Whatcom READS announces 2023 programs

The 2023 Whatcom READS selection is the propulsive historical saga The Cold Millions by Spokane-based author Jess Walter. An intimate exploration of love, family, betrayal and loyalty, The Cold Millions presents a wide range of discussion and event opportunities leading up to the March 2-4, 2023, in-person author events. Visit whatcomreads.org to learn more about The Cold Millions, author Jess Walter and the upcoming programs that enrich the reading experience. 

Winner of the Washington State Book Award and named to numerous “Best Book of the Year” lists, The Cold Millions follows the lives of orphaned brothers, Gig and Rye Dolan, as they struggle to realize their dreams of a better life. Spokane’s Free Speech Riots of 1909 form the backdrop of the novel and historical figures such as Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and Police Chief John T. Sullivan anchor the plot. As Gig and Rye careen through booze, flophouses, vaudeville, jails, and IWW protests, they find themselves caught between fighting for labor rights, looking out for each other, and securing personal safety. Author Anthony Doerr calls the book “a literary unicorn: a book about socioeconomic disparity that’s also a page-turner.”  

The 2023 season marks 15 years of Whatcom READS programming. The region’s premier annual literary event, Whatcom READS celebrates reading, readers and strong communities through the shared experience of one book. Whatcom READS is presented by all the public and academic libraries in Bellingham and Whatcom County and community partner Village Books.  

Borrow The Cold Millions as a book, eBook, or audiobook from the Bellingham Public Library or Whatcom County Library System. Or purchase a copy from Village Books, which donates 10 percent of each sale to Whatcom READS.  

Community events inspired by the 2023 Whatcom READS selection, The Cold Millions by Jess Walter 

All programs are free except where noted. Pre-registration is required for some events. Find more information and register at whatcom.reads.org

She Travelled Solo: Strong Women in the Early 20th Century   

Inspired by her own 5,000-mile solo bicycle ride, Tessa Hulls researched little-known intrepid female adventurers. In this presentation, she demonstrates why female role models — such as characters in The Cold Millions — are vital in affecting social change.   


7-8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 12  

Registration required.   

IWW Archive Photos   

Archivist Conor Casey, head of the Labor Archives of Washington, University of Washington Libraries Special Collections, will discuss the dynamic history of the labor and social justice movements of the Pacific Northwest though the frame of the collections of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Also known as the Wobblies, the IWW is featured in The Cold Millions.  

Ferndale Library, 2125 Main Street 

1-3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21  

Vintage Vaudevillians  
Echoing characters chronicled in The Cold Millions, this photographic exhibition highlights a dozen vaudeville acts that performed in Bellingham in the early 20th century.   

Noon-5 p.m. Feb. 3 – May 31, 2023, Wednesday-Sunday  
Whatcom Museum Lightcatcher building, 2nd floor hallway, 250 Flora Street, Bellingham 

General admission: $10. Free museum passes are available at the Bellingham Public Library. There is no admission fee during the Feb. 3 First Friday Art Walk. 

The IWW Today 

Yes, the Wobblies are alive and well. An organizer for the Whatcom-Skagit Industrial Workers of the World will discuss the current activity of the union, its goals and its principles. Hear about IWW union activity in the Pacific Northwest and around North America today. 

Village Books’ Reading Gallery, 1200 11th Street, Bellingham 

7-8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 15 

Registration required.  

Unsettling Settler-Colonial Education  

Join us for an interactive book discussion with co-editors Dr. Robin Zape-tah-hol-ah Minthorn of University of Washington-Tacoma, Dr. Anna Lees of Western Washington University and Dr. Cornel Pewewardy of Portland State University. Their book presents an innovative framework for promoting critical consciousness toward decolonization efforts among educators. The impacts of colonization and racism are part of The Cold Millions story. 


5-6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 16  

Registration required.  

Vaudeville and Vice in the Early 1900s 

Kolby LaBree from Bellinghistory Tours with the Good Time Girls will discuss life on the vaudeville circuit and its ties to the underworld. She will share examples from The Cold Millions as well as stories from Bellingham history.  

