Here you'll find coverage of our events in local publications, Staff Picks book reviews, Tsunami stories, and other miscellaneous words.
Peter Brown Hoffmeister’s first young adult novel, This Is the Part Where You Laugh, opens with the young protagonist Travis releasing two small South American crocodiles he bought from a guy who posted a flier at the Chevron station—caimans—into the little lake in the middle of the North Eugene neighborhood where Travis lives. The book is compulsively readable from the first page.
When he’s not writing, Hoffmeister teaches English and outdoor skills at South Eugene High School in the Integrated Outdoor Program, and is well-loved by his students. As a teen, he ran away from home and got expelled from two boarding schools. He was placed in a minimum-security “life challenge program” in East Texas after facing legal troubles, and ran away from that too. He finally ended up at South Eugene as a student and met an English teacher who mentored him. Now, as a teacher, he mentors troubled students. The circle continues.
This Is the Part Where You Laugh focuses on teens struggling to be as good as they can in bad circumstances. The novel deals with addiction, homelessness, racism, violence, abuse—and the hope and humor that keep its characters trying in spite of all that.
Hoffmeister blends the immediacy of first person present tense narration seamlessly with memory in short, poignant chapters. Masterful withholding of key information until just the right moment heightens the suspense that keeps you reading. As I read, I loved not knowing how all the separate parts of the story would tie together, but having faith that they would—and being right. Travis’s authentic voice carries the novel, and it teems with sentences that stop you. One of my favorites: “The morning is like a new box of nails, dew silver on the grass.”
Place names invoke a kind of magic in writing—a magic of specificity. For me this magic comes through even when I know nothing about the places being named. When Travis rides his bike on streets I’ve been on—Gilham, Green Acres, 7th—and along Eugene’s river bike path, I thrill. A place I drive by every week—the park under the Washington-Jefferson Bridge—is the setting for one of the novel’s most crucial scenes, and it makes me drive by a little slower, look closer.
The novel is full of characters with complexities that make them heartbreakingly realistic: Travis’s homeless junkie mom, his grandparents in their mobile home, Natalie the girl across the lake, and his best friend Creature. And Travis, who tries over and over again to be good and do good, who keeps screwing it up, but keeps on trying anyway. It’s hard to watch, hard to read, but it’s a huge part of what makes this book so good. More than anything, it’s a book about compassion—about hearing perspectives it would be easier to ignore. Travis says, “Sometimes I get mad or jealous when I think about other people’s parents, but mostly I get confused. Why are some people the way they are, while other people are like my mom? It’s easy to say it’s the drugs, but what was it before that? Maybe we need to ask more questions.” That’s what it’s about: asking those questions.
Review by Meli Ewing
Here are two videos from the rockin' concert last Friday night! (April 22, 2016.) Worth watching all the way through for sure! A pleasure to have these masterful musicians grace our stage.
Just arrived at Tsunami: copies of "Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It"! This anthology of essays, introduced by Elizabeth Gilbert herself, brings together in one place nearly fifty diverse and fascinating stories of inspirational personal change.
One of the featured writers is Eugene's own Crystal Gasser, who tells the story of what "Eat Pray Love" meant to her as she came of age eager to travel, hungry for a divine connection. Pick up a copy today, and be sure to check out this video of Crystal reading her essay, "Divine Timing."
As we celebrate spring—waking from our winter slumber with our senses eager for the smell of fresh cut grass, the warmth of the sun on our back, the blossoms in sweet pastels of pink, purple, and white—pick up a copy of Amanda Coplin’s The Orchardist.
Follow gentle Talmadge as he cares for his apples and apricots in the exquisite Wenatchee Valley of Washington. Talmadge’s simple and peaceful orchard brings two troubled young women to his land. Together, the three complex characters struggle for safety in the rural frontier landscape of the Northwest as they attempt to deal with pasts of fear, abuse, and loss. This book is an ode to the richness of the quiet connections between quiet people.
We have copies on sale right now for $10 each here at Tsunami. A few of them are signed!
Our used writing section is fantastic these days! Reading about writing brings valuable insight to the work you're working on, and it can be a great way to get unstuck if you find yourself stuck. I can personally recommend Anne Lamott's Bird By Bird as the best and most thoroughly enjoyable writing guide I have ever read. Jacques Barzun's Simple & Direct is a sure winner, too.
