What Are You Reading? at the Portland Book Festival

Festival authors, science fiction, and cookbooks: A look at what visitors to last week’s festival had tucked under their arms.

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With limited capacity due to COVID precautions, last week’s Portland Book Festival saw shorter lines than in the past to enter theaters, buy lunch, or get an author’s signature. Nevertheless, attendees were excited to chat while waiting. I talked with a handful of the many booklovers who attended Saturday’s live event and found them passionate about reading — everything from sci-fi to memoirs to cookbooks. 

Take a look at some of the books tucked under their arms, and as always, wishing you all a good cup of coffee, a nice place to sit, and a great read.


WHAT ARE YOU READING? An ArtsWatch Occasional Series


Sara's Portland Book Festival read, "Radiance," combines mythology, science fiction, and fantasy. Photo by Amy Leora Havin
Sara’s Portland Book Festival read, “Radiance,” combines mythology, science fiction, and fantasy. Photo by Amy Leona Havin

Radiance

Written by Catherynne M. Valente
Read by Sara
Main lower lobby, Portland’5

A fantastical tale about an alternate-universe Hollywood, Radiance combines mythology, science fiction, and fantasy to create a beautiful tale, according to reader Sara, who worked as an usher for the book festival. After attending the National Book Awards discussion featuring Dao Strom as moderator, Sara relaxed in the lower lobby with Radiance in hand. Though her favorite authors are usually N.K. Jemisin, who wrote The Obelisk Gate, and fantasy author Robin McKinley, she has been enjoying Valente’s work and intends to check out The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, one of the books featured in the book awards discussion.

Axiom’s End

Written by Lindsay Ellis
Read by Sarah
In line for Gary Shteyngart’s book signing, Newmark Theatre pavilion, Portland’5

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“Very deep and interesting.”

Sarah, who attended Gary Shteyngart’s talk with Jon Raymond in the Newmark, stood behind me in line as we both clutched our newly purchased copies of Shteyngart’s Our Country Friends. Waiting as others chatted with Shteyngart and received his autograph, I noticed a second book in Sarah’s arms. A big fan of science fiction, she said she enjoys reading multiple books at once and called mystery thrillers, such as Axiom’s End, her pandemic go-tos. 

With a love for learning about new authors, Sarah was excited to pick up Ellis’ 2020 release about government cover-ups and extraterrestrial life. “I attend at least a few events at Portland Book Festival every year,” she said, adding she was glad to be back in person.

The Secret History

Written by Donna Tartt
Read by Michelle
Behind the Museum Café, SW Portland

A Fatal Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Murder in Ancient Rome

Written by Emma Southon
Read by Larry
Behind the Museum Café, SW Portland

“Beautiful and charismatic”

“Eerie and attention-grabbing”

I met husband and wife Larry and Michelle while grabbing lunch at Behind the Museum Café. A Japanese coffee shop and eatery offering matcha ice cream, traditional Japanese snack foods, and plum wine, it was crowded with  hungry bibliophiles during the foggy afternoon. 

Michelle, who was reading The Secret History, told me how much she enjoyed Tartt’s 2013 release, The Goldfinch. It was so beautifully written, she said, that she wanted to try another of her works. A third of the way through, Michelle did not feel disappointed.

William L. Sullivan, a vendor at the book festival, was immersed in a biography of outdoorsman William L.  Finley. Photo by Amy Leora Havin
William L. Sullivan, a vendor at the book festival, was immersed in a biography of outdoorsman William L. Finley. Photo by Amy Leona Havin

Larry had to pause to recall his read’s lengthy title, A Fatal Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Murder in Ancient Rome. The couple, originally from Michigan, were pleased with the day’s mild weather. “I wasn’t a fan of the virtual events, but I’m going to keep coming to the live ones,” said Michelle, who has been attending the festival since moving to Portland in 2017.

William L. Finley: Pioneer Wildlife Photographer

Written by Worth Matthewson
Read by William L. Sullivan
Book fair, Portland Art Museum’s Kridel Grand Ballroom

“Exquisite work, really inspiring”

An author and publisher from Eugene, William was restocking his booth at the book fair when he stopped to chat with me. He mentioned he recently wrote and published The Ship in the Hill, a translated nonfiction Viking story with illustrations by his daughter, and was currently immersed in William L. Finley: Pioneer Wildlife Photographer, a photographic biography on the outdoorsman that the Willamette Valley’s William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge is named after. 

A columnist for Eugene Register-Guard, William has also written many hiking and travel guides for the Oregon wilderness. He has been attending the Portland Book Festival as an audience member since it began as Wordstock in 2005.

