Best of Portland 2014: Best Reads


Allan Classen is a one-man gang. And yet the editor and publisher of The Northwest Examiner newspaper hasn't shied away from picking fights with Esco Corp., the giant steel foundry in his neighborhood, the elite Multnomah Athletic Club or Richard Singer, whose family is the leading real-estate owner in Northwest Portland.

It is the Examiner (, which Classen has owned since 1986, rather than larger outlets, that made an issue of Esco's air pollution, of the MAC's attempt to jam through a new parking structure in Goose Hollow, and of Singer's efforts to push through controversial parking garages.

"I have a deep resentment of people who are trying to game the system," Classen says.

A 1971 journalism grad of the University of Oregon, Classen cut his teeth as a Mennonite community organizer in Fort Wayne, Ind. He was sent there as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War and stayed for nine years. He says that was good training for journalism: "Being a community organizer is about digging for information and taking on powerful interests."

Although the Examiner's most-read story in recent years involved exposing the identity of an online bully, Classen says his real strength is just showing up. "I used to wonder if I could be considered an investigative reporter, but I realized what I do is meeting journalism,” he says.  “I tend to know the history and the people very well. I don't think anyone in Portland has been on the neighborhood beat for so long."

At 64, Classen is still hand-delivering 3,000 copies of the Examiner's monthly edition to 60 or 70 news boxes in Northwest. He has no plans to slow down.

He'd like to write a memoir, but in the meantime he expresses his creativity through projects such as a three-part adult Sunday school class he recently taught at the Mennonite church titled "The Gospel According to Johnny Cash: Love, God and Murder." NIGEL JAQUISS.


Portland has long been a haven for female rockers like Courtney Love, Sleater-Kinney, Toody Cole of Dead Moon and Kathy Foster of the Thermals. But if you ask Fabi Reyna, the 22-year-old editor of She Shreds (, women still have a few axes left to grind. And thus her fledgling magazine dedicated to guitar-toting women has published five issues with a clean, minimalist design, deep reads on women in mariachi and the American fretted-instrument craze of the late 1800s, and profiles of iconic, glitter-free artists like Kim Gordon and Mary Timony—and all with a free guitar pick. "I was really put off by the aesthetic of girl guitarists, like the pink and the glitter and all that," Reyna says. TREE PALMEDO.


For places ostensibly designed for social interaction, there is a large amount of reading material available at bars. Dig through the magazines, Willamette Weeks and other less-reputable weekly newspapers on the east side and, you just might stumble upon a brochure on plain white paper, seemingly designed using AppleWorks. This is Bar Rag News.

Available in about 20 bars, the odd little newsletter has been in and out of publication for almost 20 years. Mary Ellen Bryden, who writes under the nom de plume "ME," began it when she found herself bartending after moving to Portland from Ocean Shores, Wash.

Bryden teamed up with "a kid who knew computers"—DaButch, who is no longer with the paper— and the Bar Rag News was born. In lieu of snark, the paper includes stories of friends' visits, birthday shout-outs and such nuggets as a review of Diamond Darcy's lottery bar written by Darcy's husband—also known as "Darcy's handsome prince that continues to bless the machines."

Corny jokes and trivia found on the Internet pepper the pages of the newsletter. But that diagram of all the "erogene" zones on males and females—his are on the schlong!—might just bring a teenage smirk to your face when you're sitting alone at George's Corner Tavern with a plate of fried chicken and a stiff bloody mary. JOHN LOCANTHI.


Literary readings tend to be subdued affairs, complete with respectful silences and golf claps. But if there is anyone who knows how—or desperately needs—to tie one on, it's the person who spends his or her days embroiled in the solitary torture of writing. Thus, LitHop PDX.

"I had heard about Lit Crawl in San Francisco and other like-minded events in other cities," says Kevin Sampsell, the event co-producer and a local author. "I just thought, 'If any place can have a killer barhop reading party, it's certainly Portland!'"

The concept is simple but genius: Take beloved elements of Portland culture—literature, drinking, joviality—and combine them in an event that involves barhopping, and watch the masses assemble. Spurred by the success of the event last October, this year's LitHop PDX on June 12 featured 54 readers at six venues on Northeast Alberta Street over the course of about 165 minutes.

Lit organizations and publishers, from Hawthorne Books to the Independent Publishing Resource Center, hosted readers of poetry, zine, memoir and novel. Moe Bowstern read a story about bears from her zine at Ampersand Gallery. At Branch bar, Seattle poet Tara Atkinson and publisher Alice Blue gathered names from the audience to incorporate into Atkinson's poetry, Mad Libs style. Author Jay Ponteri closed the evening at Cruzroom with an F-bomb-laden excerpt from his memoir Wedlocked. Crowds streamed between venues, raised their glasses and hooted with delight and appreciation.

"I really like the idea that it's kind of like the book nerd's answer to a big musical festival, where you have to run from one place to another to see your favorite people and have your mind blown," Sampsell says. "And if you're getting your buzz on at the same time, it's all the more awesome." PENELOPE BASS.



Usually the reader board outside a church just announces a spaghetti feed, or nags passing drivers to do their spiritual housekeeping. But the sign in front of Alameda Street's Rose City Park United Methodist Church (5830 NE Alameda St., 281-1229, is as likely to scold the true believers as the wayward.

In August 2012, the Rev. Tom Tate put up a message that said "GOD PREFERS KIND ATHEISTS OVER HATEFUL CHRISTIANS," and posted a photo of the sign to the church's Facebook account. The Internet promptly went batshit.

"We got calls and emails from all over the world," says Kay Pettygrove, office administrator at the church. "Atheists loved us all of a sudden."

Most of the responses were positive, but every now and again she'd get an angry screamer. "They're trying to save me and tell me I'm going to rot in hell," she says. "Those were mostly from Texas."

The church has welcomed openly gay parishioners since 2010, and its messages often promote acceptance as a virtue. August 2013's sign read, "WE DON'T WANT GAY MARRIAGE TO UPSET THE SANCTITY OF YOUR THIRD MARRIAGE," which promptly sent the Internet (and phone lines) buzzing again. Pettygrove's favorite sign in the last few years?

“Oh,” she says, “I always liked the one that said, ‘We support the separation of church and hate.’” MATTHEW KORFHAGE. 

Best of Portland 2014 

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