The anti-establishment candidate
ARTICLE | MARCH 17, 2016 - 12:00AM | BY ALEX V. CIPOLLE
Scott Landfield speaks out to save Kesey Square at a Jan. 25 City Council public forum
If Scott Landfield, owner of Tsunami Books, is elected mayor of Eugene come November, what will be the top item on his agenda?
“The first thing I’ll do is demand a recount,” Landfield tells EW. He’s only half-joking.
In an election year when it’s become trendy, nationwide, for candidates to puff out their chests and claim to be the anti-establishment choice, this designation seems to actually ring true for Landfield.
For starters, Landfield says he’s not looking for endorsements or sniffing out campaign contributions.
“Let’s see what no money, no endorsements, no campaign coordinator, no campaign staff— let’s see what it can do in this town,” the self-described Independent says. “Hopefully it will inspire a lot of people.”
Landfield has lived a life outside the mainstream: He grew up in southern Illinois where his parents, who he describes as communists-turned-Democrats, ran a newspaper. In 1978, he moved to Eugene. Upon arrival, Landfield planted trees for 20 years, eight of which he spent as a Hoedad — aka a member of the Hoedads Reforestation Cooperative (he was even chairman of the board once). He’s also a prominent member of the spoken-word scene in Eugene.
In 1995, he launched Tsunami Books, a neighborhood shareholder corporation, of which he is president and general manager. The expenses of starting the business pushed him into homelessness temporarily.
“There are more of us than you might know,” Landfield says of the working homeless. “I’m somebody who started a business with no money and immediately lost his home and could not afford rent.” He adds, “It was one grade of homelessness; it was real debilitating — there are people way beyond that.”
There are a few important distinctions in Landfield’s platform. First, he is the most outspoken candidate against putting a building on Kesey Square or any public space downtown.
“I have some interesting ideas about how to save it and make it safe,” he says of the square.
Landfield also says he wants to dismantle the present form of government in Eugene — a weak City Council made up of elected officials who only serve (and are only paid) part-time, combined with a strong city manager, an unelected city official who essentially acts as king of the city.
He says he’s also staunchly against urban renewal and the MUPTE tax break, or at least until the process can slow down and the city isn’t pushing through “multi-million dollar” projects without transparency.
For example, Landfield says he’s puzzled how the city could ask residents of south Eugene to pay half the cost of burying power lines while many members of City Council, along with City Manager Jon Ruiz and city staff, suggest that at least $4 million of urban renewal funds could go towards a publicly owned fiber optic network for high-speed internet that will only benefit downtown.
The candidate also says he wants to look into campaign finance reform, addressing homelessness, the “huge issue” of the EWEB property and the city’s role in developing it, the “fiasco” of the city’s process with the South Willamette Special Area Zone and term limits.
“We are getting these tired ideas,” he says. “We’re getting people entrenched, including the city manager.”
He points to the unchallenged seats in City Council — Claire Syrett, Chris Pryor, Betty Taylor — as a sign of the erosion of the public trust.
“It’s a broke system when no one is running,” he says. “They’ve given up.”
Landfield says his mayoral run is to show by example how easy it is to civically engage, as well as to ensure that issues like Kesey Square and Eugene’s form of government stay in the limelight through the election.
And if he wins?
“I’ll do the best I can,” he says. “I don’t claim to be a bureaucrat so there will be a big learning curve.”
Landfield adds with a smile: “I do claim to get an inordinate amount of attention.”
About the Author
Alexandra is the arts editor for Eugene Weekly. She formerly wrote under the name Alex Notman. You can follow her on twitter at @ArtsEditorAlex
No one writes about the intersection of land policy, politics, and the human footprint better than Wallace Stegner. His classic collection of essays, Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs: Living and Writing in the West, is a poignant meditation that is both exquisitely written and indelibly realized.
The Sundowner Motel, Burns Oregon, 1996
8 men, 1 bunkhouse;
average age 42.
3 men sleeping on the floor.
2 dogs, pitbull and a bitch
Katie, age 13, got 1 trick:
“Katie, what do the girls in Springfield do?
Katie rolls over, spreads her hind legs wide.
Each man shares a short laugh
the first time he sees the trick.
Katie loves the men laughing.
These men, they’re different:
not loggers, not construction,
not oil-rig workers;
not fishermen not firefighters,
not farm laborers not ranchers,
not cowboys not prison guards,
not fancy-pants do-nothings,
not like any other rangey gang
of men you’ve ever known.
