girl sitting on a park bench in snow, reading a book

Read in Place: How reading in a book’s setting enhances the reading experience

Have you ever had that jolt of recognition when you see a place in the show or movie you’re watching and you find yourself saying, “Hey! I’ve been there!”? What about getting that jolt when you’re reading a book? After you’ve had that feeling, don’t you find yourself transposing the characters, action, and setting into the physical world around you?

Setting is such an important part of a book, movie, or television series that sometimes it can even be considered another character. For gothic literature, it is even an edict of the genre that the setting is at some degree a character in its own right. Dracula probably wouldn’t be as scary if he hid out in an abandoned Brookstone® rather than the far off Bran Castle in Romania. But this holds true for any genre. When books are set in the real world, whether in the present day or the past, the setting can and will be recognized by readers. So when an author successfully spins their story so that the location of events and plots are recognizable by their audience, it only amplifies the experience of reading and brings the story further into life.

This was the feeling I had once I started reading books based in the Pacific Northwest. While reading The Lost Girls Camp of Forevermore by Kim Fu, I found myself recognizing, at least vaguely, parts of the Sound from a kayaking trip I went on in a previous year, and I was able to imagine the struggle of the girls as I was hauling my boat out of the waves. As I was reading Stray City by Chelsey Johnson, I could imagine the hot summer day and the path underneath the trees of the Park Blocks the characters took during a Pride march because it is the same path I take every morning with my dog. As I was reading Faultland by Suzy Vitello, I could practically see the winding path through a wrecked Portland and how treacherous the city would become if an earthquake destroyed it because I’ve experienced how an unexpected snowstorm in April can make the roads become almost untravelable. My knowledge of the local area while reading each of these novels enhanced my experience of the book as a whole and made me think of each of the books long after I was finished reading.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading a book based in your hometown, I personally recommend it. Your knowledge of the local area serves to level up your reading when you can place the characters and envision the same streets they walk down. Don’t know where to start? If you’re a local to the Pacific Northwest, try picking up a book from Ooligan, since we specialize in publishing books significant to the PNW. Or stop by your local bookstore, like Powell’s, where you can usually find a table or endcap dedicated to regionally based books. Or if you’re not local to the PNW, maybe think about picking up a book to elevate your next visit to Portland.

A hiker gazes up at the vast, green, forested mountain in front of them

PNW Conservation Through Learning

Conservation is top of mind for a lot of folks in the Pacific Northwest. Being surrounded by such a lush, green landscape, a majority of people escape out into the wilderness recreationally. There are a plethora of outdoor activities from which they can choose: from hiking to climbing and bouldering to mountain biking to skiing and snowboarding to so many others. During the pandemic, despite the forest service shutting down a lot of trails and recreational spots in Oregon, many people turned to the great outdoors to socialize from a distance. But 2020 also saw a rash of horrific forest fires which swallowed more than 1.2 million acres of greenery in Oregon alone and displaced hundreds of people. After the destruction of 2020, as more and more people embrace the outdoors, hopefully those same people turn to conservation and help protect the lands they’re exploring.

One of those people who escaped to the outdoors during the pandemic was Josephine Woolington; the slowdown of the pandemic shifted her perspective of the wilderness that she had been exploring for years and inspired her to write Where We Call Home, which launched on November 15, 2022. Woolington’s book is a collection of essays detailing a variety of native Pacific Northwest species, from the beautiful camas flower to the humble western bumble bee to the great gray whale. Woolington’s essays focus on the history of each species, illustrate the importance of each species to the various Native peoples of the lands, and bring to light the importance of conservation of each species. She believes, “once you know who [what] someone is, then you appreciate them more, and eventually, you feel obligated to stand up for them.”

Where We Call Home describes ten important species and how each of those species is vital to the Pacific Northwest. Many of these species have been historically important to various Native peoples of the area. “[These] culturally significant species are especially important for readers to know so non-Native people can respect and honor the traditions and relationships that Native people have had with these landscapes since time immemorial. Learning about Indigeneous land management also challenges the Western idea that humans are separate from their ecosystems.” Woolington has done a fantastic job of recording how tribes have respected and used the land and species in the past, and how today’s conservation efforts, while obviously important, frequently “legislate Indigenous communities out of their landscapes, violating treaties that preserve tribal rights to hunt, fish, and gather in their usual and accustomed areas.”

Where We Call Home encourages an enduring respect for the native wildlife of the region. Thankfully, its essays don’t leave readers feeling gloom and doom. Rather, the essays inspire readers to learn more about the lands that surround them and encourage people to take an interest in its history. One of the most important takeaways from Where We Call Home is that “conservation efforts can often be misled, as many organizations’ staffers are mostly white, and they often don’t involve enough or any Indigenous voices in restoration projects.” If we can take a look at the way Indigenous peoples have preserved the land they live on, we have a chance to restore the magnificence of the PNW, and continue to enjoy its beauty for generations to come.

log bridge in green forest

My New View of the PNW through Tribal Histories of the Willamette Valley

In November 2023, Ooligan Press will welcome the release of the nonfiction title Tribal Histories of the Willamette Valley by Oregon Indigenous historian David G. Lewis. Taking on the role of project manager for this book has made me realize just how little I knew about this land and the Native peoples who call it home.

Born and raised in Central Washington, hints of the history of the Pacific Northwest and the Indigenous peoples of this area were sprinkled throughout my day-to-day life. My hometown was named after Chief Moses. My family and I enjoyed attending powwows, admiring the different dances and types of regalia worn by participants. On trips we would pass roadside signs marking the boundaries of the reservations spread across Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.

Although schools in my hometown often appropriated Native imagery and terminology, in my experience there was little instruction about the history of the mid-Columbia Tribes. I knew generally that Native peoples were forcefully removed from their lands; that the goal of the US at the time was the annihilation of Native peoples and their cultures through violence and assimilation. My involvement in this book project gives me the opportunity to dive deep into this history and face the details of how settlers and our government have treated tribes in the Willamette Valley and surrounding area during the last century and a half.

Reading about the numerous treaties negotiated with but never ratified by Congress, I am frustrated. Learning about the Grand Ronde Trail of Tears, the forced exodus of people from their ancestral lands, I am saddened and enraged.

At the same time, Lewis paints a picture of the time before colonization, over ten thousand years of culture and traditions such as the oral histories of the Missoula floods, the practice of the seasonal round, and the purposeful burning of the Willamette Valley floor to nourish the area. In showing what life was once like for the tribes, this book creates a newfound appreciation in me for the generations of people who lived on the land that now I call home too.

Tribal Histories of the Willamette Valley also depicts the pushback from Native peoples in being forced onto reservations, highlighting several individuals, such as Eliza Young and Chief Yelkus, who were determined to build lives for themselves off the reservations. In such profiles I see the resiliency and adaptability of Native peoples.

I wish I’d had a book like this at some point during my education. I wish I’d learned about the cultures that influenced the naming of so many places throughout my home state. I wish I’d learned of what was taken and what was lost when the iconic Conestoga wagons rolled into the Pacific Northwest.

In taking on the responsibilities of project manager, I look forward to bringing these histories to audiences who, like me, had serious gaps in their knowledge about Oregon’s history. I am also honored to help amplify the voices and stories of Indigenous peoples. Tribal Histories of the Willamette Valley will be an excellent resource for not only the everyday reader looking to educate themselves, but also in classrooms taking the very necessary time and space to learn about the peoples whose lands we now live on.