns on my reproductive rights but fosters my dreams of building a multi-story underground bunker, where I can politely argue with my white nationalist neighbors about how all albinos are technically superior to them. Sure, it's bare in comparison to Seattle – we have only one independent bookstore and one local reading series. But we also have Harvard-grade potatoes and when spring hits and the spiders are in full bloom, I like to think that it could be a spot where Raymond Carver would also enjoy drinking.