Treeplanters they are,
9 long months a year,
year after year after year;
restful soldiers of fortune,
quiet, powerful, fragile-hearted and broke,
occupying some other middle of nowhere,
a couple million trees left growing in their wake.
A Staff Pick by Meli Ewing
A Series of Small Maneuvers by Eliot Treichel (Ooligan Press, 2015)
Available New in Paperback at Tsunami
Eliot Treichel will read at Tsunami Books on Saturday, January 23 at 4:00pm
Eliot Treichel’s A Series of Small Maneuvers is a sharply observed and compassionate study of grief. Fifteen-year-old Emma Mills is on a canoeing trip through the backcountry of New Mexico with her father—a trip she didn’t really want to go on in the first place—when her father is killed in a single-misstep accident. Emma is left alone in the wilderness, and she has to make her own way out—and learn to exist in a world without her father.
Treichel masters scenes of dialogue where the characters artfully avoid talking about the death of Emma’s father, as if not talking about it will make it not real. It’s a very human thing to do. Mother and daughter tiptoe around each other. Emma’s mom shows she cares by insisting Emma eat something in the diner they stop in on the way home, but Emma insists she’s not hungry. What matters always comes through in the end, and the dance around it is honest, compassionate, and beautifully written.
What I love most about this book is Emma’s authentic, vulnerable fifteen-year-old voice. She’s earnest and indifferent. She views herself as unspectacular. Upon her rescue and “reentry”, she has an urge to cut short conversations as she navigates the frontcountry, the world of humans, in the wake of her father’s absence. She tells unexpected lies, surprising both herself and the reader. She’s not an unreliable narrator, though: she tells the reader the honest truth of what she’s feeling, as much as she understands of it.
In a typically teenage way, Emma is often unimpressed—particularly by the details of nature her dad is fascinated with and tries, sometimes too aggressively, to point out to his daughter. She wants to listen to her iPod. Her dad lets her bring it in the van for the ride there, but won’t let her bring it with her once they set off on the river because he wants them to be fully immersed in nature. She’s frustrated by his obsession with the river and the birds and the trees, and his insistence on pushing through the next bend or over the next hill to see what else there is—but after he’s gone, when she’s trying to make her way alone, she knows which details he would have pointed out, and what he would have said.
In A Series of Small Maneuvers, Emma’s reminiscences create an unflinching examination of who her father was. So often we only remember the good memories of a person after they die, or we only want to remember the good. The deceased are too often reduced by those who survive them to only their flattering parts: a hero, gentle, so kind, loving, adventurous. But everyone who’s ever been alive is infinitely more complicated than that. Treichel doesn’t shy away from those complications as he shows Emma’s imaginings of her father. Emma’s father is enthusiastic and goofy. He loves the outdoors. He hates seeing his daughter shave her legs or wear makeup. There are the usual father-daughter tensions over too-short shorts. He is eager to teach, but is quickly frustrated when Emma doesn’t innately understand what he’s trying to teach her. He is aggressive and critical. He pushes her to run rapids with him that she’s not comfortable running. He thinks paying for Emma’s horse-riding—what Emma herself is passionate about, as opposed to what he is passionate about—is too expensive. Emma doesn’t reduce her father to a string of positive adjectives after he dies. Emma’s retroactive telling of her father’s story is a beautiful, honest, and complex portrait of a life.
Something Emma’s horse trainer tells her describes the reality of life in the wake of loss: “‘We’ll get as far as we can get,’ she said, ‘and then we’ll figure it out from there.’”
The book’s title is an elegant metaphor for living with grief: Emma says her dad would turn a big rapid into “something doable, something orderly and reasonable. It was just a series of small maneuvers that would add up to something larger.” Living in the wake of grief is a series of small maneuvers too. Grief is never over; it’s not about getting through it. It’s about moving forward, and the steps can be as small as you need them to be.
A Staff Pick by Meli Ewing
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (Speak, 2014)
Available New in Paperback at Tsunami
Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun is the winner of the 2015 Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature, a 2015 Stonewall Honor Book, and a Best Book of the Year from the New York Times, Time Magazine, NPR, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, and myriad other publications and public libraries around the country.
