WA Secretary of State Blogs

The Sea Runners: A Novel, by Ivan Doig.

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016 Posted in Washington Reads | Comments Off on The Sea Runners: A Novel, by Ivan Doig.

waves-crashing-on-the-rocks-by-axel-rouvinThe Sea Runners: A Novel. By Ivan Doig. (New York: Atheneum, 1982. 279 pp. Map.)

Recommendation submitted by:
Will Stuivenga, Cooperative Projects Manager, Washington State Library, Tumwater, WA.

There exists an actual letter-to-the-editor published in the Oregon Weekly Times, mentioning three Scandinavians who had managed to travel by canoe from Russian Alaska to Shoalwater (now named Willapa) Bay in 1852/53. Doig’s novel imagines what their trek must have been like, full of trepidations and tribulations, all the way up to and including loss of life.

At the time, apparently the Russians recruited Swedes, Finns, and other “outlanders” as 7-year indentured laborers, to do the real work for the Russian-American Company’s fur-gathering enterprise headquartered in New Archangel, now Sitka, Alaska. It was not a pleasant place much of the time: cold, wet, rough, and not very civilized, with the Russians lording it over the “thugs, thieves, hopeless sots, no few murderers, . . . debtors, escaped serfs,” and the rest of “the flotsam of any vast frontier” as Doig describes them.

So perhaps it’s not too surprising that one of them, Melander by name, a former ship’s first mate, decides to plan a way out, recruiting a couple of his fellows to assist him. The idea is fairly straightforward: he engages the best thief among his fellows to squirrel away the supplies they need: food, maps, a compass, etc., and they intend to steal a large cedar canoe from the local native encampment and paddle their way south to Astoria, where they expect to find passage on the ships that stop there. As the story unfolds, the also indentured blacksmith notices what’s happening, and forces his way into the group, making for a frequently skeptical and less than enthusiastic fourth.

Their imagined adventures, replete with inner turmoil, plus all too real privations and misery, are ably described in intricate detail by the author. Doig’s language here is at times a bit convoluted, requiring careful attention to unravel his precise intent, which is not altogether a bad thing, given that the story and the imagery are worthy of the effort. As is not uncommon with Doig, the interior life, thoughts, and feelings of his characters are of at least equal significance to the landscape and actual events as they unfold. Recommended for anyone with a strong interest in NW history and landscape, and who enjoys well-crafted historical fiction.

ISBN: 978-0-15-603102-8

Available in the Pacific Northwest Collection at NW 813.6 DOIG 1982
Available as an eBook. Not yet available in Digital Talking Book or Braille format.

Wilderness, by Lance Weller

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015 Posted in Articles, Washington Reads | Comments Off on Wilderness, by Lance Weller

wildernesspaperbackcoverWilderness: A Novel. By Lance Weller. (New York: Bloomsbury, 2012. 293pp.)

Recommendation by PNW & Special Collections

April 9, 1865 was the day that General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia at the McLean House in the village of Appomattox Court House. This is often cited as the official date of the end of the Civil War between the Confederate and Union States, but when Brigadier General Stand Watie of the Trans-Mississippi Department surrendered his Confederate Indian battalion, a mix of Creek, Seminole, Cherokee, and Osage Indians, on June 23 1865, at Doaksville in Indian Territory to Lieutenant Colonel Asa C. Matthews, the ground war was finished. A straggling and uninformed Shenandoah continued to wage an unwanted naval mission until surrendering in London, England on November 6.

As the commemoration of 150 years since the War of Secession winds down, it is important to note that many Union and Confederate veterans headed northwest at the end of their duties, returning to their homes and families or to new lives beyond that terrible time. Lance Weller‘s Wilderness is a fictional account of what one of those lives might look like. The story follows Abel Truman, a soldier badly wounded in the titular battle of 35 years prior, as he and his elderly dog travels inland from his beach homestead near the Quinault into and over the Olympic Mountains. In his travels he encounters natives, scattered settlers, and wanderers — people of both the generous and the violent sort. While there are moments of the pastoral, there are also moments where the reader is flung into the maelstrom.  The story flashes back and forth between Truman’s heroic trek of 1899 and through the Field of the Wilderness of 1864, bearing witness to Abel’s reckoning throughout the ordeal.

