Powell’s City of Books

One of the finest “Tweets” I’ve ever seen was the one I saw today by Sarah Pinborough.

“The writers’ diary. ‘Wrote 1500 hundred words today, watched Youporn then made some notes on new pitch.’ Repeat 7 times.”

Of course you did! Doesn’t everyone? People write on every topic these days, don’t they? You go into Barnes & Noble and there are books upon books, all over the place. The topics range from graphic novels to literature to how-to books all the way over to the bizarre. There’s the ephemeral literature which sit on their shelves just for brief moments, when they’re replaced. And on the opposite side of the store you have the books that will never go away, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, War and Peace, and The Complete Works of Charles Dickens.
I would say this is a beautiful thing. We are in an era where there is more information coming out about a wider range of topics than ever before. What a fine time to be alive and in the middle of all of it. Yes, there is the influx of the e-reader and, yes, the way of the traditional newspaper is fading into its own absence, just as Queen Maab’s ‘old ways’ faded from the minds of the commoners during the reign of Merlin in the miniseries of the same name. But, the book is still very much alive, and not likely to perish altogether anytime soon. My proof for this? Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon.

Just this past weekend my wife and I made the short drive south, crossing the border into a more Oregonian side of life. We were unsure of the attractions in the city, but we did know of a well-known bookstore – Powell’s. We only had a short window to see as much of the local area as we could and were taken by surprise to find just how much of that window browsing through Powell’s occupied.
A suitable preface to the size of the place may be grasped a bit better by letting the reader know of the Powell’s iPhone/iPad app that is available.
The store is a five-story concrete edifice which bullies the surrounding buildings with its size – throwing its weight around to take up a full city block. A shifting curtain of cars encircle its red-bricked sides hoping for divine intervention to grant them a nearby slot to park. From afar it’s this curtain which gives the building some sort of ominous feel, as if it were another building out of a yet-to-be-made Ghostbusters film – another instance of validation for Ray, Egon, Peter, and Winston to stay employed. But the mystery and allure of it only begins once one approaches the entrance, and when you’re inside, assuming you are the bibliophile the writer believes you to be, you feel like you’ve finally made it home.
Slipping past the pillar inscribed with four Latin phrases just in front of the main entrance, you almost have to stop and think about where you want to start. Then you think, “Where in the hell do I start?” There is no starting point to the tub of fresh chocolate marshmallows, you just dive in. It’s beautiful and almost beyond description. The mega book emporium is divided into colored sections (yes, Portland is as liberal as it gets, but Powell’s takes it back to good ol’ segregated America) with each color representing its own genre. There’s young adult, speculative, literary, psychological, linguistic and so on and so forth. There’s even an entirely separate branch of Powell’s (Powell’s 2) on the next block over solely for technical books. Jesus. Good guy.

The time flies before you know it and when Kerrie and I finally looked up, the sun had gone down and it was dinner time. I had to make one last stop before we left this place, my new favorite book store. I had to go the ‘Rare Books Room.’
You walk in and you feel like you’re on hallowed ground. Autographed first editions and first printings waved at me from behind myriad glass cases running up and down each of the four walls. Price tags bolted through the ceiling and collectible sets and rare editions of books were there to tempt the book lover of every degree.  I had to ask what their most expensive item was and the woman behind the counter in the room laid a laminated sheet in front of me.
“We don’t even carry this in the store,” she said. “It’s Lewis & Clark’s original map of the interior of the United States.”
The price was a mere $350,000.00.  That sealed it for me. It was time to go.

If Portland is ever on your to do list, no matter how little time you have there, you must go to Powell’s. Even when the statistics show the world of creativity being eaten up by the jaws of technology, it’s nice to know that we still have a fighting chance with book empires such as these.


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