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Fall into Fascinating Reads: Must-Read Novels by Northwest Authors

In this article, we are lucky to have Sharma Shields, Writing Education Specialist for Spokane Public Library, sharing her favorite fall reads from Northwest authors to cozy up to this season.

One of my autumnal musts is cozying up on a crisp late-October day with a steaming cup of Evening in Missoula tea and a richly layered book. I love the greens, golds, and blues of the Inland Northwest, the way the flowers and leaves here gasp with their last deep breath of vibrancy before the paler winter months arrive. 

I also love the vibrant array of fiction I’ve read by Northwest authors of late, books as striking and beautiful as a clear fall day. Here are a few choice novels and story collections that showcase the breathtaking range of talent within our region. 

If you’re looking for captivating must-read books by Northwest authors, make sure to bookmark this page and return to it at your leisure!

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Cozy Up with Captivating Fall Reads by Northwest Writers

Cloud Cuckoo Land: A Novel by Anthony Doerr

Boise-based Doerr’s Cloud Cuckoo Land is a significant departure from the realism of his Pultizer-prize winning novel All The Light We Cannot See, aligned more with his trippy and imaginative story collection Memory Wall. Here in Cloud Cuckoo Land, Doerr folds the historical in with the fantastical, the realistic with the strange. Wonderfully drawn characters and settings—including ancient Constantinople, an Idaho small-town library, and a futuristic spaceship—converge here to form a moving, inspired narrative about libraries, archivists, and storytelling, particularly the vital and necessary work of listening to, preserving, and attempting to address honestly one another’s stories, however wrought and painful.

What Strange Paradise: A Novel by Omar El Akkad

Portland author Omar El Akkad’s early career as a journalist can be seen in the clear, focused prose here, which spotlights the global refugee crisis and the plight of its harmed and forgotten children. A boat overloaded with passengers fleeing the human rights injustices of their countries (Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, and Ethiopia) sinks at sea, and nine-year-old Amir is the lone survivor. A teenager, Vänna, finds him on the beach and attempts to rescue him from malevolent authorities. Amir’s flashbacks from the ship are deep dives into the horrors of these crossings, and a testament to the desperation people are facing as they flee homeland terror. Vänna and Amir are stalwart children in situations children should never be in: You will root passionately for them here in this crushing and propulsive read.

Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century: Stories by Kim Fu

In these metaphorically gorgeous short stories, a girl grows wings from her ankles, a creepy doll terrorizes neighborhood children, and a woman attempts to use a new technology to converse with her dead mom. In my favorite story, a horrifically bug-infested house becomes a metaphor for the experience of fleeing an abusive relationship and for the struggle to rebuild a life alone. The stories here are as bizarre as they are meaningful. I’m excited that Kim Fu will be this year’s author for the 2023 Spokane Is Reading events. Fu lives in Seattle.

The Laughter: A Novel by Sonora Jha

This novel is a hilarious and harrowing send-up of the power structures in academia and of the harmful centering of white men. Jha performs a tricky and flawless swan dive into the entitled first-person perspective of Oliver Harding, an aging white male professor at a Seattle university who lusts after his colleague, a younger Pakistani law professor named Ruhaba Kahn. Ruhaba’s thoughtful, compassionate nephew Amir is a terrific foil for Oliver’s entitlement and provides insight into global racism, misogyny, and threat. The Laughter is one of my favorite reads of the last year, I drank this book down in just a couple of days.

Tell Me I’m an Artist by Chelsea Martin

Wow did I love this quote from Spokane writer Chelsea Martin’s memoir Caca Dolce: “I’ve come to think of all of my past selves as if they are my daughters. I want to stand up for them, to make sure that even when they were being very bad they were still loved and understood, even if only by their future self.” Martin’s brilliant novel Tell Me I’m an Artist similarly honors the self, showing us how much a person can carry that other people aren’t aware of, telling the story of a young woman in a tony art school in the Bay Area who suffers from a poverty of resources while it seems the students around here are awash in love, finances, and familial support. Martin is a genius at making the unseen seen. Tell Me I’m an Artist is as hilarious as it is moving.

The Beadworkers by Beth Piatote

I shove this book into everyone’s hands; it’s one of the most poetic and inventive short story collections I’ve ever read. Piatote, a Nez Perce, Chief Joseph Band writer, is enrolled with the Colville Tribe, and these stories are born of the region’s rivers, original languages, and Native peoples. The stories differ greatly in style: one is written lyrically, like a poem, some are more traditional, including historical narratives about the Fish Wars and Wounded Knee, and the final piece in the collection is written as a play, Antíkoni, a potent Nez Perce-Cayuse retelling of Sophocles’s Antigone. This book is a triumph from first page to last. 

Unexpected Weather Events by Erin Pringle

Spokane writer Erin Pringle reminds me of one of my perennial favorite novelists, Miriam Toews; both authors are achingly adept at circling both tragedy and joy, loss and connection, penning stories that capture the ethos of girlhood and womanhood. In her latest fiction collection, Pringle writes with mesmerizing compassion and clarity about suicide, queer identity, grief, and family. Nostalgia falls here like snow, death like a lightning strike, hope like a break in an evening storm. This is fiction that paints—gorgeously—the full complexity and emotional range of our lives as humans.

As the autumn leaves approach, make sure to keep this list of compelling Northwest reads close at hande. Grab a warm mug of tea, settle in, and immerse yourself in the wonders of fall reading!

Author Sharma Shields

Sharma Shields is the author of one story collection, “Favorite Monster,” and two novels, “The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac,” which won the Washington State Book Award, and “The Cassandra,” which won the Pacific Northwest Book Award. She is the Writing Education Specialist for Spokane Public Library.

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