Weller’s descriptions are vivid, verging on purple prose at times, but beautifully evocative of the sensual charms of the Pacific Northwest coast. The story is hard-bitten, but specked with lovely and tender passages.

ISBN-13: 978-1608199372

Available in the Pacific Northwest Collection at NW 813.6 WELLER 2012

Thurs. December 11th Book Talk – JOHN TORNOW

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014 Posted in Articles, For the Public | Comments Off on Thurs. December 11th Book Talk – JOHN TORNOW

tornow book
Courtesy of the Author


Washington State Library will host author Bill Lindstrom at a book talk featuring his recently published novel John Tornow: Villain or Victim? The untold story of the “Wildman of the Wynooche”.

“The book is about John Tornow, alleged killer of six men. The author introduces a far more compassionate individual seeking to be left alone in the solace of the woods he so much enjoyed.”
–XLibris, publisher.

Join us for this fascinating book talk:

Thursday, December 11 at 12:30 – 1:30 p.m.
Washington State Library
6880 Capitol Blvd SE, Tumwater, WA 98501

Books will be available for purchase at this event.

For more information, call 360-704-5221.

Read more about the author.




The Drifter by Susan Wiggs

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014 Posted in Washington Reads | Comments Off on The Drifter by Susan Wiggs


The Drifter. By Susan Wiggs (Don Mills, Ont. : Mira, 2003?. 376 pp. Reprint Ed.)

Recommendation by:
Carolyn Petersen, Assistant Program Manager, Library Development, Tumwater, WA.

The town of Coupeville on Whidbey Island in 1894 is the setting for this historical romance.  Coupeville residents have reluctantly accepted female physician Leah Mundy as they don’t have many other options.  Leah guards her reputation and her heart until she wakes up to find a gun barrel in her face.  On the other end of the gun is Jackson Underhill who drags her to his sailboat to heal his female companion.  Both Leah and Jackson have secrets which complicate a budding romance. Susan Wiggs is a capable author who provides a good mix of historical detail, attractive characters and a strong plot to produce a sensual romantic read to enjoy on a cold winter evening.

ISBN-13: 978-0778300038

Available at the Washington State Library, NW 813.6 WIGGS 2003?
Available as an eReader edition.
Not available as an talking book, or as a Braille edition.

Closing the “Oregon Trilogy” with To Build A Ship.

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011 Posted in Washington Reads | Comments Off on Closing the “Oregon Trilogy” with To Build A Ship.

To Build A Ship. By Don Berry.
Corvallis, Oregon: Oregon State University Press, 2004
(Copyright 1963, by Don Berry and first published by Viking Press)

Recommendation submitted by:
Will Stuivenga, Cooperative Projects Manager, Washington State Library, Tumwater, WA.

There are only a few settlers living in the Tillamook area as this story unfolds, but already they have a real problem. There’s no way in or out. No way to get their supplies in, or their produce out. They are isolated by mountains and forest. There are no roads, just trails, suitable for a man and a horse, but not for hauling supplies or goods. The only practical way in and out is by sea. And now the one and only sea captain who has been willing to cross their perilous bar and visit them once a year, has died.

So, they decide to build their own ship. That endeavor soon captures all of them – heart, mind and soul. Except for their shipwright, a strange and tortured creature who causes trouble when he falls in love with one of the Indian women.

Through this seemingly small crack, evil manages to pry its way into the story, leading to a chilling denouement midway through, providing an unwelcome stress point near the center of the tale which functions in the novel much like the pass over the coastal mountain range, which must be surmounted whenever anyone travels from the Tillamook country into the central Oregon valley, or vice-versa. This unwelcome bit of byplay, in which the Indians naturally come out suffering the worst, only serves to emphasize even more strongly the overwhelming nature of the hold the idea of the ship has over all of them.

