Reading local isn't like eating local—a short story isn't necessarily more delicious because it was written down the street. It just so happens, though, that 2011 was a damn good year for Portland writers and publishers. Here are a handful of releases we're proud to call "local." ALISON HALLETT

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt (Ecco)

Patrick deWitt's Booker-shortlisted novel was probably the most lauded book to come out of Portland in 2011. The Sisters Brothers is an inventive piece of "historical" fiction about two hired killers—the titular brothers—who booze and fight their way from Oregon to California during the Gold Rush. DeWitt is more interested in establishing a distinct voice for his funny, flawed characters than in describing the setting with period accuracy—it's a western based more on other westerns than on any debt to historical fact, and deWitt mixes humor and good ol' fashioned existential despair to great effect. AH

The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch (Hawthorne Books)

Lidia Yuknavitch's intensely personal The Chronology of Water describes Yuknavitch's life, in fragmented scenes and chatty digressions and outbreaks of lyricism that flirt with poetry. Abused as a child, she found comfort and refuge in swimming, but she blew her college swimming scholarship, then dropped out and dabbled in heroin. She had a stillborn baby girl; she became a writer; she had a still-living baby boy. Oh, and she hung out with Ken Kesey and banged Kathy Acker. It's the stuff of tawdry chick memoirs, elevated by its spirit and technique: Yuknavitch recounts a life saved by the power and flexibility of fiction, described here in prose that's powerful and flexible. AH

Love Is Not Constantly Wondering if You're Making the Biggest Mistake of Your Life by anonymous (self-published)

This great little self-published memoir is a series of second-person, journal-style entries, disguised as a Choose Your Own Adventure book and interspersed with Sarah Miller's wry illustrations of giant ants, alien landscapes, and a ray gun that looks suspiciously like a dildo. The anonymous Portland-based author traces a succinct arc through four years of his relationship with his girlfriend, a musician and blackout drinker prone to fights, DUIs, and any number of mishaps involving dogs, urine, and other people's children. Love's appeal lies in the tension between its level, serious account of a difficult relationship, and its fun, nostalgic Choose Your Own Adventure aesthetic. AH

Habibi by Craig Thompson (Pantheon)

With Habibi, Craig Thompson makes good on the promise of his 2003 graphic novel Blankets, his exhaustive talent, and six years of work. When I describe Habibi as insane, it's not an insult, although halfway through this book I honestly couldn't have told you if I liked it—the best I could say was that I was heavily involved. But the best works don't always knock you out with self-assurance. Sometimes they challenge you with troublesome urges, twisted visions, and stark questioning of fantasy and desire. And while some critics expressed dismay at Thompson's "relentlessly virtuosic" art, that's got to be the first time I've heard someone complain about something being too beautiful. Man, that new Craig Thompson book's just too beautiful, what a crock of shit! Yeah buddy, your life sounds awesome. JACOB SCHRAER

Zazen by Vanessa Veselka (Red Lemonade)

Mic check! Whose city threatened by apocalyptic terror and insatiable greed? Our city threatened by apocalyptic terror and insatiable greed! Vanessa Veselka's Zazen doesn't technically take place here, but it's set in a Northwestern city, and the first page mentions the words "tofu" and "yoga," so, you know. The first novel by Portland's favorite bad-ass punk-rock raconteur, Zazen follows geologist-turned-waitress Della, who, as war-torn America starts to collapse, can't decide whether to flee; join the small army of protesters unwilling to cede the city to the forces of belligerent capitalism; or go for a third, more shocking option. Veselka's prose is clear-eyed and perfect, and the novel is sensitive, harrowing, and flawless. Zazen was written before the Occupy movement started, but the accidental parallels are chilling and impossible to ignore. You know how the occupiers like to chant, "The whole world is watching?" Well, it's not. But after finishing this brilliant, sad novel, you'll start to wish it were. MICHAEL SCHAUB

Shards by Ismet Prcic (Grove Press)

The title of Ismet Prcic's Shards is like a big ol' warning label slapped across the front of this great debut novel—this is a story in pieces, an account of a life so fragmented that the promises of narrative continuity have ceased to apply. Prcic, who was born and raised in Bosnia and now lives in Portland, writes of a young Bosnian man who also happens to be named Ismet Prcic; to say that the novel combines memoir and fiction would imply that there is a meaningful distinction between the two, an idea that Shards roundly rejects. Shards doesn't provide much in the way of narrative resolution or satisfaction, and there's no reason it should: Nothing about war is orderly, and there's no reason that the there should be any order to the stories that are born out of it. AH

Zinester's Guide to Portland edited by Nate Beaty and Shawn Granton (Microcosm)

You could fill a locally felted tote bag with recent guides to Portland's bars, food, walks, and bike rides. Among the glossy new titles, the Zinester's Guide to Portland feels like a classic—it's now in its fifth edition since 2006. Written and edited by longtime Portlanders, the "low cost, no cost" guide to the city profiles genuine gems and secret neighborhood spots. The new edition erases beloved joints that have recently bit the dust (R.I.P. Rocco's and Half and Half) and adds in myriad upstarts that have opened their doors (hello, Sizzle Pie and Portobello!). SARAH MIRK

Yeah. No. Totally. by Lisa Wells; One More for the People by Martha Grover (Perfect Day Publishing)

These books share an entry because they share a publisher: They're the first two releases from brand-new press Perfect Day Publishing. Wells' essay collection is a sharp, political, and occasionally bratty take on the evolving culture of our region, while Martha Grover's gimlet-eyed One More for the People collects her long-running zine Somnambulist. Both of these books would've made it onto this list on their own merits, but they also mark the debut of a noteworthy new Portland publisher.

Curses and Wishes by Carl Adamshick (Louisiana State University Press)

Portland's Carl Adamshick won the 2010 Walt Whitman Award, an award for poets who have not yet published a book. This year he finally wrote that book, and the results are rich and moving. Adamshick writes about nostalgia, leaving home, the rewards and difficulties of love, all in lucid, moving language. The poems are startling and sad, with hope lacing them together. Curses and Wishes ends with a long and incredible poem that I want to reread every week for a year, which will leave you totally breathless. It's thanks to guys like Adamshick that Portland has the best poets in the country. JS

Support The Portland Mercury

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor (Little, Brown)

Supernatural YA is everywhere these days, but Laini Taylor's new book happens to be good—a coming-of-age romance set amid an epic, otherworldly war between angels and a race of half human/half animals called chimera. This is no simple matter of good versus evil; Taylor's ambiguous cosmology owes more to Philip Pullman than to the Bible, and her protagonist is a blue-haired girl with mysterious ties to both armies. And while sexy angels are fun and all, the best, funniest parts of Taylor's book are when her teenaged characters are just being teenagers, albeit amid some fairly apocalyptic circumstances. AH

Sponsored
SLAY Film Fest
In person at the Clinton St. Theater 10/29 & 10/30