A review of Walking Seattle by Clark Humphrey

The Good:

The author’s knowledge of Seattle is extensive, comprehensive, and impressive.  I didn’t realize part of Perkins Lane is still closed after the mudslides in 97 (p. 64), and I’d forgotten the horror that dominated the news after the murders at the Wah Mee club in 83 (p. 79).   He also reminded me of  The Blob (p. 58),  a building I’d forgotten even though I used to walk by it almost daily.

The inclusion of eateries is good.  There are many mentioned and discussed.  My only quibble is I wish they were highlighted better, so I could flip open a map and find the nearest one when stomachs start rumbling.

I like the inclusion of bus info.   It’s very handy for tourists and urban wanderers.  Some mention of the Metro trip planning resources for those who can’t complete a walk or choose wander off and get lost would improve things, though.  If you plan to wander Seattle, check them out and get phone numbers and website addresses before you head out.

This guy knows architecture. I know bungalows from Queen Anne, but he knows Art Moderne from Beaux Arts.  While the book is filled with interesting mention of the architecture along the walks,  nowhere does he explain what these terms mean for those who don’t already know.  Including a couple of pages with some brief descriptions of each of the terms would help readers appreciate the city more (and know what he is talking about).  Architecture helps tell the story of a city.  The current downtown Seattle Library is a statement about what we want the city to be,  what we want others to see when they look at us, and what sort of buildings we want to see when go out.  All the buildings of Seattle’s past were designed for the same purpose.  The bungalows, the big homes of Queen Anne Hill’s past, all tell the story of what was going on in Seattle.  It’s a cool history.  I wish Humphrey had told more of it.

He’s a good writer.  The prose flows.  Reading through the tour descriptions is easy and clear.  My frustration here is that I’ve been enjoying his writing in the Stranger for years, and this book is full of short bullet points.  I’d love more story-telling.  He’s capable of it and the book shows he knows it.

The Bad:

I’ve seen a number of urban guidebooks over the years, and this is better than most, but the book is too large for a pocket, and large guidebooks tend to get left at home in favor of snacks, water,  and cameras.   Books in a pocket are easily pulled out for directions or information.  Books in a pack or bag are pulled out when there is sufficient motivation.  Books that don’t fit in the bag/pack get left at home.

The layout is frustrating.  Each tour has a map at the beginning, then several pages of bullet points about locations along the way, then a paragraph about “Connecting the Walks”, a list of the Points of Interest with web & street addresses and phone numbers,  then a route summary.  This results in having to flip from the list of Points to see where the eateries are on the map, as well as where to connect to other walks.  All this information could be on the page with the map so locating everything is immediately obvious.  I’d also like to see the all tours shown on the map at the front of the book, so you could wander among them as the whim took you, rather than having to flip around in the book to see what your options are.

The bullet points give you brief observations, comments, bits of wisdom, mentions of nearby eateries and shops, historical facts and more.  The items are all interesting, but this is my single greatest frustration about tours.  You get all these isolated facts without ever getting a sense of the city as a whole.  Humphrey clearly knows this city.  I’d love to read a history of the city by him, where instead of isolated fragments of the history, he leads readers around the city letting us see how the pieces fit together.

This would make a great smartphone app.  I expect the age of the guidebooks is ending.  I remember wandering around Europe, with crowds at the major attractions with many in each group with a book or two telling them what they are looking at (often with photos making things look better than reality).  Now, you can rent headphones and the attractions are eerily quiet (get it?) as people listen and stare (so much for sharing the experience with your travel buddies).  Why not replace that with apps by people with Humphrey’s skill so we can enjoy the experience on our omnipresent smart phones?

My Conclusion:

Useful enough to buy a copy, but have several suggestions for improvement.  I hope a 2nd printing addresses some of those.

Book Cover courtesy or Wilderness Press

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