10 Great (Recent) Books by Oregon Writers

From dystopian novels to nihilistic comedy to multi-continental short stories, we bring you our favorites from local authors from the past 5 years.

By Fiona McCann

It’s never a bad time to refresh your reading list, and it’s always a good idea to sprinkle in some homegrown favorites. Here are some of the best recent books by Oregon authors (we used five years as our cut off) to decorate your bookshelves and blow your minds. From dark dystopias to autobiographical essays to Parisian comedies to woolly mammoths, these local authors have taken on disparate themes and raised their individual, original voices to tell urgent, entertaining stories. We're lucky to have them. 

Behold, in order of publication, 10 great books by Oregon writers from the past five years.

Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson

This nuanced, artful novel tells the story of Jade, an artistic and ambitious teenager determined to make her way in the world and disappointed by the boxes people keep putting her in even as they profess to care. It received a Coretta Scott King award and a Newbery Honor on publication, and was embraced by critics—National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson called it “timely and timeless.”

Animals Strike Curious Poses by Elena Passarello

Passarello may be familiar to locals as the announcer on LiveWire, but all of that came about after an interview she gave on the same show about this book of essays, a gloriously original collection of treatises on subjects ranging from a 39,000-year-old woolly mammoth to Cecil the Lion.

American War by Omar El Akkad

Ah, remember back when our dystopias were, like, more fictional? To be clear, Omar El Akkad’s debut novel reflects the realities of many global citizens dealing with conflict—it’s just transposed to an American backdrop, and is clear-eyed and compelling in the telling. (Watch out for a new book from this author, set to drop in July.) 

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

In Zumas’s multi-award-winning novel, abortion is illegal in America, IVF is banned, and five women in an Oregon town are navigating this hellscape in different ways. (Also Maggie Nelson loved this book, so if you won’t take it from us, take it from her.) 

Don’t Skip Out on Me by Willy Vlautin

Nobody knows loneliness like Willy Vlautin, or at least, nobody can make it known like him in such spare and tender prose. In this novel, a young ranch hand dreams of becoming a professional boxer, leaving the ranchers who took him in leading their own quiet lives as he moves towards the thing he thinks will give him worth. (Vlautin's newest novel, The Night Always Comes, drops in April.)

Survival Math by Mitchell S. Jackson

Jackson's follow up to the acclaimed Residue Years is a series of lyrical and searing essays that mine his own life story growing up in Northeast Portland to explore the social, political, and historical contexts of his own experience—as well as the odds of making it through adulthood as a Black man in America. 

French Exit by Patrick DeWitt

Hot on the heels of the release of the movie of the same name, we remind you of its origin story, in Portlander Patrick DeWitt’s “tragedy of manners.” Frances Price, a sixty-something socialite, is broke and forced to abscond to Paris with her adult son Malcolm and the family cat, who turns out to in fact contain the spirit of Frances’s famously dead husband. 

No God Like the Mother by Kesha Ajose Fisher

Kesha Ajose Fisher won the 2020 Ken Kesey Award for Fiction in the Oregon Book Awards for this warmly received debut collection of nine short stories centered on African women and girls navigating life in Africa, Europe, and the Pacific Northwest. 

Black Light by Kimberly King Parsons

This wild and dark while deeply compassionate debut short story collection was longlisted for the National Book Awards and earned priase for King Parsons’ “stubbornly unique sensibility.”

As the World Burns by Lee van der Voo

A detailed and heart-rending account of a lawsuit filed by 21 young people against the US government for violating their right to a stable climate, As the World Burns is a rallying cry for all of us. 

Honorable mentions? There are many, but if you've raced through the above list and are looking for more excellent local fodder, try these: Vanessa Veselka's The Great Offshore Grounds is the sweeping and grounded story of three siblings and their disparate journeys through the grim and joyous landscapes (emotional and geographic) of America; Aloha Rodeo by David Walman and Julian Smith, a tale of three Hawaiian paniolos or cowboys who arrived in the American West in 1908 to compete in the world rodeo champions, was snapped up by Disney and is currently in development; a pair of wondrous poetry books from Samiya Bashir (Field Theories) and Ashley Toliver (Spectra); and graphic novels from the likes of Sarah Mirk (Guantanmo Voices) and Vera Brosgol (Be Prepared).

We could go on, but at this point, what are you waiting for? You have books to read! 

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