Between intemperate weather and the pandemic, it’s a great time to be staying at home and curling up with a good book. And local authors, booksellers and publishers could use our support. Here are 20 Pacific Northwest-flavored titles great for gift-giving that can be supplied by independent bookstores in Portland and elsewhere in Oregon, and through Bookshop.org, which supports independent bookstores.
“The Apocalypse Factory: Plutonium and the Making of the Atomic Age,” by Steve Olson ($27.95)
Decommissioned for decades, the Hanford Site in eastern Washington hardly makes news these days. Science writer Steve Olson, who grew up nearby, restores Hanford to its rightful status as the site “where people confronted for the first time all the dilemmas of power, pollution, destruction, and sustainability associated with nuclear energy.”
“As the World Burns: The New Generation of Activists and the Landmark Legal Fight Against Climate Change,” by Lee Van der Voo ($27.95)
It was a lawsuit made for headlines: In Juliana v. United States, 21 youth plaintiffs represented by a Eugene organization sued the federal government, asserting a constitutional right to a sustainable climate. As Oregon journalist Lee Van der Voo tracked the suit, which was dismissed in January, she got to know the plaintiffs, who include 11 Oregonians, and their motivations.
“The Lost Family: How DNA Testing is Upending Who We Are,” by Libby Copeland ($27 hardcover, $17 paperback)
When a Clark County woman named Alice Collins Plebluch sent off a sample of her DNA for analysis, she took the first step on a long journey that ended with a stunning revelation about her family. Plebluch’s story is the primary thread in Libby Copeland’s engrossing book about the payoffs and perils of genetic testing.
“The Night Swimmers,” by Peter Rock ($25 hardcover, $16 paperback)
Portland writer Peter Rock’s autobiographical novel flows through layers of memory, relationships and life as the narrator looks back two decades to the strange period when he and an older widow spent summer nights swimming for miles in Lake Michigan’s open waters. This is a story not so much read as steeped in.
“Pale Morning Light With Violet Swan,” by Deborah Reed ($15.99)
The latest novel from Deborah Reed begins with an earthquake rattling the Oregon coast house where Violet, an abstract painter, has lived for 75 years. The quake becomes the epicenter of more ruptures: truths admitted, secrets revealed. The biggest secret of all? The life Violet led before Oregon, a life her family knows nothing about.
“Pansies,” by Carol Barrett ($10)
In this lovely collection of literary vignettes, 2020 Oregon Book Award finalist Barrett reflects on her experiences with her daughter’s babysitter. Abigail, an Apostolic Lutheran, finds a way to weave herself into the life of the outside world with a minimum of friction amid unwavering devotion to her faith, to her community and to the child she cares for.
“Salmon: A Fish, the Earth, and the History of Their Common Fate,” by Mark Kurlansky ($30)
Pacific Northwesterners tend to think of salmon as “our” fish, but of course it’s found worldwide. In this sometimes exhaustingly exhaustive biography of the species, Kurlansky offers his notes on its biology, the legends and rituals and sport surrounding it, efforts to conserve it, and more. Intriguing recipes, such as First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s preferred French-style poached salmon, are sprinkled throughout.
“A Small Town Rises: A Sharecropper and a College Girl Join the Struggle for Justice in Shaw, Mississippi,” by Lee Anna Sherman ($20)
Mary Sue Gellatly was a white college graduate from Oregon. Eddie Short was a Black sharecropper in Mississippi. Their paths crossed when Mary Sue joined the effort to register Black voters in Mississippi during the Freedom Summer of 1964. Corvallis writer Lee Anna Sherman tells their story of activism and love during a perilous time.
“Storm Beat: A Journalist Reports from The Oregon Coast,” by Lori Tobias ($19.95)
As a correspondent for The Oregonian, Lori Tobias’ beat was the Oregon coast – all 300 miles of it. In this new memoir, she shares stories about her coverage, reflects on the changes in daily journalism that she witnessed, and yes, tells a few tales out of the newsroom. Throughout it all, her fondness for the coast and its people remain constant.
“Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope,” by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn ($27.95 hardcover, $16.95 paperback)
New York Times journalist Nick Kristof, who grew up in Yamhill County, and his fellow Pulitzer Prize winner and wife, Sheryl WuDunn, chronicle with compassion and consternation the “deaths of despair” and other hardships suffered by his childhood friends and other working-class Americans who’ve lost their grip on the American Dream. Check out Kristof and WuDunn’s appearance on the Beat Check with The Oregonian podcast earlier this year.
