I first learned about Powell’s from reading Don Miller, who you may or may not recognize as having the distinction of being both the author of great books such as Blue Like Jazz and A Million Miles in A Thousand Years and my favourite author. Don lives in Portland and has mentioned Powell’s in blog posts, live video blogs, and perhaps also in a book or two (I cannot say for certain this last fact. I’ll have to look it up and get back to you).
I had forgotten about this bookstore until sometime earlier this year. When I decided to move to Vancouver, a professor at MUN advised me I had to take a trip to Portland and go to Powell’s, a bibliophile’s heaven. Suddenly it was as though my whole purpose for moving to the West Coast was clear - I would go to the world’s largest bookstore, and get to meet Don Miller in the same trip. A flawless plan.
A bit of background: Powell’s is a bookstore. It is an enormous bookstore. What is so distinctive about it, however, is that it is the largest new and used independent bookstore in the entire world. Not only do they buy thousands of books a day, but they also house vast collections of rare books, as well as autographed copies, first editions, and out-of-print materials. And it’s independently owned. I should clarify that it’s not the largest bookstore in terms of floor space - that claim to fame belongs to a Chapters in Toronto. But it is the largest in terms of shelf-space - Wikipedia tells me it has “about 1.6 acres (6,500 m2) of retail space.” They also have six locations, including a store dedicated to just technical books.
So, clearly, this is my type of shopping experience. When Tammy and I walked into Powell’s, I was instantly overwhelmed. There were bookshelves everywhere. The front room, which is probably the size of an average mall bookstore, was dedicated solely to New Arrivals and Best Sellers. Before I had even scanned four shelves I had a basket filled with books, and I knew this would be a hard day on my wallet.
The store is divided into different coloured rooms - red, blue, orange, gold, purple, pearl, etc. Each room is dedicated to certain genres: the red room is children’s books, young adult fiction, animals, motherhood; orange is cooking, gardening, miscellaneous hobbies, sale books; purple is history, politics, philosophy, languages; pearl is art, drama. And these are just a sampling of the many, many categories. I mean, I didn’t know there were that many types of books even written! There was an entire hall dedicated to audio books! Shelves and shelves of CD books - unbelievable!
I had combed through the gold room first - new arrivals, best sellers, discounted classics - and then moved onto the red room. The great thing about Powell’s is that there are multiple copies of each book stacked among each other. Autographed copies next to first editions next to hard covers next to used copies of the same book. I found this particularly lovely, as the cover of a book is just as important as the content - who wants to own an ugly movie-cover book? So I spent a lot of time picking editions and covers of books carefully; if you can get an autographed hardback book for the same price as a softcover, why on earth would you not?
By the time I got to the blue room - literature, poetry, classics, reference materials - I was thoroughly overwhelmed. But I pressed on, a basket overflowing with reading materials, pondering which edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass would look best on my shelf and mulling over signed copies of David Sedaris’ Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim to find the best signature.
I decided early on to get some books that I’ve been meaning to get for a while, but also to buy books that I wouldn’t normally pick up for whatever reason - too expensive, have other books that are more “important” to read, etc. Luckily, the prices of new books Powell’s were kind of amazing, and their used books are in such great condition that you wouldn’t know they had been touched before.
So I picked up some essentials that have been missing on my shelf - Elie Wiesel’s trilogy Night - Dawn - Day, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, the poems of John Keats - as well as some books I have wanted but haven’t been able to justify buying before - Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader, the third in Ann Brashare’s Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, Bill Bryson’s newest At Home, Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights. I also picked up a bunch of books completely randomly - Jose Saramago’s All the Names, Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, a collection of essays edited by Nick Hornby called Speaking With the Angel, David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green - among others. I also managed to pick up a few gifts for others for Christmas.
My trip to Powell’s was, in a word, great. I didn’t get to give my full attention to the history section or the art book, so I obviously have to go back. Hopefully I’ll make it back to Oregon next semester sometime and be able to squeeze in another great trip to Powell’s.
In other news, MASSIVE shout-out to Wheels, who sent me a lovely little package. I received it in the mail this morning. It contained stickers, Rockets (my fave Hallowe’en candy), a mini-Newfoundland flag, and a letter! It was so nice to get her package, as I was not expecting it in the slightest! Who doesn’t love snail-mail, especially when it’s unexpected? I also received a card from Kayla’s Bible study group, several letters from Zaren, and a great care package from Mom since I’ve been here. THANK YOU all. It is so nice to be remembered via Canada Post! You don’t know how much it means, so countless thank yous.
PS - Buy the Glee Christmas album. OMG SO GOOD.