Good Reads

Book Smarts

So you call yourself a Portlander? Not unless you own a dog-eared copy of every one of these classic titles.

By Christian DeBenedetti May 19, 2009 Published in the November 2008 issue of Portland Monthly

Image: Michael Novak

PORTLAND’S ALWAYS BEEN a reader’s city. We have Powell’s Books; we have indie zines; and most important, we have literary lineage. First there was C.E.S. Wood, a friend of Twain’s, who wrote the 1915 hit Poet in the Desert. Not long after that came John “Jack” Reed (portrayed by Warren Beatty in the movie Reds), who penned Ten Days That Shook the World in 1919. Mix in Beverly Cleary of Ramona Quimby fame; Susan Orlean, former Willamette Week staffer, author of The Orchid Thief, and a staff writer for the New Yorker; and Chuck Palahniuk, who’s penned 11 books, including Fight Club, and there’s no denying our literary history. But with so many prized authors to pick from, how’s a resident supposed to know which books to stash on her shelf? We powwowed with several writers to develop a can’t-miss list of the titles every self-respecting Portlander should have on hand.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion

By Ken Kesey

The Oregon Book Awards, held November 9 this year (, named the top prize for Oregon novelists after Kesey, which seems like a damn fine reason to include these two classics, published in 1962 and 1964, respectively.

Send: Why People E-Mail So Badly and How to Do It Better 

By David Shipley and Will Schwalbe

In 2007, Shipley—a Portland native who serves as the editorial page and op-ed editor at the New York Times—co-authored this witty, entertaining guide to “netiquette” that aims to make sure you never CC yourself into abject shame or joblessness again. Required reading for our very wired population.

The Left Hand of Darkness 

By Ursula K. Le Guin

Le Guin, a sometime writer in residence at Portland State University, has written 20 novels, but she’s best known for this 1969 sci-fi exploration of an alien, gender-neutral society struggling for acceptance in an outer-space federation. Such a book could only come out of Portland.

Geek Love

By Katherine Dunn

Esteemed novelist Diana Abu-Jaber (author of Origin and other titles) calls Dunn’s 1983 breakout a brilliantly playful and imaginative novel and says no list is complete without the book, which chronicles the tragicomic lives of a carny family, the Binewskis.