“Everyone is Someone,” by Bob Dalton and Ritchie Collins ($14.99)
This simple, heartwarming picture book has a twofold mission: teaching kids about acceptance and helping children in foster care. Author Bob Dalton is founder and CEO of Sackcloth & Ashes, an Oregon blanket company that’s just launched a children’s line. Each purchase of a kids’ blanket will provide a blanket and a copy of the book to a child in foster care; you can also buy just the book and Sackcloth & Ashes will give another copy to a foster child.
“Girls Who Build: Inspiring Curiosity and Confidence to Make Anything Possible,” by Katie Hughes ($17.99)
Katie Hughes, founder of the Portland organization Girls Build, is behind this inspiring collection of photographs, testimonials and projects featuring girls ages 8 to 18 from Oregon and beyond who have built planter boxes, chicken ladders, swings, tables, playhouses and much more. The book includes step-by-step, illustrated instructions for 13 projects with various levels of difficulty and adult supervision.
“In the Half Room,” by Carson Ellis ($16.99)
Oregon illustrator Carson Ellis credits her young son with the idea for this almost meditative picture book, a tour of a room where everything is a little more than the sum of its halves. Don’t be surprised if this book inspires a whole discussion during storytime or bedtime reading.
“The Keeper of Wild Words,” by Brooke Smith ($18.99)
Bend author Brooke Smith wrote this picture book in response to a news article about words being removed from the dictionary. She imagines a grandmother enlisting her granddaughter in protecting the grandmother’s favorite words, which just happen to be words from nature, prompting an outdoor excursion.
“Last of the Name,” by Rosanne Parry ($17.99)
This 2020 Oregon Book Award finalist centers on class conflict during the Civil War. As the Union Army began drafting men in 1863, it allowed the wealthier ones to hire proxies to go to war for them. In Rosanne Parry’s middle-grade novel, two orphans from Ireland witness the resulting New York City riots as they strive to keep body and soul together amid ethnic prejudice.
“The Names We Take,” by Trace Kerr ($16)
A plague has spread throughout the land – sound familiar? But Trace Kerr’s young-adult Northwest dystopia doesn’t stop there. In this pandemic, virtually all social order has broken down, and the only ray of hope for our protagonist, Pip, comes when the gang that’s kidnapped Pip and another youth drops them off at a commune near Spokane. Finally, a haven – or is it?
“Odessa: Volume 1” by Jonathan Hill ($19.98)
Portland comic artist Jonathan Hill’s young-adult graphic novel is set on the West Coast eight years after the Big One. Three siblings are managing just fine when a package from their long-lost mother is delivered, prompting the kids to go hunting for her amid hazards such as destroyed infrastructure, gang warfare, and things that have crept to the earth’s surface through the fissures the quake left behind.
“Second Banana,” by Blair Thornburgh and Kate Berube ($16.99)
This relatable picture book about a child disappointed with her role in the school play gets its sweetly wry charm in part from Portland illustrator Kate Berube. And the theme, which could be summed up as “when life gives you overripe bananas, make banana bread,” is definitely something to applaud.
“Uncovering a Terrorist: Agent Ryan Dwyer and the Case of the Portland Bomb Plot,” by Bryan Denson ($15.99)
Ten years ago this week, Bryan Denson, then a reporter for The Oregonian, learned that the FBI had just arrested a Beaverton 19-year-old on charges of plotting to bomb Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square during the annual Christmas tree lighting. This new book, part of Denson’s middle-grade true-crime FBI Files series, offers an inside look at how the FBI investigated Mohamed Osman Mohamud as part of its antiterrorism work.
“Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed,” by Laurie Halse Anderson and Leila del Duca ($16.99)
Portland illustrator Leila del Duca does the visual honors for this young-adult graphic novel reimagining Wonder Woman’s origin story. Here, Diana of Themyscira becomes an accidental teenage refugee, eventually winding up in modern New York City, where she finds her calling in teaming up with a young advocate for refugee children.
Need more ideas? Here are more of our 2020 reading lists.
Celebrate World Poetry Day with these 6 Oregon-rooted collections
5 books to keep children’s brains engaged during Oregon’s stay-home order
5 exciting authors coming to Portland for the 2020-21 Arts & Lectures series
Four new books that reflect on the Mount St. Helens eruption
Feeling like you’re back in the 1930s and ’40s? Here are 8 books that channel the era
35 books about race, recommended by Black Portland writers
Here are the 2020 Oregon Book Award winners
7 books for kids and teens worth a look this summer
9 books to creep you out this Halloween season
17 books to check out during the 2020 Portland Book Festival