This is the third segment in Don Berry’s masterful trilogy exploring the early era of Oregon history, centered around Tillamook. I’ve already written about the first two, Trask and Moontrap, respectively. This is the final chapter, and what a masterpiece! This is the best yet: a more powerful or effective novel has rarely been written. Highly recommended!

ISBN: 0-87071-040-0

Available at the Washington State Library, NW 813.6 BERRY 2004
Available as a talking book on cassette.
Not available as an eBook or Braille edition.

Telling Frontier & modern-era stories “West of Here.”

Thursday, June 30th, 2011 Posted in Washington Reads | Comments Off on Telling Frontier & modern-era stories “West of Here.”

West of Here. By Jonathan Evison. Chapel Hill, NC : Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2011. 486 p.

Recommendation submitted by:
Sean Lanksbury, NW and Special Collections Librarian, Washington State Library.

Jonathan Evison was awarded the 2009 Washington State Book Award (formerly the Governor’s Writers Awards) for his debut novel, All About Lulu. His second novel, West of Here, is an ambitious historical fiction that threads two eras of Pacific Northwest development together.

Set in the fictitious, but utterly recognizable Port Bonita, the filmic narrative cuts back and forth between the struggles  of newly arrived settlers and the native Klallam in late 1880’s Olympic peninsula and how their descendants face the present-day outcomes of their ancestors’ fears and ambitions.  Against a backdrop of a vast and indifferent wilderness, characters’ desires meet and crash against harsh truths as the many characters struggle to find themselves and their place within Port Bonita as the town first forms from a frontier settlement and more than a century later as it struggles to remain a community.

Fans of historical fiction will appreciatively debate the nod given to early journals of Olympic Peninsula exploration, particularly those of James Christie and the Press Expedition. Evison’s descriptive and modestly crafted prose will edge interested readers towards the novel’s conclusion.

ISBN-13: 978-1565129528

Available at the Washington State Library, NW 813.6 EVISON 2011
Available in eBook, Braille and digital talking book editions.

Moontrap: second installment in the “Oregon Trilogy”

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011 Posted in Washington Reads | Comments Off on Moontrap: second installment in the “Oregon Trilogy”

image of Oregon City and Willamette Falls, circa 1870's?, found at the Oregon Historical Society at OrHi 2591Moontrap. By Don Berry.
Corvallis, Oregon: Oregon State University Press, 2004
(Copyright 1962, by Don Berry and first published by Viking Press)

Recommendation submitted by:
Will Stuivenga, Cooperative Projects Manager, Washington State Library, Tumwater, WA.

In Moontrap, the second book in author Don Berry’s trilogy depicting the early history of Oregon, we encounter two mountain men, Johnson “Jaybird” Monday and Webster W. Webster, “Webb” to his friends or compatriots. Monday is trying to settle down, staking a farming claim on land along the Willamette, just across from Oregon City, the first important Oregon settlement. Just as he’s beginning to think that maybe he can learn how to fit into “normal” society, along comes old Webb, riding his equally old and bony horse, still living his mountain man lifestyle, camping along the edges of society, with no use for towns, or any of the other trappings of civilization.

That Monday lives with his common-law wife, Mary, a Shoshone Indian woman, who is about to bear his first child only adds to his difficulties integrating into “civilized” society. Her presence does not sit well with powerful and bigoted men who apparently control the destiny of the region. When Monday discovers that the judge won’t record the name of his son as Webster Monday, but insists on writing out the birth certificate as:

Father: Johnson Monday, White.
Mother: Mary Deer Walking, Shoshone Indian.
Child: Webster, son of Mary Deer Walking. Shoshone Indian. Bastard.

He knows that nothing can ever change: once a mountain man, always a mountain man.

