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Books to Read in Eugene, OR

Published: January 29, 2021


Whether you live in Oregon now, have lived or visited here before, or plan to visit in the future, these books share the diverse stories from and about Oregon's people, places, events and ideas — all illustrating the irrepressible pioneering beauty of Lane County.

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

A shoe empire began here, modestly created from a waffle iron and hawked from the back of a Volkswagen. Read the remarkable story firsthand from the perspective of Nike's Phil Knight.

Today Nike's stamp is evident across the University of Oregon campus from sports uniforms to spectacular sports facilities (Autzen Stadium renovations, Matthew Knight Arena, PK Park, Hayward Field) to the academic contributions (the Knight Library, the Willam W. Knight Law Center, the John E. Jaqua Academic Center for Student Athletes, and the new Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact). Nike's headquarters may be in Portland, but "Uncle Phil's" heart is obviously here in Eugene. 

Chiseled by Danuta Pfeiffer

The remarkable story of one amazing woman's life from single motherhood in Alaska to evangelical Christian television to a winemaker's life in the Willamette Valley. Danuta Pfeiffer's memoir eventually lands in Veneta and Junction City, Oregon with a deep love for the land and its fruit.

Today Pfeiffer Vineyard is known for their wine grotto tasting room, water gardens and grand event pavilion where they host large wine tasting events. When the tasting room is open, there is nothing more enchanting than sitting by the Pavilion fireplace with a signed copy of "Chiseled" and swirling a glass of Pinot Noir. 

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

This is Cheryl Strayed's personal account of her ambitious solo trek along the Pacific Crest Trail on a determined journey of sheer will power and the mercy of nature. An inexperienced hiker with nothing to lose, she hiked from California to Washington, passing through the wilderness of Oregon's Cascade Mountains. The subsequent movie "Wild" was filmed here in Oregon.

Touch the PCT yourself at several trailheads that pass through the Eugene, Cascades & Coast region: Willamette Pass and McKenzie Pass. Today, Strayed lives in Portland, Oregon.

Author Willam Sullivan

A fifth generation Oregonian, William L. Sullivan, is an avid outdoorsman and has published numerous guide books to the area. He has a masters degree in German literature from the University of Oregon and currently lives in Eugene, Oregon.

Cabin Fever

Join Sullivan as he and his wife build a log cabin in Oregon's remote coastal range.

Listening for Coyote

This is Sullivan's story of hiking across Oregon from the coast to the eastern border in 1985. Based on the journal he kept during his two-month journey, the pages are packed with riveting descriptions of Oregon's rugged landscape.

Author Ken Kesey

Notorious and prolific Springfield author, Ken Kesey caught the nation's attention with spectacles like the Merry Pranksters and his brightly painted bus "Furthur". His raw, edgy books push boundaries and incite questions. Tributes to Ken Kesey include "The Storyteller" statue at Kesey Square and a large mural of Ken Kesey in downtown Springfield on the wall of Plank Town Brewing Company. His family and his pals reside here, still big players in the community — from Nancy's Yogurt to Kesey Enterprises which operates music venues from the McDonald Theatre to the Cuthbert Amphitheater

Two books to read (which also became movies filmed here in Oregon) include:

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

This '60s novel is about a fictional insane asylum set in Florence, Oregon. Kesey's most famous book, it has been adapted to the stage and has been banned from some schools due to its sexist and racist framing. It draws from the author's personal experiences both working in a mental health facility and volunteering for LSD experiments conducted by the CIA. The book explores the theme of institutional oppression and the tensions between individuality and society.

Sometimes A Great Notion

Kesey's second book, considered his best by many, is a novel about a logging family that logs independently for a local mill despite union logger strikes. Kesey uses the homestead setting to personify the family dynamics and explore relationships. Springfield's own lumber town roots make this an interesting dive into the history and culture around timber. 

The Singing Creek Where the Willows Grow 

The Rediscovered Diary of Opal Whiteley by Benjamin Hoff

In 1920, the diary of a little girl from Cottage Grove was published and created a sensation. It was purported to be Opal Whiteley's (born in 1897) musings from when she was six years old — and if so, it portrayed a naturalist savant as she described the area's flora and fauna in exquisite, innocent and "beyond her years" detail. Later this work was declared to be fraudulent and Whiteley, spurned by her family and struggling in her community, ultimately died far from home in a London mental health hospital. 

Portland author Benjamin Hoff, known for his book "The Tao of Pooh", revisits the contested diary and investigates her life and the stories that swirl about her past. This is an intriguing look into the history of Whiteley, her mystical and brilliant works, and the society that rejected them. Whatever conclusion you draw about the diary's authenticity, you can feel her integral presence in Cottage Grove simply by mediating before the beautiful butterfly mural of Opal.  

