DIANE URBANI DE LA PAZ: Women, whiskey, words

I HELD MY breath. It was almost midnight. My compañera, Jess, had ridden her horse into a situation that could mean the end of her young life.

Being a sharp-shootin’ orphan girl traveling through the Western sage, Jess got herself out of the predicament, though not unscathed. Her story is not for the faint of heart.

The teenager is on a hero’s journey, a search for her long-lost brother.

Riding a mare named Ingrid, she hearkens to stories I read as a girl, where one’s horse means freedom and friendship in an unpredictable world.

There I go, swept up into the novel I’m reading.

“Whiskey When We’re Dry” by Oregon writer John Larison has me up late, clutching the paperback and devouring the tale, word by elegant word.

Larison, who’s coming to give a talk at Port Townsend’s Northwest Maritime Center at 6:30 p.m. March 26, transcends the Western genre’s stereotypes: “Whiskey” is told through the eyes of a girl as frontierswoman, a girl on a quest for connection.

The novel is 2020’s Port Townsend Community Read, but you needn’t be in any particular town to be transported by Jess’ escapades.

In these days of digital information delivery and shrinking attention spans, “Whiskey” is a quencher of the thirst for immersion in a long tale.

It’s easy to forget the pleasure waiting to be released from the pages of a thick book. Reading this one reminded me how a novel is a free, deep dive below the ocean’s surface where, with widening eyes, we commune with a hidden world.

When choosing the annual Community Read, the Port Townsend Public Library crew looks for genres that haven’t been selected before, staffer Keith Darrock said.

The library folks also pick books for their potential for discussion and mind expansion.

It’s about getting people together so they can show one another their commonalities.

Besides the designated community read, we all know how popular book clubs and groups are.

When I spoke to local author Nicole Persun, who writes under the pen name Jennifer Gold, she said she writes “book club fiction.”

This is also called “women’s fiction.”

Persun describes the protagonists of her novel “The Ingredients of Us” (2019) and of “Keep Me Afloat,” released this week, as “real, flawed women” who make some doozy mistakes.

And while Persun/Gold is not as mature a writer as Larison, “Keep Me Afloat” had me sailing as fast as I could through its story.

At the center is a modern Port Townsend woman torn between love and career.

Persun/Gold will do a book launch this Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at the Northwest Maritime Center’s Velocity cafe.

Perhaps “Keep Me Afloat” will then become a book-club selection and the seed for juicy discussions.

As for “Whiskey,” library-sponsored events, all free, are happening around town.

Events planned

First, to loosen us up: music. The Port Townsend Public Library on Lawrence Street will host a hoedown with the Eagle Mountain String Band in the house this Thursday.

Kris Nelson’s family of local restaurants will dish up chili and cornbread from 6 p.m. to 7:30.

Book discussions are set for Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the Keg & I in Chimacum; March 18 at 2 p.m. at the Old Whiskey Mill in Port Townsend and at 1 p.m. March 24 at Velocity in Port Townsend.

For the shy and quieter among us, there’s an art show at the peaceful Northwind Arts Center in downtown Port Townsend.

Titled “Just Passing Through,” the exhibit is up through March 29.

PTpubliclibrary.org has details on all things Community Read.

My hope for any book discussion? That men as well as women join in.

A satisfying story and a sense of community are for all of us.


Diane Urbani de la Paz, a freelance journalist and former PDN features editor, lives in Port Townsend.

Her column appears in the PDN the first and third Wednesday every month. Her next column will be March 18.

Reach her at [email protected]

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