After more than a year of collective separation, isolation, and solitude, I have embarked on a series to document the rebirth of the outdoor café scene and the style that accompanies it. When I say style, in this case, I speak not of what our fellow Portlanders are wearing (we all already know that Portland’s got style), but rather the literary style that we engage with in public. In other words: what Portlanders are reading. After years of haunting cafés, bars, parks, and the occasional office waiting rooms, peering out of the corner of my eye in an attempt to catch a glimpse of what book the person next to me is engaged in, I decided it was time to ask.
WHAT ARE YOU READING? An ArtsWatch Occasional Series
What Are You Reading? stems not only from the vein of my personal curiosity but from a love of literature and a desire to share with you the wonderful world of books that surround us as we go about our daily activities: sipping our Americanos, picking up our groceries, waiting in lines, enjoying the seasonal weather, and running errands around town. May we find inspiration in the literature our friends, neighbors, and café-mates are enjoying, and perhaps even discover our new favorite novel along the way. A few of the people I talked with preferred to remain anonymous. Some wished to reveal their first names only. All were happy to talk about the books they were reading.
Wishing you all a good cup of coffee, a nice place to sit, and a great book.
Written by Mikhail Bulgakov
Read by Diane Sussman
Upper Left Roasters in Ladd’s Addition
“Compelling and freakish.”
“You’re in for a wild ride!”
Diane Sussman, an editor, sat quietly and well-dressed at the small, wooden outdoor table of Upper Left. Noticing that she was reading The Master and Margarita, a book I had recently taken on at the recommendation of a friend, I got up from my table and approached her. She met me with a smile. Diane explained that her friend, of Russian descent, recently divulged the pivotal effect that this Bulgakov tale had in her life as a young 14-year-old reader. This friend, a now-Palo Alto resident who wanted to translate the novel, had recently written a memoir edited by Sussman.
To get a better sense of her friend whose memoir she had recently edited, Diane delved into the book. While only about a third of the way through the novel when we chatted, Diane explained to me how much she enjoyed the way The Master and Margarita is a seemingly common thread for many people, spanning generations and demographics. She coincidentally found this particular copy in a free book library and enjoys returning books to free libraries upon completing them.
Written by Liv Constantine
Read by Cecil
Albina Press on SE Hawthorne
Published by LOAM
Read by Colleen
Albina Press on SE Hawthorne
I met parent-teen reading team Colleen and Cecil during a sunny day on Southeast Hawthorne. Energetically conversing with beverages in hand, they shared with me the books that sat on their table. The Last Mrs. Parrish (Harpeluxe), a 2017 psychological thriller, is an engaging read set in Connecticut, according to eighth grader Cecil, who considers themselves a Sci-Fi and Fantasy fan as well as an avid reader.
“They really love to read,” said mom Colleen, who displayed a small book of her own containing work from a collective of writers commenting on the intersection of environmentalism and social justice. Colleen, who works as a Death Dula, spoke beautifully about the importance of literature in the lives of young people as well as the importance of cradling our loved ones in honor and acceptance as they pass on.
From Foreign Languages Press
Read by Arthur
Good Coffee, SE 12th and Salmon
“I’m learning a lot. It’s exactly what I want it to be.”
While familiar with Marxism, reader Arthur’s insightful nature was fueled by his pursuit of history in school. Wanting to learn more about Maoism, he purchased this nearly pocket-sized copy of Marxism, Leninism, Maoism: Basic Course – Revised Edition, written by the Indian Maoist party, directly from the publisher. New to Portland from Denver, Colorado, Arthur shared with me the joys of our great summer weather and vibrant coffee shop scene. “So far so good,” he said of the city and the book.
Edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine Wilkinson
Read by Anonymous
Behind the Museum Café
“Inspiring others to make an impact.”
A 2020 collection of essays about combating hate and corrupt politics in order to save the planet, this collection features the writings of various women authors in an attempt to reach readers passionate about the environment. “It’s a great collection of authors with different perspectives,” said the reader over her matcha latté, “it encourages people to not have such a footprint.” The reader, a student passionate about minimizing her carbon impact, intends to study journalism in hopes of impacting others with words of her own.
Written by Anthony Storr
Read by Randy Higgins
Albina Press on SE Hawthorne
A designer and architect with a true love of reading “nonfiction and humanities ending in -ology”, Randy is not only a collector of books but also a connoisseur. His personal library, an ongoing project containing over 3,500 books organized in a way that each book tells a story in his grand collection, is a testament to his design philosophy, which focuses poignantly on engaging in reading to understand others. When one reads, explains Randy, empathizing with the lives of others becomes second nature, therefore allowing for design catered to how people truly live and function.
Given to him as a gift from a friend at a timely moment in his life, Solitude is a nonfiction book examining creativity and how it occurs in isolation, as well as understanding the difference between solitude and loneliness.
Written by Eckhart Tolle
Read by Cassandra
The grounds at Pittock Mansion
“Interesting and healing.”
Cassandra sat on a blanket in the shade of a tree at the Pittock Mansion grounds, greeting me with a polite wave as I approached. Recommended to her by friends, Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now is a heartfelt and compassionate reminder to look inward at the kind and compassionate aspects of our humanity. A book on mindful living for the modern age, Tolle’s words encourage self-reflection while offering a guide on how to live peacefully in the moment. “I bought it at Powell’s!” said Cassandra excitedly, “It’s really great.”
Written by Lorna Byrne
Read by Anonymous
Upper Left Coffee Roasters in Ladd’s Addition
“Sometimes the best way to advocate for yourself is to advocate for others.”
The reader of Angels in My Hair: The True Story of a Modern-Day Irish Mystic and I began with a conversation about books, which led into a long discussion about kindness and how to make a difference in the world for others. A particularly kind woman with a vibrant personality and penchant for storytelling, she explained to me that she was sent this book from her sister during a time of upheaval in her life. Though her book list is long, consisting of piles of physical books and recommendations, she picked it up and headed out to inner Portland from her home along the Columbia River.
Warm and emotionally generous, with a bright spirit, this local reader considers herself an artist, editor, public safety worker, ceramicist, and painter with a love of coincidence and finding symbolism in everyday actions. After speaking about how Byrne’s uplifting 2008 book encourages those facing hardships to cultivate a relationship with their spiritual surroundings, the reader told me about the symbolism she identified within her coffee cup moments earlier. “As the cup emptied, the heart grew,” she said of the foam heart in her latté art. “This, too, applies to the beauty of love in the world. As the metaphorical cup empties, our hearts must grow.”
Written by Ann Whitford Paul
NE Broadway outside Plumeria Nails
I noticed, clutched under the arm of a passerby, an unusually beautiful how-to book cover featuring the illustrated image of a child walking through an illuminated doorway. Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide from Story Creation to Publication, it turns out, is a guide to creating engaging picture books for children. This interactive book offers methods on lovable character generation, how to use poetry techniques in writing for children, and advice on how to reach agents and publishers with your newly finished work.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. If you see me out and about, let’s chat about the book you’re reading.