The Best Books Portland Authors Read In 2019

Karen Russell, Willy Vlautin and other local literary luminaries on their favorite reads of the year.

Karen Russell

Author of Swamplandia! and Orange World and Other Stories

"The Night Swimmers, by Portland's own Peter Rock, was one of the best books I read this year, and one I felt deserved far more attention. A young man and an older woman go night swimming in Lake Michigan. Twenty years later, he is pulled back into the mystery of her disappearance. It's a novel unlike any other I've read: a mosaic of uncanny photographs and rediscovered diaries, fresh correspondence between ex-lovers, meditations on childhood and parenthood, an amphibious dance between the past and the present. Rock returns to the worlds and selves he once inhabited—and still does—on some ghostly, subaqueous frequency."

Peter Rock

Author of The Night Swimmers

"Yoko Ogawa's story collection, Revenge, is one I return to, and often teach—wonderfully scary, gothic, violent, bold. All her works are great. But none of them prepared me for the subtlety and dimension of The Memory Police. I really liked the first half of the book, but the second half just devastated me. The confidence of the ending and its interior contradictions is just brutally impressive. I don't really want to give away the plot through my praise, but the gradual changes and the narrator's amazingly sensitive yet limited voice, the world closing in and emptying itself—wow. The handle of this storytelling and the gradual escalation we experience had me enthralled and quietly overwrought."

Kimberly King Parsons

Author of Black Light

"One of the best books I read this year was Richard Chiem's King of Joy. It's a compelling and vivid experimental novel that is also staggeringly visual—the HD colors, slick skin and dewy details are so true and lush that reading it feels effortless, like letting a projector cast light across your face. It's dreamy, sexy and psychedelic, but the raw depictions of grief, trauma and resiliency will bust your heart open. I can't wait to read more from Chiem."

Michelle Ruiz Keil

Author of All of Us With Wings

"I can't stop thinking about Natalie Scenters-Zapico's Lima :: Limón. Her poems plead to be read aloud then burn your tongue for the favor—gruesome as fairy tales but grounded in the precise details of the violence done to brown women's bodies. These poems are urgent, chilling and oddly beautiful."

Matt Fraction

Author of November and Sex Criminals

"My favorite graphic novels this year were BTTM FDRS by Ezra Claytan Daniels and Ben Passmore, a Day-Glo gentrification ghost story shot through with brilliant bolts of lightning illuminating difficult issues of race and class; and Skip, by Portland's Molly Mendoza, a warm, witty, surreal explosion of an adventure about bravery, friendship and maybe even art itself. It's also gorgeous. Book-wise, I most loved Hanif Abdurraqib's heartfelt and swooning shamanism of A Tribe Called Quest called Go Ahead in the Rain. Olga Tokarczuk's Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, for my money, debuts the finest detective in literature since Maigret, which is probably why they gave her the Nobel Prize this year."

Willy Vlautin

Author of Lean on Pete and Don't Skip Out on Me

"I hate to say this, but all year I've just read old books. I got obsessed with Richard Stark's Parker novels. My God, I bought all 16 in original paperbacks. Half my year was just reading Parker. I about went nuts, but there's something about them that just killed me—so brutal and direct and sociopathic—and it's mostly because I could never tell what was going to happen. Even by the 15th novel, I was still shocked by what was going on."

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