Northwest territory

Next week, I’ll be heading to Seattle to visit my old pal Ernesto, with a side trip to Portland to see Jorge, another friend. Getting to the Pacific Northwest from Jackson involves taking a puddle-jumper plane from Jackson to Atlanta (technically the wrong direction), and then a cross-country flight from there to Seattle. The train trip from Seattle to Portland is about three hours one-way.

As you’ve probably guessed, I’ll be spending lots of time sitting around. When I travel, I always bring a book or, rather, several books. I never know which book in my to-be-read pile—it’s now almost as tall as I am—to bring. So, I end up packing four books that I’ve been meaning to pick up off my shelves for a year, two books that I rediscovered while checking my shelves, and a final one that I’ve sorta been meaning to sell for a decade, but which I keep lugging from home to home, so let’s give it a try now that I’ll have lots of uninterrupted time. My knapsack is so heavy that I’ll drag my knuckles on the airport floor. Inevitably, one of these books will captivate me while I’m sitting in the Jackson airport, and I’ll ignore the rest for the entire vacation… and then buy six more books during the trip.

Help me avoid this. Choose a book for me. I’m looking for a great book—preferably a novel or creative nonfiction—set in or specifically about the Pacific Northwest* in some way. Beyond Tom Robbins and David Guterson, I’ve got little idea of the contours of Pacific Northwestern writing. Who’s a great writer from the region, what one book would you recommend by him or her for a starter, and why?

If I get more than one recommendation for a single book, I’ll try my best to buy a copy before I step onto the plane on Saturday afternoon. Otherwise, I’ll choose the recommended book that seems most interesting to me. In any case, I’ll post snippets of the most interesting responses after my return to Jackson on the 17th.

*For my purposes, the Pacific Northwest does not include San Francisco.

About Walter Biggins

Walter Biggins is a writer based in Atlanta, GA. He is the co-author (with Daniel Couch) of Bob Mould's Workbook (Bloomsbury, 2017). His work has been published in The Quarterly Conversation,, Bookslut (RIP), The Comics Journal, The Baseball Chronicle, and other periodicals. Twitter: @walter_biggins.
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7 Responses to Northwest territory

  1. brian says:

    Sherman Alexie, recommendations would be ‘Indian Killer’ or ‘Ten Little Indians’

  2. Susan says:

    “The Good Rain: Across Time and Terrain in the Pacific Northwest,” by Timothy Egan. Non-fiction.

  3. Ernesto says:

    Brian beat me to the punch but Sherman Alexie was to be my first recommendation. He sits on the 826 Seattle Board here and the ED is a woman named Teri Hein, who wrote Atomic Farmgirl.

  4. Sara says:

    Off the top of my head, I can only think of two books I love deeply which were written by someone from the Pacific Northwest. Geek Love by Katharine Dunn is one of my all-time favorite novels. I cannot remember if it actually takes place in the Pacific Northwest; it’s about traveling carnies (to summarize about as blankly as possible), so it goes all over the place. I also really loved a slender book that originally came out around the same time called Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, which takes place in Idaho (though I remembered it as Oregon; go figure), where the author is from.
    Now, if you want to read about the Pacific Northwest as described by people passing through, there’s always Jack London, whose short stories are good for traveling even if you’ve read them before, though he doesn’t only write about that region, of course. And if you want to go far up into the north part of the Pacific Northwest, John McPhee’s Coming Into the Country and Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams are classic nonfiction about Alaska.
    I read all these books a really long time ago, and so I may not remember them well. As it happens, these are the only books on my shelf from or about this area. I hadn’t really noticed until you asked. Interesting.
    Happy reading. Enjoy your trip.

  5. winter says:

    Girls Gone Wild: Seattle is by far the most revealing look at the Pacific NW.

  6. Chris Reisor says:

    Did you forget Raymond Carver? I don’t have any specific recommendations, but the stories I’ve read have all been fantastic.
    Don’t know if he ever wrote any novels or just short stories.

  7. Ernesto says:

    August Wilson lived in Seattle…nice tribute in The Stranger

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