8 Books That Perfectly Channel The Spirit Of The Pacific Northwest

The Pacific Northwest is known for a lot of things: incredible national parks; rainy weather; grunge music (Nirvana forever); freshly caught fish; really tall, pointy mountains. Globally recognized places like Pike Place Market, Crater Lake, and Mt St Helens. People who love to recycle. People who love to eat granola. People who love to recycle while eating granola. Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. The birthplace of that one coffee shop I literally cannot live without. The trail that made every woman instantly want to become BFFs with Cheryl Strayed. And for being such a small region of the United States — essentially Northern California, Oregon, and Washington, on the non-Canadian side — there are a surprising number of books that capture the spirit of the Pacific Northwest. Or, perhaps not so surprising, since there is something super intriguing about the PNW — it’s just so… out there. In geography and in spirit. It’s the kind of place you really could imagine vampires living, for example. And then there’s all that granola.

If you’ve never spent time in the furthest northwestern-est reaches of the US, then the titles on this list — all books that take place in the Pacific Northwest — will definitely place you there, at least in spirit. Check out these books that perfectly channel the vibes of the Pacific Northwest.

1. Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey

A lot of readers don’t know that the complicated mind behind One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest wrote another successful book as well. Taking place in a small lumber town along the Oregon coast, Sometimes a Great Notion follows the Stamper family as they butt heads with the local logging union by continuing to work through a loggers’ strike. Running parallel to the lumber drama is the sibling rivalry between the patriarch of the Stamper family, Hank, and his younger brother, Leland. And sure, while a book about a logger union’s drama might not immediately catch your eye, Kesey writes these characters so vividly it’s totally worth the read.

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2. The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin

If you’ve ever had a dream you wish had come true, The Lathe of Heaven reads like a cautionary tale for dreamers — the novel’s protagonist, George Orr, has dreams that literally become reality, for better or for worse. He often finds himself waking to a world entirely changed by the subconscious musings of his sleep, and in an attempt to make sense of his strange power, begins consulting a psychotherapist who may not have George’s best interests in mind. Le Guin’s writing is haunting, supernatural, and myth-like. You’ll be swept away by this one.

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3. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

When novelist Ruth discovers a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed ashore on her Pacific Northwest coast, she finds herself pulled into a world wholly unlike her own. Possibly debris from the 2011 tsunami that wracked Japan, inside the lunchbox Ruth finds the diary of a young girl — Japanese teen Nao, a victim of bullying who plans to document the life of her grandmother before committing suicide. As Ruth is pulled into Nao’s story she becomes invested in the fate of the young girl — did she survive the tsunami, the bullying, and her own suicide plot?

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4. Mink River by Brian Doyle

Another story that chronicles the fascinating, fictional lives of a small town, coastal community, Mink River is mesmerizing, endearing, and just a little haunting. Taking place in Neawanaka, Oregon, this novel is filled with the intimate loves, losses, tragedies, and mysteries that exist is just about every small town in America. Once you’ve settled in you won’t want to leave.

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5. The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

Talmadge, an orchard owner living alone in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, leads a solitary, haunted life in this novel, which takes place in pre-railroad/pre-highway America. He’s got secrets in his past; a history that prevents him from welcoming anyone into his life, again. That is, until he befriends two thieves who steal some of his apples — young sisters, on the run, one pregnant and both terrified. And Talmadge will suddenly find himself risking everything in his methodically constructed life in order to save them.

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6. Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Seattle soccer mom and techie wife-turned missing person, Bernadette Fox might be losing her mind — or she’s actually the only person she knows who has any semblance of a grasp on reality. This is the debate that Where’d You Go Bernadette seeks to resolve — in addition to answering the question of where Bernadette disappeared to — leaving her husband and daughter behind — in the first place. Hilarious, infuriating, and just plain mind-boggling, this novel takes you on a behind-the-scenes roller-coaster ride of yuppie Seattle, as Bernadette’s daughter plans a round-the-world trip in search of her mother.

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7. Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

Set on San Piedro Island, north of Puget Sound, Washington, Snow Falling on Cedars is a suspenseful, raw, and heart-wrenching novel that settles in small town America almost a decade after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and tells the story of a mysteriously-murdered fisherman and the Japanese American man who is charged with his murder. A novel of first, lost love woven with a history of one remote island community’s exile of their own Japanese-American neighbors and friends during World War II, the plot of this novel is as haunting and stunning as the setting in which it takes place.

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8. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

A journey through the Pacific Northwest as much as it is a journey into the soul of a young, transforming woman, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail has inspired readers and hikers alike to take their own adventures along the west coast’s PCT. Taking readers along for her 1,000-plus mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail in her early 20s, Cheryl Strayed will make you fall in love with this landscape — and her own story — like few other writers will.

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Image: Zack Spear/Unsplash