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Book People at the Fair – Eugene Weekly

Scott Landfield’s doctor told him he could live to be 100. Good thing, too, because the 70-year-old owner of Tsunami Books feels like he’s just getting started. Book Clerks & Significant Others, published last year, is only Tsunami Press’s second publication. It is a love letter to the bookstore and a thank-you note to the workers and others who have had a hand in its success. 

“What better way to tell the story of these people,” Landfield says, “but through their own writing?” 

The collection includes stories and poetry by 27 writers in total, a large handful of whom will be representing their work at the 2024 Oregon Country Fair on Saturday, July 13, at the Front Porch stage, as part of the Fair’s Spoken Word series.

The book begins and ends with short stories by Tsunami Books co-founders David Rhodes and Landfield. Rhodes stayed with the store for 12 years before moving on to new adventures elsewhere in the world, and Landfield has been with Tsunami since it opened some 30 years ago. 

The book business was not Landfield’s first career. He came to Eugene in 1978 as part of “the migration,” he says, referring to the young adults who moved here from across the country in the ’60s and ’70s looking for work and alternative lifestyles. They bought land, built communities and created workplaces that were more egalitarian than those found in mainstream society. Landfield found a job with a reforestation cooperative called the Hoedads and planted trees for about 20 years.  

“I planted a million trees,” he says. 

When his body began to give out due to the strenuous physical labor, he opened the bookstore. Not one to judge success in dollar amounts, he freely discusses financial difficulties he has faced trying to keep Tsunami Books afloat all these years. Money has never been a prime motivating factor. In the introduction to the anthology, he describes himself as “Self-made, hard-working, fumbling, broke.”   

Meeting at the store, we sat on “the stage,” a small wooden platform that he made with a friend. It was originally not intended for anyone other than himself. He built it to have a place to sit and write. Once upon a time, he had ambitions of becoming a novelist and of establishing an independent press, too. But in the beginning, running the store took all his time, and the stage became a place around which the community gathered. 

Thousands of events have taken place at the store, he says, including writing group workshops, poetry slams, musical performances and “even a wedding.” 

Landfield’s work in Book Clerks & Significant Others is his first published work of creative fiction, and it likely would not have happened had Steve Ellerhoff not come to work in the store. 

In 2020, during the first year of the pandemic, Ellerhoff lost not one but two jobs. One was working as a tutor at Lane Community College and the other was in receiving, unloading boxes at Barnes & Noble. Being hired full-time as a book clerk at Tsunami Books, he says, “was a huge score.” 

It was a score for Landfield, too. 

After he revealed to his new employee that he wished he could publish a memoir by local literary celebrity Ken Babbs, Ellerhoff guided him through the process. With his background as a published scholar and editor, and a doctorate from the School of English at Trinity College Dublin, Ellerhoff helped Landfield launch Tsunami Press.

The press’s first publication, in 2022, was Babbs’ book Cronies, A Burlesque: Adventures with Ken Kesey, Neal Cassady, the Merry Pranksters and the Grateful Dead.

Babbs’ short story in the new anthology is about farm life and taking care of animals, while Ellerhoff, who is the volume’s associate editor, tells a tale from the animals’ perspective. Ellerhoff won’t be going to the Fair. He doesn’t mind, saying, someone has to stay behind and “mind the store.”

It shouldn’t be surprising that people who like to read also like to write. But having studied in Ireland, Ellerhoff notes a cultural difference: “Book people” in Ireland are open about their writing, while Americans shy away from sharing that aspect of themselves.  

That difference may be changing, if the Oregon Country Fair is any indication. Landfield says there have never been as many literary events at the Fair as there are in 2024, and he is encouraged by the increase in interest. 

He is excited about publishing more, too. Among the projects on his wish list for future books is one by Emily Poole. She is another clerk at the store with a bundle of talent. An artist as well as writer, she donated the cover drawing for Bookstore Clerks & Significant Others, and she did the illustration for this year’s Oregon Country Fair poster. 

The Writers and Artists of Tsunami Press — 1:30 pm Saturday, July 13, on the Front Porch stage — is one of the many spoken word performances at the Oregon Country Fair. Find them all at OregonCountryFair.org.

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