In these first two books of the trilogy, Trask and Moontrap, Berry wrestles with the question of what happens to the mountain men when they reach the final frontier. Once the Oregon territory is settled, and the United States reaches to the Pacific, what is left of the old way? The old way that saw the mountain men living with the same freedom as the red man is finished, done for, obsolete.  Just as you cannot trap the reflection of the moon in a moving pool of water, so you cannot preserve the freedom of the old ways.

ISBN: 0-87071-039-7

Available at the Washington State Library, NW 813.6 BERRY 2004
Not available as an eBook,talking book, or as a Braille edition.

Trask: 1st book of a classic “Oregon Trilogy”

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011 Posted in Washington Reads | 2 Comments »

Trask. By Don Berry.
Oregon State University Press, 2004. 348 p.
(Copyright 1960 by Don Berry and first published by Viking Press)

Recommendation submitted by:
Will Stuivenga, Cooperative Projects Manager, Washington State Library, Tumwater, WA.

Mountain man Elbridge Trask, living in the Clatsop area in the 1840’s, has a hunger for even wilder, less settled areas. He plans a trip down the coast to the area inhabited by unfriendly natives, the “Killamooks” as Tillamook, Oregon, was typically spelled in those early years.

But the real story is Trask’s inner life, compellingly imagined by author Don Berry. Trask barely knows his own mind at times, is unsure of what he wants, at least on a conscious level, but his heart leads him inexorably onward towards his fate. While at times beset by doubts and inner turmoil, he never hesitates when making the most crucial decisions, and at times, speaks almost without thinking, yet expressing his deepest desires.

Also significant is Trask’s relationship with his partners in travel, two Clatsop Indians, one young and untested and the other, Charley Kehwa, is a tamanawis man, one who has visions or dreams of a supernatural nature. Trask is too hard-headed to believe in such things, but is affected by them all the same.

Berry followed Trask with two more novels, Moontrap and To Build a Ship.  These three tales “form a loose trilogy that tells the story of [Oregon’s] origins better than any history book”, according to the book’s introduction.  This first volume is a tour-de-force and a powerful, impressive narrative.

ISBN: 0-87071-023-0

Available at the Washington State Library, NW 813.6 BERRY 2004
Also available as a talking book on cassette.
Not available as an eBook or as a Braille edition.

D.B.: A Novel (about getting away with a lot of money)

Thursday, April 28th, 2011 Posted in Washington Reads | Comments Off on D.B.: A Novel (about getting away with a lot of money)

D.B.: A Novel. By Elwood Reid.  New York : Doubleday, 2004.  356 p.

Recommendation submitted by:
Sean Lanksbury, NW and Special Collections Librarian, Washington State Library.

If you were alive in the Pacific Northwest in the 1970’s, doubtlessly you recall the high altitude heist of D.B. Cooper.  I lived near Camas, Washington, supposed drop point of our region’s most notorious skyjacker.  My friends and I playacted endless what-if scenarios involving Cooper that often included a Sasquatch (because what northwest kid wouldn’t add a bigfoot?) for good measure  in the forests of Southwest Washington for hours on end.

So what if “Dan Cooper” actually made off with the $150,000 that didn’t wash up on the shore of the Columbia River? D.B., by Elwood Reid, imagines the back-story and the aftermath of Cooper’s heist, from Cooper’s perspective, as a soft-boiled satire for the changing definition of gender and responsibility in the late twentieth century.  The plot follows the story from Cooper’s perspective as he plans the heist and deals with the consequences and costs of his crime and exile.  A parallel plot follows a recently retired Federal Bureau of Investigation investigator – originally assigned to the case – who now reflects on his career and evaluates his life and relationships as he heads into uncharted personal realms.

Author Reid’s tight, readable style makes for a clever piece of speculative fiction that mixes dark comedy with unsentimental reflection on modern masculinity.

ISBN-13: 978-0385497381

Available at the Washington State Library, NW 813.6 REID 2004.
Not available as an eBook, talking book, or as a Braille edition.
Title contains adult themes.