Washington


One more shot...
Photo of the Columbia River by Starlisa used under a Creative Commons license.

Blaine Harden, A River Lost: The Life and Death of the Columbia (W.W. Norton & Co., 1996).
When Woody Guthrie wrote his songs about the Columbia River during the Great Depression, hydroelectric projects like the Grand Coulee Dam were taming a wild river to bring jobs and electricity to a region that didn’t have enough of either. Harden’s father, like my grandfather, was one of the beneficiaries. Dams allowed barges to carry freight where rapids had been; irrigation made the desert bloom. Decades later, the Columbia is a river tamed, and the costs of this progress, such as declining salmon runs, are more evident. Harden, who grew up along the river and became a reporter for the Washington Post, traveled up and down the river to draw this picture of the river and the region.

Here is Google Book Search, with an excerpt and more. Here’s a story about Harden and the book in the Kitsap Sun. Phil Keisling, Oregon’s Secretary of State, reviewed it for Washington Monthly. Hal Espen reviewed it for The New York Times.

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Mount Spokane
Photo of Mount Spokane by bakerman78 used under a Creative Commons license.

Sherman Alexie, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1993).
Twenty-two short stories set on and around the Spokane Reservation in eastern Washington state, a hardscrabble place. Many characters and events recur, including Victor, who is sometimes younger and sometimes older. Familiar images of Indians are here — powwows and alcohol abuse — but so is the less familiar — basketball, for example. Alexie’s work may be known to more from his screenplay for the movie “Smoke Signals,” which evolved out of one of the stories here. The 2005 edition from Grove Press has two stories not included in earlier editions.

Alexie’s site has this biography. Lynn Cline profiled him in Ploughshares. Dan Webster wrote this about him in the Spokesman Review, Spokane’s major newspaper. The Guardian profiled him a few days ago.
Stephane Chabrieres has posted what seems to be an excerpt. Here are reviews from Kirkus Reviews and Booklist. Here are reviews from Steve Brock, Martin Kich, Charles, Brian, Bryan R. Terry, sbarranca, Orrin, Miss Print, Gil T. Wilson, Randy M., mai wen, and Trent Hergenrader. Jessica Chapel interviewed Alexie for Atlantic Unbound in 2000. Here’s a PowerPoint presentation on Alexie’s use of names in the novel.

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Shades of Blue
Photo of Mount Baker and Puget Sound by sea turtle used under a Creative Commons license.

David Guterson, Snow Falling on Cedars (Vintage, 1995).
Set in the 1950s on San Piedro Island, Washington, likely a fictionalized version of Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound, where Guterson lives. (The minority view is that San Piedro Island is based on the San Juan Islands.) On an island where most of the residents are strawberry farmers or fishermen, Ishmael Chambers is the sole journalist for the local paper. He covers the murder trial of a high-school classmate accused of killing another classmate over land. Hanging over the trial and the book are white islanders’ prejudice towards Japanese-Americans and the wartime internment of the latter a decade earlier. The novel combines elements of mystery, courtroom drama, romance, and history.

The Guelph Public Library provides a brief synopsis. Another site has an excerpt. Ellen Kanner interviewed Guterson. Here is a profile of Guterson after the novel’s success. Here are reviews and posts by verbivore, Megan, Marie, Margaret S. Hrezo, Shantanu Dutta, Paula, Will Stuivenga, and Orrin J. Judd, who is not a fan. The book is discussed in this essay on Northwest writing and regional identity, posted by the Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest at the University of Washington. If you prefer, here is a sort of video review.

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Concrete, WA
Photo of Concrete, Washington, by Dean Forbes used under a Creative Commons license.

Tobias Wolff, This Boy’s Life (Grove Press, 2000).
A memoir of Wolff’s years as a troubled teenager in the 1950s and early 1960s. On the run from an abusive boyfriend, Wolff and his mother got off a bus in the Seattle area, and tried to make a new life in western Washington. Wolff found himself in difficulty of various kinds, most of all in his new stepfather, a cruel and abusive man. Wolff responded by re-inventing himself in different ways, such as by becoming a Boy Scout. While these were not the happiest of times he can be mordantly funny. Originally published in 1989.

Google Book Search has an excerpt, among other things. (Note, though, that several of the reviews are of the movie instead.) Christopher Lehmann-Haupt reviewed the book for The New York Times. John A. Woodcock takes a somewhat medical perspective at NYU’s Literature, Arts, and Medicine Database. John Self posts at Palimpsest. Jen Teitle writes about meeting Tobias Wolff. This New York Times article is about Concrete and neighboring towns.

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BC Ferry, Strait of Georgia
Photo of the Georgia Strait by WeeScot used under a Creative Commons license.

Jonathan Raban, Passage to Juneau (Pantheon, 1999).
An account of Raban’s solo voyage aboard his 35 ketch from Seattle, up Puget Sound and the Strait of Georgia, along the coast of British Columbia and then up the Inside Passage to Juneau. To travel this route by sailboat instead of ferry is to reckon with winds and tides, to shelter in unvisited coves, a slow and less direct trip that lets you see more. Travelogue combines with memoir, Raban’s readings of the accounts of Captain Vancouver’s expedition to the area in the 1790s, and reflections on Indian/First Nations art and culture. I loved this book. Unless you’re going to be on a small boat, Raban’s path is through a world that most visitors will not see much of, which is all the more reason to read his account.

Dave Weich of Powells.com interviewed Raban in 2000 (via Beth Wellington). Reviews from Sherry Simpson (SF Chronicle), Scott Sutherland (Salon), Michael Gorra (The New York Times), and Richard Bernstein (The New York Times). More from Dr. David P. Stern, Ann Skea, Traci J. Macnamara, HAK, Meg, Scott Esposito, t.s., Eileen D., and Ken Liu.

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