The best Northwest books of 2011

Crosscut reached out to literary junkies at Elliott Bay Book Co., Richard Hugo House, and Powell's Books to compile a list of the best local books of 2011 for all the readers on your holiday shopping list.

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Crosscut reached out to literary junkies at Elliott Bay Book Co., Richard Hugo House, and Powell's Books to compile a list of the best local books of 2011 for all the readers on your holiday shopping list.

Christmas is almost here, and you still have shopping to do. Your friend is a literary snob and a huge locavore. She has read every volume of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time and wouldn’t eat the Gala apples you bought from Safeway because they were from New Zealand. In short, a supreme Seattleite.

But as luck would have it, Crosscut has compiled a list of 2011’s best local books, as recommended by literary authorities Elliott Bay Book Co., Richard Hugo House and Powell’s Books. So whether you are shopping for an intellectual, a history buff, or an imaginative young adult, these varied and talented Northwest authors are sure to make your holiday shopping easier.

Elliott Bay Book Company recommends:

West of Here by Jonathan Evison

Set in the imaginary Port Bonita, located on the Olympic Peninsula, West of Here focuses on two storylines from two different times that inevitably collide, showing how the future often has to try and make up for the mistakes of the past.

Jonathan Evison is best known for his 2008 debut novel All About Lulu, which won the Washington State Book Award and critical acclaim. More interestingly, according to his website, he was the founding member and frontman for the Seattle punk rock band “March of Crimes,” which included future members of Pearl Jam and Sound Garden.

Why read it? “Evison's new novel is a panoramic homage to the people, climates, and landscapes of the Pacific Northwest. West of Here contains storylines like rivers that rush forward with astonishing momentum and force. A masterful meditation on time, history, and people.”

 - Candra Koldziej, Bookseller, Elliott Bay Book Company

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

 The Sisters Brothers is a Western novel about the Gold Rush and two brothers from Oregon City, who embark on horseback to kill a man in California gold country — “business as usual.” What follows is a satirical version of the cowboy-styled road novel that both pays homage to and, at times, makes fun of the genre.

Patrick DeWitt is a Canadian novelist born on Vancouver Island and currently residing in Portland, OR. His first book Ablutions was named a New York Times Editors’ Choice and The Sisters Brothers, was shortlisted for several prizes, including the Roger Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and the Governor General’s Award for English Language Fiction, both of which he won.

Why read it? “They may be professional killers, but first and foremost, Eli and Charlie are brothers, and their hilarious banter alone is worth the price of admission. The gripping adventure of an epic quest collides with brutal comic timing, and the shock of remorseless violence is countered by the tender hope that a rough man like Eli could leave the murdering life behind, settle down with a nice lady and maybe even improve his dental hygiene in the process.”

- Casey O'Neil, Events planner at Elliott Bay Book Company

The Future Remembered: The 1962 Seattle World’s Fair and Its Legacy by Alan J. Stein and Paula Becker

 This book, as the title suggests, documents the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair and its ensuing legacy, both in the transformation of Seattle into a world-class city, and in the buildings that the event has left behind. With the 50th anniversary coming upon us, this book not only looks back in time, but looks forward into the future, and seeks to reignite the dreams and possibilities that the World’s Fair first held for Seattleites.

Alan J. Stein and Paula Becker are both staff historians for and have each written a number of works, including a collaboration on the book Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exhibition: Washington’s First World’s Fair.

Why read it? “Do you remember Century 21, Seattle World's Fair? Historians Becker and Stein have uncovered some great stories, photos and memorabilia. My favorite part is at the end—the fate of the buildings. You can still visit Horiuchi's mural and the Space Needle. What are your Century 21 stories?”

- Karen Maeda, Community Events, Elliott Bay Book Company

Richard Hugo House recommends: 

Yoga Bitch by Suzanne Morrison

 Yoga Bitch is about a cigarette-smoking, wine-loving atheist trying to get in touch with her spiritual side. She follows her Yoga teacher to Bali, where the results are more mixed than she expected (surprise), and while she doesn't completely transform into the God-loving being she had hoped, her experiences do bring about a series of surprising events that follow her long after her experience is over.