Whatcom Museum, Old City Hall, Rotunda Room, 121 Prospect Street, Bellingham 

1-2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18 

Free; donations to the Whatcom Museum are welcome.  

Sponsored by the Whatcom Museum 

History of Spokane   

Lynden Library Assistant Branch Manager Wendy McLeod was born and raised in Spokane. In this presentation, she shares the history of the city at the heart of The Cold Millions.  


3-4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25  

Registration required.  

Songs of Protest with Jimmy Brite   

Join local musician Jimmy Brite for a spirited performance of songs of protest, social justice and inspiration.    

Deming Library, 5044 Mt. Baker Highway 

4-5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25   

Whatcom WRITES  

Local writers read from their work selected for the 2023 Whatcom WRITES anthology. This year’s theme inspired by Jess Walter’s The Cold Millions is Between Fact and Fiction.  

  • Village Books in Lynden, Inn at Lynden conference room: 2-3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 19 
  • Village Books in Fairhaven: 2-3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 26  

Allied Arts Whatcom READS Challenge  

Submit original artwork inspired by The Cold Millions for display at the Allied Arts Gallery in Bellingham.   

Submissions accepted : Feb. 28-March 1  

Exhibition: March 2-31 


The author visits Whatcom County to discuss the book and his creative process.   

March 2-4, 2023 

Book Discussion with Jess Walter 

Deming Library Manager Katrina Carabba and Public Services Assistant Erin Suda will co-host a conversation with the author about The Cold Millions and his other books. Audience questions are welcome. 

Deming Library, 5044 Mt. Baker Highway 

11 a.m.-12 p.m. Thursday, March 2 

Registration required. 

Village Books’ Chuckanut Radio Hour   

Jess Walter is the featured guest on Village Book’s popular radio variety program.  

Hotel Leo, Bellingham 

7-8:30 p.m. Thursday, March 2. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. 

Purchase $5 tickets online or at the event. Space is limited.  

Art and Craft of Writing  

Jess Walter shares his writing practice and tips to inspire your own writing. 

Village Books’ Readings Gallery, 1200 11th Street, Bellingham 

11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Friday, March 3 

Registration required.   

An Evening with Jess Walter  

Whatcom READS’ premiere event is at the beautiful Mount Baker Theatre. Following his presentation, Jess Walter will answer audience questions and sign books. The 2024 Whatcom READS title will be announced at the event.  

Mount Baker Theatre  

7-8:30 p.m. Friday, March 3 

A Conversation with Jess Walter  

This year’s author events close with a lively online conversation between Village Books co-owner Paul Hanson and Jess Walter.  


11 a.m.-12 p.m. Saturday, March 4 

Registration required.   

About Whatcom READS: Northwest Washington’s premier annual literary event, Whatcom READS celebrates reading, readers and strong communities through the shared experience of one book. Entering its 15th year, Whatcom READS is presented by all the public and academic libraries in Bellingham and Whatcom County – Bellingham Public Library, Bellingham Technical College, Northwest Indian College, Western Washington University, Whatcom Community College and Whatcom County Library System. Village Books is Whatcom READS’ community partner. Learn more at whatcomreads.org

About Jess Walter:  A former National Book Award finalist and winner of the Edgar Allan Poe Award, Jess Walter is the highly regarded author of seven novels, two short story collections and one nonfiction book. His stories, essays and journalism have appeared in Harper’s, Esquire, The New York Times, The Washington Post and many other publications. Walter began his writing career in 1987 as a reporter for his hometown newspaper, The Spokesman-Review. He has also worked as a screenwriter and has taught graduate creative writing. In addition to winning the Washington State Book Award, Walter has twice won the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award (for The Zero and We Live in Water) and was a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize (The Zero) and the PEN/USA Award in both fiction (The Zero) and nonfiction (Every Knee Shall Bow). His novel Beautiful Ruins spent more than a year on the bestseller list. Walter was also a finalist for the 1992 Pulitzer Prize as part of a team covering the shootout and standoff at Ruby Ridge in northern Idaho. He lives in Spokane with his family.