The Ultimate Bookstore: Powell’s in Portland

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.


Book Crimes

With less than three weeks to go until my wedding, my reading time is suffering in a bad way. Every day is some kind of wedding related something: trials to make me beautiful, meetings to make the venue beautiful, fittings, running down the perfect ribbon/candles/stationary, writing thank you cards, crafting timelines, dropping off cake toppers, tracking down the right kind of rentals – these things take up an insane amount of time.

The good news is that it’s almost over and then! Then I will go to Powell’s.

In the meantime, I will try to put reviews up as much as I can but the (reading) future looks bleak.

Today though, I thought we could discuss book crime. Without any further segue way…here’s a list of things I consider bookish crime.

Seeing the movie before reading the book. The other day I won tickets to the premier of This Is Where I Leave You based on the book by Jonathan Tropper. And I was all excited until I realized that I hadn’t read the book. In my world, this is the ultimate book crime: seeing the movie without having read the book. Admittedly these days you really do need to be more choosey – seems like all movies are based on books and we can’t possibly read/see them all. But seeing the movie without having read the source material (when said source material is available) seems like a shortcut to me, one that can’t be undone. If the movie was great and then you want to read the book, you will go through the reading all “it was better in the movie” or God forbid “that’s not what it was like in the movie!” Thankfully I’ve now read This Is Where I Leave You and look forward to a proper comparison when I see the movie tomorrow night.

Buying move tie-in covers when the originals are available. Equally criminal. I get it – sometimes you have no choice because the movie poster covers are the only ones available and getting this version is a lesser book crime than not reading it before you see it. But given the option? Original book cover should win every time.

Destroying books in the interest of arts and crafts. Pinterest has been a great help to me in the months that I’ve been crafting my wedding day. But it’s also the reason that people keep tearing old books apart to make crafts. Paper roses made out of pages torn from your favourite books? Ink drawings on the pages of old dictionaries? Backdrops made out of stapled pages? Bookmarks made out of book spines?! These hurt my heart. It should come as no surprise that there will be a literary bent to my wedding but no books were harmed in the making.

Stealing my books. When I loan you my books, I expect that you will read them, look after them and then, crucially, return them to me. Otherwise you’re just stealing.

Defiling library books. I feel like the library has similar expectations and hopes that you won’t get nasty crusty detritus smeared all over the pages. Or drop it in the tub. Or spill food on the pages. Or let their books get infested with bed bugs. All of these things: book crime.

Having no books in the house and being proud of that fact. I know that people love their e-readers. I get the appeal, even though I still do not want one. But not having any books in your house because you have an e-reader is the worst thing I’ve ever heard. People that describe books as “clutter” might as well rip out my heart and stomp on it. Books are not clutter and a “room without books, is like a body without a soul” (Marcus Tullius Cicero) so there!

What do you consider a book crime?