Suzanne Morrison is a Seattle performer and writer who won the 4Culture and Artist Trust grants in 2009 and 2010 for solo performance. Suzanne has already begun work on a new memoir, Your Own Personal Alcatraz, about coming of age on an island near Seattle and “the perils of love.” Suzanne also writes at the Huffington Post and on her own personal blog.

Why read it? “It’s a fantastic memoir that feels real, and leaves you with a sense of hope in your own not-so-perfect, probably-will-never-find-true-enlightment life."

- Christine Texeira, Marketing Coordinator, Richard Hugo House

A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism by Peter Mountford

A young hedge-fund employee named Gabriel poses as a journalist in Bolivia in order to uncover information on the financial plans of the future administration. His relationship with that information, and with the people (largely women) in his life, drives the narrative.

Peter Mountford has an MFA from the University of Washington; this is his first novel. He lives here in Seattle with his wife and daughter.

Why read it? "It’s a great book to read because Peter unobtrusively lays out a vibrant, detailed La Paz that you can easily build in your imagination. Then, you pack in a bunch of politics and economics that he’s also tricked you into paying attention to, and you have a dynamic, interesting setting that easily fits the characters."

- Rebecca Brinson, Development Director, Richard Hugo House

The Wikkeling by Steven Arnston

The Wikkeling is a young adult novel that takes place in the future United States, which is — at the time — a uniform suburb where old objects and homes are reviled, and safety and order reign. It focuses on Henrietta Gad-fly, an unusual and not-exactly heroic young woman, who begins to encounter a strange creature called The Wikkeling, the source of a mysterious illness that plagues her and her friends.

Born in Bellevue and a lifelong Washington resident, Steven Arnston is a writer and musician living in Seattle. He graduated from Fairhaven College in Bellingham, where he studied writing, music, and visual art, and completed the fiction program at Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Why read it? “Henrietta is a very real character, and unlike a lot of other young adult novels, is written with the full range of emotions one would feel at her age. She is not a miniature adult, but a kid dealing with some very strange stuff.”

- Sara Brickman, Registrar and Volunteer Coordinator, Richard Hugo House

Powell's Books reccommends:

Wildwood by Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis

On the edge of Portland is a dense, tangled forest called the Impassable Wilderness, and that is where Prue and Curtis must go to rescue Prue's abducted brother. But what the two find there is more than a simple stroll in the woods. They become witness to a new, fantastical world, and become part of a much larger story.

The authors are the husband-and-wife duo of Colin Meloy, the lead singer and songwriter for the popular Portland-based band the Decemberists, and Carson Ellis, the award-winning illustrator of several children’s books, including books in the Lemony Snicket’s series and the Mysterious Benedict’s Society.

Why read it? Wildwood is wildly imaginative both in word and in illustration, and it pays homage to the mystical allure that tingles in the trees of the Pacific Northwest. Moreover, Wildwood draws you into its surreal world from the very first sentence: “How five crows managed to lift a twenty-pound baby boy into the air was beyond Pru, but that was certainly the least of her worries.” Splendid. And lastly, Powell's has collaborated with the authors to create a fancy-schmancy limited-edition cloth-bound edition.

Habibi by Craig Thompson

Habibi takes place in a mythologized modern world and is an epic that draws elements from the Koran, Arabic fairy tales such as One Thousand and One Nights, and calligraphy. The main narrative follows the burgeoning relationship of the smart and literate Dodola and the guilt-ridden Zam, both child slaves thrown together by a whim of chance and, perhaps, fate.

Craig Thompson is the award-winning graphic novelist best known for his 600-page coming-of-age work, Blankets. He moved to the Pacific Northwest, at first following the comic book scene in Seattle, and then by chance landed in Portland.

Why read it? Craig Thompson's work is the perfect example of the new direction comic book format has been taking. Artful, plot-minded, and experimental, Habibi tells its story in a way that Spider-Man or Batman never could — with grace. Take into account the size and the scope of the book, and what we have here is a contemporary epic in the vein of The Odyssey.


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