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What Are Oregon’s Greatest Books?

Last post. I find I will miss bloggery, for it allows you to think exuberantly out loud with your fingers, and have entertaining replies delivered posthaste.

Let's spend a final moment in Oregon literature. Question: what are the twenty greatest Oregon books? In the widest possible senses — books of Oregon, by Oregonians, set in Oregon, created in Oregon, associated in any wayshapeform with Oregon.

Me personally I'd immediately say Ken Kesey's Sometimes a Great Notion, perhaps the best Oregon novel, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Maybe one of the Don Berry novels? Certainly Ursula Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven, set in Portland, a classic speculative fiction adventure, and certainly David Duncan's The Brothers K or The River Why, heck, maybe both — you can say accurately of The River Why that it's a young raw book and not as good as The Brothers K which though much longer is much tighter, but you have to wonder at The River Why selling briskly and blowing young minds all these years later, something great in that...

And certainly something by Stewart Holbrook, who I'd say, banging the old pint glass on the table, is the greatest Oregon writer of all. Terence O'Donnell's exquisite The Garden of the Brave in War, written in Oregon? Barry Lopez's Winter Count, maybe? Something by Sallie Tisdale? H.L. Davis's Honey in the Horn? William Kittredge's Hole in the Sky? Something by the late great gentleman Alvin Josephy? Homer Davenport? Joe Sacco, the artist and storyteller? Heck, does Washington Irving's Astoria count? James Beard? Kathleen Dean Moore? Robin Cody's Ricochet River, which was, as he says himself smiling, made into the worst feature film in the history of movies? Something by Beverly Cleary, certainly, and maybe Graham Salisbury, or Virginia Euwer Wolff, I mean the woman won the National Book award, for heavenssake. A William Stafford book, certainly. Kim Stafford's lovely Having Everything Right, maybe? Jean Auel? I mean, the woman has sold millions of those novels, and you have to admire and celebrate a storyteller who connected to millions of hearts. Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club? Katherine Dunn's Geek Love? Sam McKinney's great wet book Reach of Tide, Ring of History? And what of other poets, Hazel Hall, Clem Starck, Lawson Inada? And a novel I will never forget, Diana Abu-Jaber's Arabian Jazz...

Or even the Oregon section of Lewis & Clark's journals, you know? and Walt Morey's Gentle Ben, and John Quick's great odd coast memoir Fool's Hill, and Linus Pauling's The Nature of the Chemical Bond, which the deft scholar Tom Hager says is the single most influential science book published in the world in the twentieth century, which is a remarkable phrase, and and and... help. What do you think? C'mon, blurt ‘em down, it'll be good for us to have this discussion, because books are fun and they make your mind hum, which is where joy lives.

Last but not least — thanks for reading these notes. Your attentiveness was, is, a gift.

÷ ÷ ÷

Brian Doyle is the author of many books, including the essay collection Children and Other Wild Animals; the novels Mink River and The Plover; The Grail, his account of a year in a pinot noir vineyard in Oregon; and The Wet Engine, a memoir about his infant son's heart surgery and the young doctor who saved his life. He edits Portland Magazine at the University of Portland.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Children and Other Wild Animals New Trade Paper $18.95
  2. Mink River
    Used Trade Paper $12.95
  3. The Plover
    Used Hardcover $17.50
  4. The Grail: A Year Ambling and...
    New Trade Paper $18.95
  5. The Wet Engine: Exploring the Mad...
    Sale Trade Paper $17.95

Brian Doyle is the author of Children and Other Wild Animals

9 Responses to "What Are Oregon’s Greatest Books?"

    Brian July 21st, 2006 at 2:36 pm

    Jonathan Raymond's "Half Life"

    Dan Wickett July 21st, 2006 at 4:11 pm

    New one - Benjamin Percy's The Language of Elk. Great short story collection.

    Basil July 23rd, 2006 at 12:50 am

    Limiting yourself to the "best" Oregon book is like limiting yourself to choosing the "best" Oregon film; crowning a winner from a field of also rans. Sad but true.

    Bill Diskin July 23rd, 2006 at 3:42 pm

    Sorry I missed your blog time...I have enjoyed reading these!

    Bill Diskin

    Lindsay July 24th, 2006 at 1:20 pm

    The Gary Snyder Reader: Prose, Poetry, and Translations, 1952-1998

    Gary July 24th, 2006 at 7:07 pm

    I'd add Craig Lesley's great works of fiction Winterkill and The Sky Fisherman, plus his recent memoir, The Burning Fence.

    eddie November 5th, 2009 at 8:34 am

    The compiler of this list hasn't read Don Berry's Trask or Moontrap. Some put Trask up as possibly the Great Oregon Novel while my personal choice would be Moontrap. Perhaps Berry doesn't qualify as an Oregon writer for this post since was is an immigrant from Minnesota. Read either one of Berry's two novels to get a sense of Oregon without the burden of time.

    Andy August 2nd, 2014 at 12:07 am

    Shit Magnet by Jim Goad captures my perspective on Portland perfectly

    Jessica Poundstone December 2nd, 2014 at 9:37 pm

    Martha Gies' Up All Night (OSU Press). In the tradition of Studs Terkel's "Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do," the book is portrait of Portland told through profiles of its graveyard shift workers. Every sector of the city is represented, every socioeconomic layer, and a satisfying variety of jobs, from a taxi driver and an astronomer to a pediatric nurse and a nude dancer. Gies is a native Oregonian, a literary fiction and non-fiction writer and teacher, and a social justice activist. She has drawn each vivid profile with dignity, humor and poetry. Not to be missed.

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