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February 4, 2010 03:11 PM

When I last lucked into tickets to the Oregon Truffle Festival's Grand Truffle Dinner, the event was still held at LCC. The dinner’s current location at the Valley River Inn is a better-lit, more comfortable space that manages, despite its cavernousness, to feel a little more intimate. The floral arrangements, which rose from towering glass vases and drooped back down in green fronds, were a little over the top, but who's paying attention to the table decorations when a meal like this is on the way?

I barely had time to grab a small glass of the reception wine — Sweet Cheeks' sparkling red, which I want to try when I can pay it more attention — before we were finding our way to our table (to my amusement, VRI staff removed the table numbers shortly after most people were seated, which led me to envisioning lost attendees swiping plates from servers' hands in desperation. This did not appear to happen).

Let me be honest: I am not going to review the dinner so much as repeatedly point out, in 100 words per course, how rich and delicious it was. I was there to experience it, and the experience was, for the most part, delightful.

Also, it was a lot of food.

COURSE ONE

Crème Fraiche Tarts with Triple Cream, Shaved White Truffles & Mâche Salad with Black Truffle Vinaigrette
Chef Naomi Pomeroy, Beast

Click here to read — and see — more!

We were really excited about this one, but while the mâche salad was very good, we were a little let down by the tart itself, which, though the crème fraiche came through nicely, was a little bit dry. Later, another diner told us we must've just gotten slightly-less-than-perfect plates, as his was fantastic. Pomeroy, after her course, praised Portland’s Steve’s Cheese, from whence came the triple cream brie, and talked about the simplicity of the tart dough, which she said acts like puff pastry with none of the work. Everyone got either white or black truffles, she said, but she'd wanted both.

COURSE TWO

Pacific Ling Cod Effeuilée with Foie Gras & Black Truffle Broth
Chef Pascal Sauton, Carafe

I think I was in love with this one before it was settled on the table in front of me. "Where's the foie?" asked a tablemate, but the answer was quickly clear: in the incredible, rich broth, which left us wishing we had bread with which to wipe the dishes clean. Sauton's dish, with its flaky, moist cod, was my favorite, though my date wished the vegetables in it had been prepared differently. When it came his turn to talk, Sauton explained that the very thinly sliced cod was cooked by the broth as it was poured over the fish.

COURSE THREE

Blanquette of Oregon Rabbit with White Truffles
Chef Gabriel Rucker, Le Pigeon

Oh, Le Pigeon. Where I had just indulged the night before, sharing venison heart orecchiette and pigeon and onion soup with friends and devouring most of a beautiful piece of pork on my own. As you can see, Rucker didn't stint on the rabbit, and the taste of it shone through in the simple presentation. Some of our tablemates lamented the lack of crispy skin, but I was too busy pulling every iota of meat from the bones to notice. We missed Rucker's explanation of his dish, but you have to get up sometimes. Especially when you're eating like this.

COURSE FOUR

Duck Leg Confit & Black Truffle Pommes Sarladaises
Chef Philippe Boulot, Multnomah Athletic Club and Heathman Hotel & Bar

This is the point in the night when you think someone is playing a joke on you. A massive piece of duck confit ... last? Served with potatoes cooked in yet more duck fat? A tiny pile of frisée shared this plate, and its crisp bite was like water after a long, dry walk. Not that I'm complaining — though I did feel guilty leaving any of Boulot's dish behind. His course was the least emphatically truffled of the group, but the lusciousness of the confit was such that I barely noticed. It was classic and decadent and deliciously overwhelming.

CHEESE COURSE
Ancient Heritage Dairy Adelle,
Estrella Family Creamery Old Apple Tree Tomme
and Tumalo Farms Classico Reserve

This is when my already sparingly taken notes utterly fail me. I'm a cheese fiend. I didn't even take a picture before diving in. The cheeses were served with local wildflower honey with white truffle. I believe the table favorite was the Adelle, but I liked the Classico, and all three were enhanced by a swipe through the honey. This was dessert; I opted to save the truffled treats from Marché Provisions, which were thoughtfully presented in an easily-taken-home bag. (Sadly, these melted together in my purse later in the evening, so my impression of them is essentially, “Sticky! Yum!”)

