Here in the Northwest, you can accumulate large quantities of the following: rainwater, unemployment and local literature. The folks at Oregon Quarterly (the University of Oregon’s magazine) collect the third. Last year, they ransacked their archives and created a new literary record of the region, Best Essays NW. Most of the 27 essays read like short stories rather than highbrow meditations, and they cover everything from fruit and fire to sand dunes and old gyppos. Odes to the iconic — rain and salmon — are here, as is a funny, informative explanation of Oregon’s anti-California sentiment.
also the unexpected. Charles Goodrich mows his lawn and ponders the
full meaning of grass, manicured and wild. Corrina Wycoff writes a
highly personal tale of going on welfare. When she discovers her
food stamps have an Oregon Trail emblem, she writes, "It is a
paradox that the triumphant mythos of the Oregon Trail on this
plastic currency signifies anything but triumph." Then, there is
Ellen Waterston’s mournful account of the last large log
processed at a Bend, Ore., mill. "The shift whistle sounded long
and sang loud of the machines," she writes, "and the men who
operated them offered shrill thanks to the evergreen forests that
Best Essays NW
isn’t tight as a drum. A few essays sag; their authors work
too hard to characterize the Northwest with one definitive word.
But overall, the book — written mostly by unknown writers
— makes cozy nighttime reading, and explains why this corner
of the West is worth a drop or two of reflection.
Best Essays NW: Perspectives from Oregon Quarterly
Magazine, edited by Guy Maynard and Kathleen Holt. 219
pages, hardcover $24.95. University of Oregon Press,
Reading for — and about — a rainy day
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