Since this is a column about libraries, I thought it was high time we talked about books and authors occasionally. This week, I would like to highlight one of my favorite Oregon authors, Brian Doyle. But first, the sad news. Brian is no longer with us. He lost his battle with cancer in 2017 at his home in Lake Oswego. During his prolific writing career, he won many awards for his essays and novels that brought Oregon people and land to life.
You will find many of his works in our libraries. Some are short stories and some are full length novels. Some have fictitious characters while others are very autobiographical. But there is a strong, common thread through each of his books…his love and passion for Oregon, nature and the beauty of being a human being. But don’t get me wrong…he was not a Pollyanna. Far from it. Many of his books hit hard at the reader’s heart and cause us to look deep into our own beliefs and passions.
In interest of full disclosure, I must admit, I had a personal experience with Brian a few years ago that made me an instant fan for life. It was September 14, 2014 and I had scheduled Brian to speak at the Pacific City Library. With the program scheduled at 1:00 pm, I arrived at 11:30 am to set up chairs...and was surprised to see a man with little round glasses showing up in the parking lot at the very same time. Brian Doyle was here...very early.
Somehow his datebook ended up showing noon as the program time, so we had an hour and a half to kill before his program began. After he insisted on helping me set up chairs for the presentation, I began to list some options for him to fill up the time by getting some lunch in his belly. But he said, no, he had eaten a sandwich in his car, “So how would it be if you and I just sat down for a little chat and get to know each other?”
Had I known I was going to get to interview Brian Doyle, I would have likely had a notebook full of questions. But instead, he began to interview me as if I was the one person he really wanted to spend time with. We discussed real moments. We talked about people we loved. We talked about the wonder of nature. He talked about his trials as a father of a young child born with a defective heart. Never in my life has an hour gone so quickly. And never have I had such an honest and true and caring conversation with another human I did not know. It was as though we had been friends forever.
He has such a unique style and voice. Reading his writing makes me feel as though he is sitting at the table with me at the Pacific City Library and he’s simply telling me his story. And that is exactly the writing style he strived for. His critics had a field day pointing out his lack of punctuation and Brian used to smile at those critiques. But really, who worries about punctuation when they are talking to a friend?
His last book, One Long River of Song, is my most favorite of all. A posthumous collection of short stories and observations, it is heartbreaking, wonderful and the very best book I have read in a very long time. It is Brian at his best, filled with reminders to take notice of nature and family and “tender next minutes” that make up this short time we have on this earth.