Afterwards, tablemates and friends dubbed the rabbit the best course, with some votes for the duck and my nod to the fish. But the decadence wasn’t over yet. Someone, later in the night, came up with the idea of shaving truffles onto the whipped cream on a Spanish coffee. Someone else — and I know not exactly to whom I owe this delight — caused an entire bowl of truffled whipped cream to arrive at the table.

Does that sound weird to you? I've had people look at me like I'm crazy when I told them about it. Listen, kids, don't knock it 'til you've tried it.

Truffle shavings in whipped cream — fresh, barely sweetened if at all — proved to be borderline exquisite. Think of the way real whipped cream coats your mouth, all that fatty goodness sticking to your taste buds, lingering and heavy. Now think of that as the delivery source of a savory, earthy, intense flavor like that of truffles. I felt like I was getting the essence of truffle, and I still can't describe it. The bowl went round once, with a demitasse spoon for each of us, and I waited impatiently for it to come around again. The man responsible for the truffle shavings was laughing, kindly, at me from the other end of the table, and calling me an addict; I was treating my spoonful of whipped cream like a popsicle made of gold.

You never know when the most unforgettable experiences will happen.

February 3, 2010 04:36 PM

... is that no one has to know (and, as Suzi points out, likely no one cares) if you're looking at pics of scantily clad women at work.

Keep your eyes on the upper left corner of the screen at about 1:04.

(Via Boing Boing. Apparently, it was all a prank — which doesn't make the video any less amusing, really.)

January 28, 2010 08:12 PM

In this week's issue of Chow! there are a few little "Word Is" tidbits - news we didn't have time or space to cover in depth. One of them was meant to tell you that The Divine Cupcake, Eugene's vegan cupcake company, is opening a retail location (on West 11th across from Ring of Fire) quite soon. March, we hear. It'll be Eugene's first dedicated cupcakery. And these are some tasty cupcakes.

But the placeholder ran instead. That would be the little box of text that tells you that I hoped to have details soon.

So yeah. Oops. My apologies to the fine folks of the Divine Cupcake and to anyone confused by what looked like a very silly block of text.

January 15, 2010 01:00 PM

In a few months, Eugeneans will have a new Italian food option. Come spring, Rocky Maselli, the executive chef at Marché, is opening Sfizio in Oakway Center.

Like Marché, Sfizio will use local producers "for almost everything," says the press release, which describes the restaurant as follows:

This 96-seat Italian eatery will be open for lunch and dinner seven days a week, with brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. In warmer weather, seating will spill out onto the courtyard of the Oakway Center and expand to serve more than 130 guests. But food and drink will be the central focus. The interior is designed around the open kitchen and bar, where patrons can be in the middle of the action at the 18-seat kitchen-bar counter. Private booths and a long family table will offer a range of experiences, from a family night out to a convivial business dinner or lunch with friends.

Maselli is working with architect Dan Hill on a space that will combine "the sleek feel of modern Italian design with the warmth and green sensibility of the Pacific Northwest" using sustainable materials including finished concrete, locally sourced wood and reclaimed timber.

I'd like to suggest we greet this news with a collective "Huzzah!"

UPDATE: After talking to Maselli, I don't know what to be more excited about: the promise of Sfizio's house-made pasta and house-cured meats, or the fact that former Bel Ami bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler is consulting on Sfizio's cocktail menu (I take my delicious cocktails very seriously). Let's just say that the news about Maselli's new place is welcome on multiple levels.

Maselli says he's been planning to open an Italian restaurant off and on for a few years. Sfizio will make its home in Oakway because, he says, "it's a great location" for a handful of reasons, not least the courtyard, the already-in-place kitchen infrastructure, the limited dining options on the north side of the river and the distance from restaurants operated by friends and family. Though the space is currently occupied by Oakway Wine & Deli, Maselli says it will be unrecognizable when Sfizio opens.

