Great Oregon Books, Great Oregon Places

November 20, 2014 (Updated November 25, 2014)


“Oregon. Oregon. Oregon. I was here,” writes author Cheryl Strayed in her memoir “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.” This book, like so many, displays the singular passion of Oregon writers — and their heroes and heronines — for this wild and diverse place. As Strayed braves the Pacific Crest Trail and Prue McKeel steps into the unknown forest of “Wildwood,” as Eva Bruner braves life on a remote ranch at the start of “A Land of Sheltered Promise,” these and other memorable protagonists are defined by Oregon’s landscape. A fictional coastal community weathering common heartbreaks, an imagined logging town divided by a strike, and an anxiety-ridden 19th-century gunslinger — these are just some of the great stories to arise from Oregon’s great places.


“Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail”

Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild” has spent 80 weeks and counting on the New York Times Best Sellers list. It was named book of the year by NPR and Vogue in 2012. The Fox Searchlight Pictures film, starring Reese Witherspoon, opens in theaters in 2014.

See it: Check out sights like the Bridge of the Gods and Timberline Lodge along the Pacific Crest Trail.


Mt. Hood photo by Nickie Bournias


“From afar, the sight of Mount Hood had never failed to take my breath away, but up close it was different, the way everything is. It was less coolly majestic, at once more ordinary and more immeasurable in its gritty authority.” (“Wild,” page 305)




From Decemberists front man Colin Meloy and his wife, artist Carson Ellis, “Wildwood” is the first book in a whimsical trilogy about a magical world on the edge of downtown Portland. The adventure begins when 12-year-old Prue ventures into the Impassable Wilderness (easily recognized as a magical version of Forest Park) to rescue her baby brother, who has been abducted by a murder of crows. This New York Times Best Seller has also been an Indie Best Seller. The third book, “Wildwood Imperium,” was published in February 2014.

See it: Explore North Portland and Forest Park.

“Prue stopped and leaned against a fir tree, taking in her verdant surroundings. As far as the eye could see, it was green. As many shades of green as Prue could imagine were draped across the landscape: the electric emerald of the ferns and the sallow olive of the drooping lichen and the stately gray-green of the fir branches. The sun was rising higher in the sky, and it streamed through the gaps of the dense wood.” (“Wildwood,” page 44)

Forest Park photo by Susan Seubert





“Mink River”

Set in the fictional town of Neawanaka, Brian Doyle’s “Mink River” is story wrapped in story. There’s a nun and her talking crow, as well as the Worried Man, a Salish native who can sense the pain of others and who, with his longtime friend Cedar, “seeks to defeat time by recording every story possible.” Neawanaka also holds a doctor, a policeman, a barmaid, a fisherman, an artist, and children both cherished and harmed by those responsible for them — and all of their intertwined stories. Doyle is a fiction writer, essayist and Oregon Book Award finalist. His most recent book, “The Plover,” was published in 2014.

See it: Experience the natural beauty of the Oregon Coast and its friendly small towns.

Ecola State Park photo by Greg Vaughn

“On a clear day the Oregon coast is the most beautiful place on earth — clear, crisp and clean, a rich green in the land and a bright blue in the sky, the air fat and salty and bracing, the ocean spreading out like a grin. Brown pelicans rise and fall in their chorus lines in the wells of the waves, cormorants arrow, an eagle kingly queenly floats south high above the water line.” (“Mink River,” page 183)


“Along the western slopes of the Oregon Coastal Range … come look; the hysterical crashing of tributaries as they merge into the Wakonda Auga River …” (“Sometimes a Great Notion,” page 1)
“Along the western slopes of the Oregon Coastal Range … come look; the hysterical crashing of tributaries as they merge into the Wakonda Auga River …” (“Sometimes a Great Notion,” page 1)

“Sometimes a Great Notion”

Ken Kesey’s “Sometimes a Great Notion” is considered a masterpiece of Western literature. Published in 1964 and set in the fictional town of Wakonda, Oregon, in the Coast Range, the book tells the story of the Stamper family, a stubborn clan of lumberjacks butting heads with locals over a union strike. The wild beauty of the range’s forests and rivers features prominently in the story.

See it: Explore the hidden beauty of Southern Oregon’s rivers and the people who love them.

Chetco River photo by Justin Bailie /


“A Land of Sheltered Promise”

Bend writer Jane Kirkpatrick is the author of more than a dozen works of inspirational fiction and nonfiction. Many of her award-winning historical novels are set in rural outposts of 19th-century Oregon. Based on real events and people, “A Land of Sheltered Promise” begins in Prineville as Eva awaits the outcome of her husband’s trial. He’s been accused of murdering a neighbor on the Big Muddy Ranch near Antelope, Oregon.

See it: Visit historic Prineville.



“The courthouse, with its false front, soars two stories above the high desert plateau in the city of Prineville, Oregon. A murder trial brings out the neighbors and the witless as well as the merely curious, but only the sturdy and those who rise early have climbed these flights to the circuit court this May day.” (“A Land of Sheltered Promise,” page 9)

Prineville photos by Christian Heeb


“It has been only two months since our last visit to Oregon City, but I counted five new businesses on the main street, and each of these appeared to be going well. ‘An ingenious species,’ I said to Charlie, who made no reply.” (“The Sisters Brothers,” page 7)

“The Sisters Brothers”

Charlie Sisters is a cold-blooded killer and gun for hire living in Oregon City in 1851 (In real life, the town is home to Willamette Falls, the largest waterfall in the Pacific Northwest.). But his partner in crime and brother, Eli, might be a bit too sensitive for the job. Afraid of spiders, lovelorn and worried about his weight, Eli threatens the Sisters Brothers’ latest mission — to find and kill a prospector named Hermann Kermit Warm. “The Sisters Brothers” author Patrick deWitt lives in Portland. He’s the winner of Canada’s prestigious Governor General Literary Award and the Oregon Book Award, and he was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize.

See it: Learn more about the Oregon City area and adventure on the Clackamas River.

Willamette Falls photo by Mark Gamba


About The

Eileen Garvin
Eileen Garvin lives and writes in Hood River. When she’s not hunched over her keyboard or digging in the garden, you can find her mountain biking, kiteboarding, hiking, skiing or camping somewhere in Oregon.