My Oregon by Bob Welch

Bob Welch is Oregon's native son. An award-winning columnist for the Register-Guard, his book "My Oregon" is a love letter to all of Oregon with an emphasis on his hometown of Eugene. His written vignettes are history-packed treasures, but it is the vibrant descriptions that resonate. If you want to experience Eugene with all your senses, to really travel here and be here — there is no easier way than through these pages.

On to Oregon by Honore Morrow

Adults will also love this 1926 children's book about a young boy, John Sager, and his family traveling the difficult trail to Oregon in 1844. The harrowing adventure is a fictional account of a real story and illustrates the hardships of the Oregon Trail. The early pioneers that arrived in the Willamette Valley, home to the Kalapuya, were hearty souls indeed. The Applegate Trail which stems from the Oregon Trail, brought wagon trains into the South Willamette Valley. Portions of the trail parallel Interstate 5 and you can visit interpretive centers, museums and monuments dedicated to the Applegate Trail from Creswell to Veneta

Walk a Mile in My Shoes by Tom Cunneff

The Casey Martin Story

In 1998, Eugene native and golf professional Casey Martin sued the PGA Tour, and won, for the right to use a cart in competition. Martin has been disabled since birth with a degenerative condition impacting his ability to walk without pain. His story shook the golf world and brought into focus inclusivity vs. historical rules of the game and this book retells the courtroom saga and the perspectives of those around him. 

Martin has chalked up many awards and honorable recognitions, and today serves as the University of Oregon's men's golf coach. Golf enthusiasts will love to play a few rounds on the courses Martin grew up playing from Laurelwood Golf Course to the Emerald Valley Golf Course in Creswell where the UO Ducks practice today.

More Authors & Books

Lane County is home to many more authors and poets that have found quiet places to reflect and write. Here are other regional and statewide authors and books to help round out a sense of place in this multi-deminsional and varied community.

Ursula Le Guin  — A feminist science fiction writer known best for "Left Hand of Darkness" and her "Earthsea" series inspired by the Oregon Coast. Le Guin lived in Portland, Oregon and Eugene's UO Library houses the largest collection of her work nationwide.

L.J. Sellers — Eugene-based author Sellers writes crime fiction often set in Eugene - Springfield. With over twenty mystery thrillers, the pages can't be turned quick enough.

Gerald Duane "Boomer" Wright — A native Oregonian, Wright is a children's author and former educator who just so happened to spend many years managing the famous Sea Lion Caves on the Oregon Coast. "Caption Cox and The Cave of Many Voices" is historical fiction about the discovery of the sea lion caves — aptly written for the many children that marvel year round at the massive, barking sea lions.

Geri Larkin — A Zen Buddhist teacher and author, best known for "Stumbling Toward Enlightenment", Larkin choose the solace of Eugene's gentle landscape for her home. Read "Plant Seed, Pull Weed" for a spiritual exploration through gardening. Her masterful insights and lyrical prose transform reading into a walk through the garden of the soul. You'll be inspired to visit the nearest nursery and plant your own seeds.

Eline Kristina England — "Eating Close to Home" is not just a cookbook, it is a guide to connecting with Lane County's local foods. Organized by seasons and with detailed descriptions of regional crops and what to do with them, this is a perfect way to acquaint yourself with the culinary rhythms of eating local

"Eugene Oregon Walks" — A simple, hand-printed book by Tyler Burgess, this is the guide to your neighborhood! A collection of 32 maps with step by step directions to notice Eugene's highlights. Like Frog's Joke Books, this a book that every longtime Eugenian has or should have.

Books To Go

Two local bookstores are offering curbside pick up for books. Call ahead to procure the book you'd like.

Smith Family Bookstore offers online orders and shipping for rare books that they have in stock. Or call them direct and they'll find you popular titles for pick up.

Tsunami Bookstore is selling gift certificates, and "quarantine kits" — selections of four to seven books grouped around age/genre. Call ahead and then do curbside pick up.

Additionally, the Eugene Public Library is providing book personalized recommendations for your reading preference. Fill out a short online questionnaire and they will email you a list of books you might enjoy. You can also browse their e-books inventory. Their staff is available by phone during set hours for library card assistance (Eugene residency requirements).

Another tip for book lovers: The Shelton McMurphey Johnson House hosts a monthly book club. The schedule is listed on their website. Currently book discussions are being held on zoom with interested participants.

Author: Taj Barnhart Morgan

Taj Barnhart Morgan is the Director of Content Strategy for Travel Lane County. A journalism graduate from the University of Oregon, Taj has two decades of special event management and hospitality marketing experience in San Diego, CA and Maui, HI. Passionate about mothering, and back to her Oregon roots, she is discovering the Eugene, Cascades & Coast region all over again through the eyes of her daughter.