But enough about the place; what about the food? Sfizio's menu will be very traditionally Italian, but with an eye to the local and seasonal offerings of the Willamette Valley. "I'm kind of modeling it after an osteria, which is a kind of a tavern," Maselli says, explaining that an osteria is a kind of country restaurant, more casual than a ristorante, that specializes in local ingredients. The menu will include a take on bistecca Fiorentina "that's just going to be gigantic" — big enough to serve five or six! — lots of appetizers and a weekly supper menu. Maselli says he thinks they'll open with the supper menu, which will highlight a different entrée each day of the week, served as an all-inclusive meal. He estimates that prices will range from about $6-$14 for appetizers to "well under" $20-$25 for entrées. Pasta dishes should be from $10 to $18. "That's the great thing about pasta," Maselli says. "You can't really charge too much for it."

Along with six beers on tap and what the press release calls "Eugene's favorite cocktails," Sfizio's bar will have a wine list that Maselli says could potentially be the best Italian list in the state (he prefaces this by saying "I hate to start a competition or anything, but ..."). The wines will be affordable and the list will highlight everything Italy has to offer, he says. But in keeping with the spirit of the osteria, Sfizio will also have a house red and house white served in pitchers. "That's very much osteria style. The local wine is just decanted; they put a spigot in a barrel of wine and pour it that way. I'm going to see if I can't swing getting barrels," Maselli says.

As for staff, Sfizio's chef, Alex Bourgidu, comes from Portland's Genoa restaurant and has a restaurant of his own in North Bend. Maselli says he's "working very hard" to lure Morgenthaler from Portland's Clyde Common. "It's tough," he says. "Maybe if Eugene applies a little pressure, he'll break."

Maselli is shooting to open Sfizio in May or June, depending on how quickly everything comes along. "I'm super, super excited," he says. He's not the only one.

January 6, 2010 01:40 PM

More former Eugeneans turned Los Angelenos are doing nifty things. This time, it's the women of Warpaint, who debuted a new video yesterday.

As the press release explains, "The video was shot with the song sped up and then the visuals slowed down to match the song's original tempo to a dramatic effect." I can't say it's the greatest video of all time, but it does give a nifty sense of the feeling of seeing Warpaint live, where there's something drifty and gauzy about the experience even when the music is moving swiftly along.

The quartet is currently in the studio recording their debut full-length, and they're soon heading out on tour with Akron/Family. Alas, they're straying no further west than Texas this time around.

January 5, 2010 12:35 PM

It's not every began-in-Eugene-but-moved-to-the-big-city (in this case, L.A.) band that comes back to town for a month of Sunday shows. The Parson Red Heads have done residencies at a few L.A. venues; next month, they're settling in three cities at once, playing Mondays in Portland, Thursdays in Seattle and Sundays here, at Sam Bond's.

Wisely, the band has a different opening act each weekend, including fellow former Eugenean Erik Carlson's DoublePlusGood and still hometown-boys Yeltsin, who have a new record, Rhinestone Glow, coming out Feb. 1.

February 07 - Parson Red Heads w/Norman
February 14 - Parson Red Heads w/Leo London
February 21 - Parson Red Heads w/DoublePlusGood
February 28 - Parson Red Heads w/Yeltsin

The band's photos tend to make them look like a big hippie family transported into the wrong decade; the best quote in their press release is this one, from Metromix

This impossibly pretty gang of California love and harmony plays like Brian Wilson never lost his mind and instead spawned a new generation of composers to finish his teenage symphony to God… imagine Fleetwood Mac making Rumours without the cocaine and wife-swapping

Their most recent release is last April's "Orangufang" 7", which you can pick up in non-retro-cool-vinyl format on iTunes.

December 31, 2009 01:30 PM

Canadian singer-songwriter Serena Ryder opens for Howie Day at the WOW Hall on Jan. 15. With any luck, she'll play her gorgeous, plaintive cover of Band of Horses' "The Funeral," which you can listen to on her MySpace page. Or you could just watch the live version:

The video isn't a lot to look at, but Ryder's is a shiver-inducing rendition of the song.

