These Are 2023′s Best Books From Portland Writers

In a triumphant year for our city’s wordsmiths, five titles stood out.

Staring Contest (Photo by Yaara Perczek / Book Jacket Design By Aaron Robert Miller)

Best Work in Translation: Bo Ninh’s Hà Nôi at Midnight, translated by Cab Tran and Quan Manh Ha (Texas Tech University Press, 216 pages, $29.95)

Portland writer and translator Cab Tran says the first time he read Bảo Ninh, he found his prose “more psychologically complex than anything I’d read of Vietnamese literature in translation.” Tran worked with Quan Manh Ha, a literature professor at the University of Montana, to translate the 12 stories in Hà Nôi, which are filled with loss and destruction. A mother writes letters to the son who will never return; a railroad signalman with dementia waits for a train that will never come; a family is forever changed by a flood. Stories shift through time, tense and point of view, ultimately forcing readers to experience both immediate and lasting effects of war.

Best Memoir: Twenty Acres: A Seventies Childhood in the Woods by Sarah Neidhardt (University of Arkansas Press, 320 pages, $22.46)

When a friend tells Sarah’s Daddy that the Ozarks are a “back-to-the-land utopia” where they can start fresh and live off the land, Daddy decides to move his wife and then 6-month-old Sarah to a plot of land in middle-of-the-woods Arkansas. Soon we’re following along as Daddy builds a cabin, and we learn what “living off the land” can mean and hear Sarah’s earliest experiences, as told punctuated by family letters and retold tales. Dotted with delightful photos and memorable anecdotes, Twenty Acres is a captivating look at one family’s journey into an “off-the-grid” lifestyle and their jarring return to conventional society.

Best Story Collection: Marrying Friends by Mary Rechner (Propeller Books, 210 pages, $17.95)

Best read by fans of the interconnected stories-meet-novels style of Jennifer Egan (A Visit From the Goon Squad), Marrying Friends is a collection that wholeheartedly looks at the loving, changing ways that lifelong friends stay connected. Centered on a group of high school friends who are still connected 20 years after graduation, Friends looks at grief, how friends and families survive it, and how to move forward. Extra points for the simple but delightful cover art.

Best Novel: The Neighbors We Want by Tim Lane (Crooked Lane Books, 272 pages, $29.99)

Lane’s sophomore novel takes hold of the reader from the instant you absorb its premise: Portland ad writer Adam Cooper gets fired for watching explicit videos at work. Yikes, Adam. Now a stay-at-home dad to a 7-month-old, Adam witnesses something strange at the house across the street. The plot takes a quick turn, then another and another. From unexpected neighborly activities to captivating obsessions, Neighbors is a domestic thriller for fans of Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley) and Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl).

Best Essay Collection: Staring Contest by Joshua James Amberson (Perfect Day Publishing, 224 pages, $15)

Opening essay “Hazy” begins with the story of how Amberson first realized that the distortion in his sight was the result of something more than the need for a stronger lens prescription. After being diagnosed with pseudoxanthoma elasticum, or PXE, a rare genetic disease that causes cracks in the retina, Amberson details the anxiety-producing experience of getting injections in his eyeball, a procedure necessary to prevent further eye damage and to at least temporarily restore his vision. Staring Contest is a bold and kind collection that manages to tackle the sensitive subject of vision loss with humor and curiosity, exploring the process of making art, navigating the world, and the wide spectrum of what disability can look like. Amberson brings a range of blind writers and artists on board to tell a varied story of vision.

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