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.

Buy this book at

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 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.

Buy this book at