December 17, 2009 01:48 PM

As promised in print, here are the mix CD track listings from The Procrastinator's Gift Guide — with links for listening. Many of the links go to YouTube "videos" with audio only; some go to Stereogum and other places where you can stream or download songs; some, when the individual song wasn't available, go to MySpace pages; some go to live performances or official videos. If you find a broken link or have a better one for us, please let me know!

Throughout the day I'll be adding links to the bands' websites, but I wanted to get the track links up for now...

2009: THE MIX CDs

SARA BRICKNER
K'naan, "America"
The Curious Mystery, It's Tough
Doom, "Rap Ambush"
THEE Satisfaction, "Bisexual"
Steve Earle, "White Freightliner Blues"
Abstract Rude, "Nuff Fire"
Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers, "Middle of Nowhere"
Califone, "Funeral Singers"
Khingz, "Reach In"
Mayer Hawthorne, "One Track Mind"
Brother Ali, "Bad Muthafucka"
Charles Bradley & Menahan Street Band, "The World (Is Going Up In Flames)"
Blakroc, "Dollaz & Sense" feat. Pharoahe Monch & RZA
Del the Funky Homosapien, "Get It Right Now"
Son Volt, "When the Wheels Don't Move"
The Tea Cozies, "Behind the Glass Eye"
Iron & Wine, "The Trapeze Swinger"

RICK LEVIN
1. Wilco, "I'll Fight"
2. Built to Spill, "Nowhere Lullaby"
3. Nirvana, "School" (If you want a good laugh, watch this bootleg version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" from the same concert.)
4. The Avett Brothers, "Kick Drum Heart"
5. Meaghan Smith, "Poor"
6. Bob Dylan, "Must Be Santa"
7. Rusty Willoughby, "Crown of Thorns"
8. Sonic Youth, "Anti-Orgasm"
9. Cat Power, "Fortunate Son"
10. Bad Mitten Orchestre, "Saints of the Blue Avenue"

VANESSA SALVIA
Blind Pilot, "One Red Thread" and "Two Towns From Me"
Jenny Lewis, "Acid Tongue"
Yo La Tengo, "When It's Dark"
Neko Case, "This Tornado Loves You"
Jay Reatard, "My Reality"
Holy Grail, "Fight to Kill"
Dethklok, "Bloodlines"
YOB, "The Great Cessation"
OM, "Cremation Ghat I"
Isis, "Threshold of Transformation"

MOLLY TEMPLETON
1. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, "Zero"
2. Fall Out Boy, "The Disloyal Order of Water Buffaloes"
3. Phoenix, "1901"
4. Jay-Z & Alicia Keys, "Empire State of Mind"
5. Tegan and Sara, "Hell" (Or watch Amanda Palmer's fan video.)
6. Neko Case, "The Next Time You Say Forever"
7. Samantha Crain and the Midnight Shivers, "Get the Fever Out"
8. Lykke Li, "Possibility"
9. Warpaint, "Billie Holiday"
10. Lady Gaga, "Bad Romance"
11. The Thermals, "Now We Can See"
12. Passion Pit, "Little Secrets"
13. Metric, "Sick Muse"
14. Avett Brothers, "I and Love and You"
15. Kingdom County, "Four Chamber Music"
16. Frightened Rabbit, "Swim Until You Can't See Land"
17. Karen O and the Kids, "Sailing Home"

And for your bonus track, the song I would have put on my mix — should have, really — but that it's just not quite the same without the video:

December 14, 2009 06:34 PM

Did anyone else have a sort of dropped-jaw response to this slightly bizarre (and, alas, not in the funny-ha-ha way) SNL skit this weekend?

Sure, Lautner's expressions are ... OK, the kid can be funny. (His Jacob Black is one of the better things about the bland, forgettable New Moon.) I have to give him credit for being such a willing goof; it stands in amusing contrast to the usual image of Lautner (half-naked, displaying absolutely unreal abs, being drooled over by people twice his age). But the skit ever-so-slightly boggles the mind.