Finding the Vein

Written by Jennifer Hanlon Wilde
Read by Devyn
Outside book fair, Portland Art Museum third floor lobby

Devyn and Susang were looking forward to reading their just-purchased copies of the short-story collection "Hao," by three-time Pushcart Prize winner Ye Chun. Photo by: Amy Leora Havin
Devyn and Susang were looking forward to reading their just-purchased copies of the short-story collection “Hao,” by three-time Pushcart Prize winner Ye Chun. Photo by: Amy Leona Havin

The Song of Achilles

Written by Madeline Miller
Read by Susang
Outside book fair, Portland Art Museum third floor lobby

Devyn, a first-time festival-goer, and Susang, a second-time festival attendee, sat outside the book fair on a bench near the elevators, holding matching light-blue books in hand: Hao, stories by three-time Pushcart Prize winner Ye Chun. They had just purchased their copies from the Catapult Books table and were excited to give it a read. In the meantime, Devyn told me, she was reading Finding the Vein, published by Ooligan Press, and was a fan of many other titles by the publisher. Susang considers herself an unfussy reader as well as a fan of many genres, and was on Chapter 4 of The Song of Achilles, an adaptation of Homer’s Iliad. Both said they were enjoying the festival very much and found it exhilarating to be surrounded by so many others who liked books.

Transcendent Kingdom

Written by Yaa Gyasi
Read by Anne
Winningstad Theatre lobby, Portland’5

A Brief History of Time

Written by Stephen Hawking
Read by Bill
Winningstad Theatre lobby

“A very heartfelt story”

“Intellectually stimulating”

Bill and Anne sat side by side in armchairs outside the Winningstad, quietly reading. When I approached them, they looked up with smiles on their faces. Bill, a first-year festival attendee and self-proclaimed technology geek, was two-thirds of the way into A Brief History of Time, which he purchased at Powell’s Books. Though it was tough to follow, he said, he was enjoying making his way through the complex material. 

Anne explained that she was a festival regular and enjoyed showing up without a planned schedule to see where the events of the day would lead her. She held up Transcendent Kingdom, telling me she preferred Gyasi’s previous book. The two were enjoying some downtime while waiting to see a 4 p.m. festival event.

Creative writing student Jonas was reading "Signs Preceding the End of the World" at the Portland Book Festival. Photo by: Amy Leona Havin
Creative writing student Jonas was reading “Signs Preceding the End of the World” for an assignment. Photo by: Amy Leona Havin

Signs Preceding the End of the World

Written by Yuri Herrera
Translated by Lisa Dillman
Read by Jonas
ArtBar café tables, Portland’5 lobby

“A real eye-opener”

As the evening light faded, I descended the spiral staircase from the Newmark Theatre to see Jonas, a jazz musician and MFA creative writing student originally from Seattle, sitting at one of the ArtBar tables. With a book in one hand and a pen in another, he explained he was reading Signs Preceding the End of the World as a course assignment. He and a few other students road-tripped for their first Portland Book Festival from Corvallis, where they study at Oregon State University. A fan of memoir and creative nonfiction, Jonas recommended I read Train Dreams by Denis Johnson.

SPOTTED:

The Sentence

Written by Louise Erdrich
Throughout Portland Book Festival venues, SW Portland

Headlining author Erdrich, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, was a huge hit at this year’s festival. Her new book, The Sentence, inspired many sales and was the most commonly spotted book carried by festival attendees. The novel is a ghost story about an annoying customer who haunts a Minneapolis bookstore and the employee who tries to solve her mystery — no wonder book fans have taken interest.

Gastro Obscura: A Food Adventurer’s Guide

Written by Cecily Wong and Dylan Thuras
On a table in the main lobby, Portland’5

Set on a small, round table in front of a woman speaking on her cellphone was Gastro Obscura: A Food Adventurer’s Guide by festival authors Wong and Thuras. Their event, “Foodways,” featured Wong along with Kate Lebo, author of The Book of Difficult Fruit; and moderator Liz Crain, author of Dumplings Equal Love. The three women discussed how food can shape our experience of the world. The book itself is a large, beautiful hardcover full of images of strange and unusual foods.

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Submit your literary events, workshops, readings, and book releases to the Oregon ArtsWatch LitWatch Monthly calendar. Send your event information, press materials, interview requests, and book review inquiries to Amy Leona Havin at amyleonahavin@gmail.com. If you see me out and about, let’s chat about the book you’re reading.

About the author

Amy Leona Havin is a poet, choreographer, filmmaker, and writer from Rehovot, Israel, currently based in Portland, Oregon, by way of San Diego, California. She has trained in Tel Aviv under Ohad Naharin’s Batsheva Dance Company studying Gaga Movement Language and holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, Washington. Havin is the founder and artistic director of the Portland-based dance company The Holding Project with which she received a Disjecta Contemporary Art Center 2016 Artistic Residency. Her films have been showcased internationally in Israel, Greece, Mexico, Austria, and France, receiving awards from Mexico City Videodance International, Portland Dance Film Fest, Thessaloniki Cinedance, and more. Havin is the founder and host of the occasional reading series It’s Rhubarb, and her literary works can be read in publications such as The Dust Magazine, Unchaste Anthology, When She Rises, and Gravity According to Birds. With a process rooted in the duality of her upbringing, Havin weaves together a collectively introspective body of work, honoring both heritage and the natural world.

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