Culture Cheat Sheet: Books

The Essential Portland Bookshelf: 32 Books That Define Our City and State

Sometimes a Great Notion to Geek Love, these are the texts that express, entertain, and enlighten us.

By Fiona McCann November 14, 2016 Published in the December 2016 issue of Portland Monthly

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Image: Michael Novak

1. Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin 
Boy meets Meadows racehorse meets America.

2. Honey in the Horn by H. L. Davis 
Homesteading: super bummer. Centuries of sadness. 

3. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn 
Keeping Portland weirdest 

4. The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel 
Big-time prehistoric othering 

5. A New Life by Bernard Malamud 
Pacific Northwest self-reinvention goes awry.

6. Seven Hands, Seven Hearts by Elizabeth Woody 
Our poet laureate’s ancestral explorations

7. Wildmen, Wobblies & Whistle Punks by  Stewart Holbrook 
The Northwest mavericks in storied glory 

8. Wild by Cheryl Strayed 
Hike, stray, self-love 

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Image: Michael Novak

9. Heartsick by Chelsea Cain 
Female Hannibal Lecter loves Portland—to death. 

10. Hard Rain Falling by Don Carpenter 
Portland’s seedy ’60s 

11. Mala Noche by Walt Curtis 
Old Old Town hustlers hustle

12. The Journals of Lewis & Clark 
The original Trail Blazers

13. Trask by Don Berry 
Mountain man is Tillamook bound.

14. Oh Joy, Sex Toy by Erika Moen 
Sex-positive nonfiction comics—of course we do that. 

15. The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin 
Impolitic dreaming of a Portland dystopia 

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Image: Michael Novak

16. My Abandonment by Peter Rock 
Forest Park survivalism  

17. Du iz Tak? by Carson Ellis 
Children’s guide to changing seasons and neologisms

18. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt 
The Wild West redux 

19. The Darkness Around Us is Deep by William Stafford 
Oregon’s great wordsmith on presence

20. Curtains by Hazel Hall 
Poems from a room in Northwest Portland

21. From the West to the West: Across the Plains to Oregon by Abigail Scott Duniway 
Badass pioneering stuff

22. The Folly of Loving Life by Monica Drake 
Portlanders feel the change.

23. The Half-Life by Jonathan Raymond 
Very old Portland meets oldish Portland. 

24. Portlandness, A Cultural Atlas by David Banis and Hunter Shobe 
Mapping urban smells, strip clubs, and ROUSs

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Image: Michael Novak

25. Fire at Eden's Gate by Brent Walth 
Tom McCall invents Oregon.

26. The Dead Lands by Benjamin Percy 
Lewis & Clark, postapocalyptically 

27. Dryland by Sara Jaffe 
Swim meets and sexual discovery in ’90s Portland 

28. The Residue Years by Mitchell S. Jackson 
Life in pre-gentrified Northeast 

29. Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey 
Loggers vs. river 

30. Blue Like Jazz  by Donald Miller 
Hipster Christians wander Rose City. 

31. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk 
Don’t talk about it. 

32. The River Why by David James Duncan 
Coming of age, with fish 

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