Nice touch calling the backup backup quarterback "Phil," I suppose.

Did you laugh? Did you wonder why it was Oregon and not, y'know, that other team? Or how anyone managed to mock the Ducks on national TV without even mentioning the godawful uniforms?

Update 12/15: A friend sent a link to a video from another NBC show that sort of suggests perhaps SNL is getting a touch lazy:

(If only the UO video had had the HD camera gag, though. Oh, lost possibility.)

Update, again: The second video, a scene from 30 Rock, is presently unavailable on Hulu, but I'll leave the link in case it comes back.

December 2, 2009 06:04 PM

Wondering what to get for that special someone who has everything?

The Bonhams auction house in Los Angeles plans to sell off an Oregon thunderegg that's four feet across and one of the largest in the world at at an auction on Dec. 6.

Indians believed gods threw thundereggs at each other from mountaintops. White men later made it Oregon's official rock. This one from the Blue Mountains will set you back an estimated $100,000 to $125,000.

If that's too pricey for your Christmas gift budget, Bonhams is also auctioning a 70-lb. piece of fossilized dinosaur dung for $1,800-$2,400 on the same day.

The massive piece of crapolite (or caprolite as they say in Greek) could serve "as an intriguing and amusing conversation piece," according to the auction house.

November 25, 2009 04:13 PM


All photos by Todd Cooper. See the whole gallery here

Well, I was totally wrong about that first song.

But first, Rain Machine, who blazed through their stoner hippie rock jam (this is a direct quote from my scribbled-in-the-dark notes, but I don't know whether I just wrote it down or Kyp Malone said it; I suspect the former). They ended with a song that references castration fear and — I'm pretty sure — involves Malone repeating "FUCK ALL" at length. That takes balls, folks. Malone noted that it's hard to play a stand-up show to a sitting-down crowd, but the band was pulled it off with mellow aplomb. Malone's the guitarist and one of the singers of TV on the Radio, but Rain Machine songs take up space in an entirely different way. The structures are different, the feeling more twisty and internal. And in the Hult Center, these weird, personal-but-sprawling songs sounded fantastic.


But we were all there for the Pixies. I'm really not sure I've ever felt more like the precise target audience for a show — maybe a bit on the young side, even, though there were actual kids there. Lucky little bastards. Some of them will get to tell all their friends that their first show was the Pixies at the Hult Center. Yeah, my first show was at the Hult Center too, but it was X-Piracy, which means nothing to about 97.478 percent of you, I assume.)

The band's intro involved a shit-ton of fake smoke and a scratchy old film showing on the screen behind the stage. People oohed audibly when the images on the screen split into three, four, more individual pictures, but they stood up in unison when the band appeared. "B-SIDES!" Kim Deal yelled from her position just out of the spotlight. "MORE B-SIDES!" Eventually, "More b-sides! I'm sure you guys haven't heard of them. They're so rare we had to learn them." I'm not a collector; I didn't know them. No one seemed to care either way. The front row wiggled and swayed. The balcony stayed seated, at least for the time being. The angle's a bit extreme up there.

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And then: Doolittle.

You know all these songs. I got goosebumps as Deal's bored vocals, still the epitome of a distant, clear style that people keep trying and failing to copy, drifted above Black Francis' growl (she kept referring to him as Charles, but I feel obliged to use his Pixies name). After every song, the cheering was so loud I had to plug my ears; during every song, Joey Santiago's guitar cut through everything, piercing and precise. This wasn't like the last Pixies show in Eugene, which left me underenthused and underwhelmed. This felt a little bit more like the echo of a Moment, a flashback that let those of us who never properly appreciated the Pixies — or were just too young, too behind, too dense to get it then — have a glimpse of how it might've been when Doolittle appeared in 1989.


I don't need to tell you what they played; it's right there on the back of your CD case, or maybe your old vinyl sleeve. Certain things more obviously charmed the crowed, though: the first time Black Francis shouted "HEY!" at the beginning of track 13. The distinctive riff of "Here Comes Your Man." Me, I fall for "Hips like Cinderella" every time, and have warm fuzzies about "Wave of Mutilation," mostly thanks to the Pump Up the Volume soundtrack.

