When we were in the middle of wedding planning madness, one of the things that I was most looking forward to when we were finally married was going to Powell’s Books in Portland, OR.
I have been hearing about Powell’s for years. Portland has become a popular destination in the last few years and every time someone came back they would ask me “Have you ever been to Powell’s?” And I never had been which seemed like some cruel cosmic joke. Several lovely people have brought something back for me from Powell’s, it being a place that, when they visited, made them think of me. But these bookish delights only made me want to go more: getting a souvenir from a place is but a temporary respite from the knowledge that you’ve never actually been to said place.
Finally, the wedding was over, the out-of-towners had gone home (that part was actually sad, I wish that they could just be here for always) and my new husband and I were headed to Portland.
It’s about a six hour drive to get from here to Portland if traffic is on your side and it was. We left before six and were in Portland just after noon. After a quick pit stop at the food trucks, we went to Powell’s.
My first impression was that it was too much bookstore for me to handle. It was really busy (holiday Monday) and I just didn’t even know where to start. Powell’s is held together by some kind of magic, kind of like the Weasley’s house. Each room has rooms leading off of it which lead to other rooms and staircases that take you to other levels with more rooms. And they are all filled with so many books. And things that people who love books will love: bags and bookmarks and prints and mugs and reading lamps and pint glasses and reading glasses and literary t-shirts etc.
Aside from its warren-like qualities, its immense size (it’s the size of a city block and goes up several floors) and the plethora of goodies on offer, here’s the most magical thing about Powell’s: its selection.
Powell’s is home to new and used books and they are all mixed in together. Which means that you can basically find every single book you’ve ever wanted and you can probably choose which version you like best and if you would prefer it new or used. This meant that I was finally able to find a copy (several in fact) of Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country. Normal bookstores usually have The House of Mirth and/or The Age of Innocence but they never have The Custom of the Country which traditionally rounds out Wharton’s Novels of New York. Bonus: they also had several copies of The Buccaneers which a) I always see as a mini-series on Netflix and b) I had no idea was also a novel by Edith Wharton.
Powell’s is also always busy. The first day, on a holiday Monday, you kind of expect it to be busy. But we went back late in the evening on the second trip and it was still so busy. Book lovers were all over the place, quietly perusing the shelves, reverently reading book jackets, carefully selecting their purchases. Book love is alive and thriving in Portland.
After years of never having been to Powell’s I went to Powell’s twice in three days, both times I spent hours in there. And considering how much time I spent wandering through their colour coded literary colossus, I would say that I showed remarkable restraint, coming away with only six books (the husband picked up three of his own but they totally don’t count against my total), two totes (one is a gift), and a bookmark.
My only regret is that Powell’s is a six hour drive away so it will likely be some time until I can return.