Believe it or not, Oregon’s rainier months are some of the best times to head coastward. The beaches are empty, the waves are awe-inspiring, and there are upwards of 50 billion shades of grey to rest the eyes upon. It is a time of year when the landscape feels wild and muted at the same time, setting up prime conditions for a retreat from the more populated and often hectic life in the valley. However, even the toughest Oregonians can get tired of beach walks in the rain, and may seek further refuge indoors. Here, books come into play to enliven one’s coastal experience.
It is my firm belief that reading about a place while in that place is the best kind of reading around, so the following book list has been developed for this purpose. While it is certainly not all-encompassing, it should get you going while you wait out the storm.
Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
This story of the great white whale and a cracked captain’s crazy chase after it can honestly be a bit of a drag. But, when paired with rain pelting windows and the audible crashing of waves during a winter storm, both the more action-filled and detail-oriented sections of this piece of literature become much more tolerable and even fascinating. Especially the first four pages or so. If you just read those on repeat you would do well for yourself.
Oregon Coast Novels
Sometimes A Great Notion, by Ken Kesey
Timing this book with a rainy day couldn’t be better, as Kesey writes himself, “you must go through a winter to understand.” Chronicled here are the gradations of characters within an overall ruggedly independent logging family of pioneer decent, and the place that has shaped them all. When the rest of the loggers in town go on strike, the Stampers are defiant, calling in extra help from the estranged youngest. After his arrival, things get relatively Oedipian.
Mink River, by Brian Doyle
Set in the imagined town of Neawanaka on the northern Oregon Coast, the now-deceased Doyle incorporates a unique flavor of magical realism and distinct cascading writing style into one of his most popular books. The cast of characters, of native and Euro-American descent, and human and non-human form, often struggle to maintain their livelihoods in this rural town, but find resilience in their sense of place and relationships to one another. If you can’t take it from me, take it from David James Duncan —author of The Brothers K and The River Why, which anyone in Oregon ought to also read, whether coast side or inland — who praises Doyle’s ability to cast “hauntings and shadows, shards of dark and bright, usurpations by wonder, lust, blarney, yearning, that are coast-mythic in flavor but entirely bardic at heart. I’ve read no Northwest novel remotely like it and enjoyed few novels more.”
Essays & Short Story Collections
Holdfast, by Kathleen Dean Moore
A retired Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and current Senior Fellow of the Spring Creek Project at our very own Oregon State University, Moore’s collection of books center on the environmental ethics she has spent her lifetime dwelling upon and continues to advocate for. These essays explore what it means for humans to connect to or separate from their greater ecological communities, and does so without a sense of judgment. While the whole book isn’t coastal in scope, reading it while surrounded by relatively monotone and salty scenery is sure to help you reflect on your own values in your relationship with the natural world.
Nehalem Tillamook Tales,
by Clara Pearson, Elizabeth Derr Jacobs, and Melville Jacobs
Contained here are 60 entertaining and enlightening tales spoken by a member of the Nehalem tribe for recording in 1934 by an anthropologist. They are sure to bring awareness, context, and delight to the reader already interested in coastal native culture, as well as to the reader simply in it for good storytelling.
The Chronology of Water, by Lidia Yuknavitch
Not many books can achieve such an equilibrium of beauty and brutality. Yuknavitch creates an exquisite, radical language as she tells her story of growing up with a sexually and physically abusive father, negligent alcoholic mother, and loving sister. She makes no apologies and looks for none either while reclaiming her traumatic upbringing and harrowing, insatiable trials with love and sexuality. As a swimmer, Yuknavitch finds sense and escapism in water. The book itself is a testament to human endurance and the power of personal narrative.
Seashore Life of the Northern Pacific Coast, by Eugene Kozloff
For moments when the rain breaks, you best have this book in your knapsack. Authored by a recently deceased researcher from my alma mater’s marine science center, this guide is unique in its ability to be useful for those new to exploring the intertidal zone and those researching it alike. It contains beautiful color photos and thorough descriptions of all the salty critters one could be curious about between northern California and British Columbia.
By Ari Blatt