For the album's finale — "Gouge Away," if you've forgotten — the screens behind the band reflected the crowd, in blurry, ragged slow-motion. After the last note, the band left the stage, shaking hands and waving; the screens changed, showing the four of them waving, bowing, laughing. "It's meta and kind of awesome," I scribbled in the dark as the stage cleared and the frantic clapping and stomping for an encore ensued.

(I don't recommend being in the balcony when the Hult is full of stomping Pixies fans. It's like Mac Court, but scarier somehow.)


"More b-sides!" Deal yelled when they came back out. "You should probably know these b-sides, though."

Yes: The "U.K. Surf" version of "Wave of Mutilation" — the one from that cassette soundtrack I had all those years ago. I was of two minds about this: Yay, two versions of a song I love! and Hey, are you serious? Two versions of one song? No one seemed to mind. Smoke smothered the stage amusingly, if literally, for "Into the White." For the second encore, the house lights stayed up the entire time. I forgot about watching the band and watched the audience, who unselfconsciously sang every word of "Gigantic," at the end of which Deal executed a tiny curtsey. Two more songs ("You are the son of a motherfucker" is likely not a phrase that's been said from the Silva stage before), and then —

Was there ever any chance they'd end with anything but "Where Is My Mind?" When you have a song like that, with that perfect Pixies dynamic, that echoey, eerie Deal vocal, can you end on any other note? You can't. Even if half of us can't help but think of the end of Fight Club when we hear it, you still don't have any other option. You have to let that song ring and settle and sink, with all its resignation and tricky beauty.

Women in the balcony blew kisses to Kim Deal and the audience on the main floor all but rushed the stage, hands outstretched, when it was over.

Doolittle is 20 years old and crazy influential. But it's ageless. And it, like every Pixies album, is a particular example of the magic of chemistry: You can like the Breeders all you like, you can love Grand Duchy, you can even have a fondness for Cracker. It doesn't matter: The Pixies are more than the sum of their parts.

November 20, 2009 11:13 AM

Two weeks ago, EW wrote about the potential of guerrilla gardening in Eugene as a way for citizens to rise up and overthrow the urban blight left downtown by failed city redevelopment projects.

This week the San Francisco Bay Guardian writes about how guerrilla gardening has taken off in San Francisco with backing even from public works bureaucrats and the mayor.

The paper writes of the transformative power of even temporary green space:

"When people see parking spaces turned into parks, vacant lots blossoming with art and conversation nooks, or old freeway ramps turned into community gardens, their sense of what's possible in San Francisco expands."

San Francisco is converting parking spaces to miniparks, restaurant seating or bike parking. Black granite cubes removed in the 1970s out of fear the homeless might sit on them are being taken out of storage and put back in public spaces. With many vacant lots in the down economy, the city is looking at giving developers incentives if they will allow temporary parks and gardens.

But the coolest thing out of San Francisco may be this pedal powered green machine that instantly converts a parking space into a park:

November 10, 2009 11:11 AM

There have got to be Grateful Dead-loving librarians in this town. It's statistically improbable that there aren't. Right? Right. If you are one of those librarians, boy howdy, does UC Santa Cruz have a job for you:

The University Library of the University of California, Santa Cruz, seeks an enterprising, creative, and service-oriented archivist to join the staff of Special Collections & Archives (SC&A) as Archivist for the Grateful Dead Archive. This is a potential career status position. The Archivist will be part of a dynamic, collegial, and highly motivated department dedicated to building, preserving, promoting, and providing maximum access both physically and virtually to one of the Library's most exciting and unique collections, The Grateful Dead Archive (GDA).

Among the minimum qualifications: "Expert knowledge in the history and scholarship of contemporary popular music, or American vernacular culture, preferably the history and influence of the Grateful Dead."

Get on it, librarians of Eugene. Make us proud.

(Via Boing Boing, of course.)