I’ll Give You the Sun is the story of Jude and her twin brother Noah, but really it’s two stories. Noah draws unceasingly, and he’s falling in love with the boy next door. Jude’s a rebel, a daredevil, an aspiring sculptor. Noah and Jude used to be inseparable. Their two minds shared one single paracosm, one single fantastic vivid imaginary world, of which they were the rulers, mapped neatly, phenomenally over the top of this one. Now they still live across the hall from each other, but tragedy has ripped them apart. The story they each tell is one about trying to put themselves and each other and their family back together.
What makes this book unique is its structure. The chapters alternate back and forth between Noah’s point of view and Jude’s—but Noah’s point of view is two years back into the past. You jump forward and back and forward and back. Sometimes what Noah doesn’t yet know makes you gasp and want to shield him from what is coming. But in the present, or from Noah’s point of view, the future, Jude only has half the story to tell herself. This separation in time, irrevocable in the space of the narrative, serves to piercingly mirror the twins’ emotional distance.
The language in I’ll Give You the Sun teems with simple, vivid, rhythmic authenticity. Nelson captures with startlingly exaggerative prose the feeling of being young and feeling like you’re alive for the first time, like you’re maybe the first person who has ever really been alive. The book is full of really stellar sentences. One that stopped me in my tracks and made me laugh out loud with joy is: “When we settle back into our selves, everything feels different, like if I turned on the light we’d be bears.”
This book is about family, forgiveness, love, and the healing power of making art. I recommend it for everyone. Something novelist Nick Hornby said comes to mind: “I see now that dismissing YA books because you’re not a young adult is a little bit like refusing to watch thrillers on the grounds that you’re not a policeman or a dangerous criminal, and as a consequence, I’ve discovered a previously ignored room at the back of the bookstore that’s filled with masterpieces I’ve never heard of.” I’ll Give You the Sun is a beautiful book that I recommend for young adults and what I think of as “real” adults alike.
A Staff Pick by Michael McGriff
Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson (Picador, 2005)
Availabe both New and Used at Tsunami
For me there’s really only one metric for determining a book recommendation, and it’s this question: Do I buy a used copy of this book every time I see it and drop it in the mail to an old friend? In the past, I’ve done this with James Welch’s first novel, Winter in the Blood, Henning Mankell’s introspective (non-crime) novel Italian Shoes, Richard Brautigan’s cult collection of short stories Revenge of the Lawn, and Amanda Coplin’s debut novel, The Orchardist. But the novel that’s burning at the white-hot center of my personal You-Must-Read-This list is Out Stealing Horses by Norwegian novelist (and former bookstore clerk) Per Petterson.
In 2005 Out Stealing Horses hit the bestseller lists in several countries and stayed there, becoming the title de jour of book groups, making all the Best-Of lists, and launching Petterson’s career in English-Speaking countries, especially after Horses was selected for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (one of the largest literary prizes in the world, the titles for which are submitted by librarians from around the globe).
The setup for this book is simple enough: a 67-year-old widower, Trond Sandor, retires to rural Norway from Oslo and reflects on his life; at least this is how the book gets you comfortable before it flips you on your head. British novelist L. P. Hartley famously begins his novel The Go-Between, “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” This sentiment is the perfect metaphor for Petterson’s novel, for what seems like an honest look into the past becomes, at times painfully, a true rediscovery of events that surprise as much as they terrify. In Horses, what starts out as a quiet assessment of widowhood and masculine self-reliance builds into a nuanced psychological drama as Trond discovers the truth about his father’s secret involvement as a Resistance smuggler during WWII, the painful facts of his parents’ marriage, the true motivations behind Trond's self-exile, and how all of these form a messy, fraught ecosystem.
The genius of Petterson’s writing is many-sided. For starters, the writing itself is absolutely fabulous; he uses concise and clear language that rolls the narrative ahead, blending straightforward prose with a high register that can only be described as poetic. Petterson is never afraid to be simple and direct, and he’s likewise never afraid to let beauty and high lyricism permeate his work. Keeping the reader off balance is part of Petterson’ gift—just as Trond teeters off balance as he discovers more and more about his past, the reader teeters off balance as Petterson shifts from present-moment action to deep flashback, from straight-ahead storytelling to poetic flourish (and even the occasional jolt of European surrealism). Never have I encountered a novel whose form and style have so perfectly mirrored both its content and the physiological world of its hero (or antihero, as the case may be). Add to this that the title itself—Out Stealing Horses—which crushes you under its ironic and metaphorical weight during the final pages, and what you have on your hands is a book worth buying and sending to a friend.