November 9, 2009 06:22 PM

My colleague Suzi Steffen and I have long disagreed about which Scott Westerfeld series is better. Suzi votes for his Midnighters books, about a group of teens in Bixby, Okla., who are awake for midnight’s magic hour, when clocks freeze but those born at midnight can move freely (if warily; strange things lurk in the midnight hour). I’m for the series that starts with Uglies and is set in a distant (and distantly post-apocalyptic) future in which everyone has an operation, at the age of 16, that turns them gorgeous — and idiotic.

The question might be moot, now. Westerfeld’s latest, Leviathan, is the first of a series — and you’d do well to know that going in, as nothing on the cover suggests that it’s not a standalone. Leviathan takes place in a world where things went a little differently around Darwin’s time. In England, he discovered DNA and figured out how to play with the threads of life, crossbreeding creatures and developing a biology-based military. England is Darwinist, but on the continent, the Clankers have control; in Austria-Hungariy and Germany, people travel in many-legged machines and rely on engines and guns for their defenses. And, of course, their offenses, which quickly come into play when a certain duke is murdered.

Leviathan is a ripping yarn, a classic-feeling adventure story that never forgets that its characters are trucking about their days precariously close to death. In Austria, Alek, the (fictional) young son of Archduke Ferdinand, is on the run from his own countrymen after the murder of his parents; he’s tearing across the continent in a walker, putting his own hours of training (at walker-driving, swordplay and the like) into immediate and dangerous practice. In England, a young Scot by the name of Deryn Sharp is also in hiding, but right out in the open: She’s joined the military (disguised as a boy, of course; this is alternate history, but some things are just the same) and found a place on the Leviathan, a great beastie of an airship that’s part zeppelin and part whale. Bees, bats, hawks, glowworms, hydrogen sniffers and humans are just some of the creatures that are part of the Leviathan's floating ecosystem.

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Deryn is a natural in the air, but for a good reason: her father was a balloonman, and her skills are the result of years of practice (a delight after too many fantasy books in which Our Heroines are just blessed with perfection and the ability to magically and instantly do everything required of them). She’s on the adventure she’s always wished for, while on the ground, Alek is in a terrible place, hunted, grieving, a pawn in a greater battle. Westerfeld switches between their viewpoints with ease, trading out Alek’s dangerous flight from Austria, with its bullets and fear and learning on the run, for Deryn’s life on the Leviathan, where she learns “Service-speak” and spikes dialogue with her own colorful slang.

Much of the book is scene-setting for the war that’s clearly to come, but that’s not to say it’s not fascinating. Leviathan is a story of conflict and contrast — not just the obvious war that’s creeping quickly over the horizon, but between science and technology; between a scientist and a count; between the potential heir to an empire and a girl from no particular background. Westerfeld is careful to keep both the Clankers and the Darwinists sympathetic (though it does seem like the Darwinists have more fun), and the depths to which he envisions his beasties and machines is impressive. It would be easy to get lost during Deryn’s treks through the giant Levitathan, but Westerfeld’s jaunty prose — with a gorgeous assist from Keith Thompson’s illustrations — keeps even a giant sky-beast in context and scope.

Westerfeld was one of the speakers at last month’s Wordstock festival in Portland, and I, late as ever, tore into the convention center in time to see about half of his talk, which mostly involved showing illustrations from Leviathan and discussing what they depicted and how these things related to the story — all while carefully avoiding spoilers and making delicious pronouncements like, “If you’re in a young adult novel, your parents already screwed up.” It was one of a generous handful of highlights of Wordstock, which I found alternately fantastic and frustrating. Its location, in the soulless convention center, was muffling; I tried to keep myself busy with panels and readings so I wouldn’t wind up wandering around the booths too often. They’re all stacked with gorgeous books, sure, but convention center trappings are the same wherever you go, and it gets a touch depressing.

The panels, however, were anything but. Besides Westerfeld, there were a few notable moments:

• Blake Nelson — whose Girl all Portlanders who were alive in the ’80s ought to have read by now — read from his latest, Destroy All Cars. It’s the story of a deeply, amusingly idealistic teenager who rails against automobiles, do-gooders who do nothing but talk and, among other things, big box stores. Nelson was reading on the Target Children’s Stage. The audience tittered appreciatively. While discussing the wide world of young adult publishing, Nelson, seeming sweetly uncomfortable, said, “They kind of overpay you if you write for boys.” Aspiring YA novelists, take note.

• Monica Drake and Gina Ochsner. Whoever put these two wonderful Oregon writers on one panel, well, I thank you. I loved Drake’s 2007 novel Clown Girl but hadn’t read anything by Ochsner. Drake’s reading was a disconcerting and alluring tease, a snippet of story about a new mother, a bottle of pills, the phrase “alone but not alone” repeating like a tolling bell; Ochsner’s was a short story that bowled me over with its gorgeous simplicity, its details, its lovely way of speaking about love and perfection and impossibility. I can’t find the damn story anywhere, though. I need it.

• Ethan Canin. “I’ve never given a reading at which so many people were holding Sherman Alexie books,” began Canin, who spoke not long after Alexie’s (sold-out) appearance. “There must be a reason for that.” I hear from a reliable source that Canin’s self-deprecating, laidback self-presentation — Oh, I hate reading aloud, shall we just talk about stuff, all of you and I? — is the norm for his appearances, but it was my first experience with him, and he was downright charming, telling stories and dispensing nuggets of wisdom about the writing life in equal measure. And when he did, eventually, read from America America, I decided it was about time I pick up one of his books.

• I missed James Ellroy, who was booked opposite Nelson, but reportedly he told an audience member to stuff his question up his ass. I shall never skip a James Ellroy appearance again. Well, unless he’s up against another young adult novelist I adore.

• Patrick deWitt and Maria Semple. I went to this panel out of curiosity about Semple, a former TV writer who worked on Arrested Development, and while the excerpt she read (from This One Is Mine) was bitingly funny, I came out of the reading fixated on deWitt’s debut novel, Ablutions: Notes for a Novel, about a bartender in an L.A. bar that’s seen better days. His second-person prose and knowing tone was more than promising.

• There was a panel called “Willamette Week at 35.” I assumed this would, well, be a panel about the Portland alt-weekly through the years, but instead, it was a panel of former WW writers who’ve published books. I stayed for Katherine Dunn (Geek Love) and Oregonian food critic Karen Brooks, who were both fantastic, down-to-earth, no-bullshit speakers (and writers). I was less impressed with Wordstock founder Larry Colton, who claimed that a) there were no young adults at Wordstock and b) young adults aren’t reading. He pointed to (among other things) the emptiness of Wordstock’s “young adult” area as proof.

The thing is — setting aside, for now, the question of young adults and reading (I don’t have the statistics for it, but I don’t think Colton did, either *) — it wasn’t a young adult area. Sure, there were young adult authors reading on the aforementioned Target stage — but it was part of what is clearly described in the Wordstock program as the “Target Children’s Stage & Activity Area,” with giant crayons and arts and crafts. That’s great! Have a kids’ area! But a kids’ area and a young adult space are entirely different things. Nothing about that space was exceptionally teen-friendly, and beyond that, I’m not sure Wordstock is the most teen-friendly thing in the world (that said, there were definitely teens at the Blake Nelson talk, and the Laini Taylor/Sarah Rees Brennan talk, too). I’m not sure how you make it more so, but again, the convention center is a problem, and so, I think, is the passive nature of most of the events. You go and sit and get talked at. It’s great if you’re already a super book nerd, but how do you get more casual readers to go? Especially teen readers?

I don’t know, but I think this is a question, not a blanket statement like Colton made. What I do know, though, is that just an hour or two earlier that day, I heard a teenager tell her mother, “I wish we’d discovered this earlier.” Her mom asked, Earlier like yesterday? No, the girl said, “like when I was 11 or 12.”

I knew how she felt.

* For some interesting statistics on what teens do read, you could take a look at this recent Publishers Weekly piece.