If any of you read my post on the Miami Book Fair International, you know that I love books! In fact just the other day I maxed out my number of holds at the Miami-Dade County Public Library… I had been keeping track of “Best of 2014” book lists I came across on Twitter during the holidays and requested a bunch online. Unfortunately you can only have 25 books on hold at a time… Most of them have a lot of hold requests (understandably given the books’ popularity), so they will probably come in waves throughout the year. I’m also hoping that since these books have a lot of hold requests I’ll be more focused and diligent about reading them (since I won’t be able to renew them for longer).
Now when I am back in Portland, it makes perfect sense that a book lover and Portland native would have one very specific place to visit. That would be Powell’s City of Books! These days it’s quite a must-do touristy sight for visitors to Portland (along with Voodoo Doughnuts), but Powell’s has been a Portland institution for many decades. It’s supposedly the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world. It’s definitely a book lover’s dream. Unlike Voodoo Doughnuts (which has gotten way too touristy and that I would never visit even if I could eat doughnuts), Powell’s is a must any time I am in Portland.
In the past, books were always something I liked to give family members as part of their Christmas present. So a stop at Powell’s usually happened right when I got back to Portland. This year I had gotten other things, so I decided to wait until after Christmas. On any given day with visitors and book lovers Powell’s can be pretty packed. During the holiday shopping season it can kind of be a madhouse. Still a great place to get books, but not the best time to browse and roam (which is my favorite thing to do at Powell’s).
On the Sunday after Christmas I decided to do some errands downtown and figured I’d stop by Powell’s to browse. Looking back on it, a weekend in general is busy at Powell’s, but this holiday weekend especially probably wasn’t much better than the days during the holiday shopping season. Luckily it was not the craziness I’ve encountered on December 23rd (when I have been to Powell’s several times over the years). It was still busy enough though that I didn’t browse for too long.
For a combination birthday/holiday present for my best friend I had come across “The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and The Game of Thrones” while out shopping a week before. I had seen Tweets about this coming out, but don’t think I realized how cool of a book it was! It’s like a legit Game of Thrones history book with tons of pictures, stories, profiles on kings, and more. Plus like encyclopedia large and almost like a faux-leather cover. The coolest! I almost didn’t want to give it away as a present… I did end up giving it as a gift as planned, but it meant that when I was at Powell’s the next weekend it was the first book on my list. Seeing it again and holding it in my hands I knew I needed to get it!
What I love about Powell’s is that they make it pretty easy to find books that you’d want to read. They have big displays of the best sellers (typical of most bookstores), but they also have displays with books recommended by employees, customers, other authors, etc. It’s a cool part of the store (the Green Room) to peruse and have a high probability of finding a book you’ll love. I looked at the best sellers for a bit and decided to get “Gone Girl”. I want to watch the movie when it comes out on DVD, but I always like to read the book first. I figured there’d be a long hold list at the library and this would be a good investment.
Once I had grabbed the Game of Thrones book and Gone Girl I started my usual roam around Powell’s. However I quickly found that it was a bit busier than I wanted to deal with, so I just bought my books and headed out. Very likely I’ll be back before I leave to browse more, but if not I know I will be back on many future trips!
In total there are 9 very large rooms of books all identified by different colors. There are also stations and employees to help you search for specific books. The two things together help you navigate and find things pretty easily. Even if you have something specific in mind, I think every trip to Powell’s should involve at least a little browsing. The different topics of books available at Powell’s I feel like are as close to infinite as humanely possible, so I won’t try and list off (or even categorize) what each color room has. Just know that Powell’s has over 68,000 square feet and over a million books on their shelves.
The two things I will highlight are their counter to sell used books in the Orange Room and the rare book room on the 3rd floor (Pearl Room). Powell’s buys over 3,000 used books every day, which means there are tons of lightly used, affordable books to buy on their shelves. It’s also a nice way to make some cash if you have books lying around. The rare book room is on the complete opposite end of the spectrum from the more affordable used books. Powell’s collection has several thousand expensive and beautiful books (many of which you can see on display in the Rare Book Room). According to their website the oldest book they currently have is from 1480 (De Bello Judaico [with] De Antiquitate Judaeorum Contra Apionem) and the most expensive book is priced at $350,000 (History of the Expedition Under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark to the Sources of the Missouri, Thence Across the Rocky Mountains and Down the River Columbia to the Pacific Ocean). The entire collection is worth approximately $1.8 million, which is an average of $200 a book.
I fully support Powell’s becoming a bit of a tourist destination in Portland (even if it means more people every time I visit). I definitely want everyone to love books and Powell’s is a place that can inspire that love. All book lovers should make Powell’s a stop when visiting Portland. For all others- my first question is WHY ARE YOU NOT A BOOK LOVER?! However if that’s how you feel and you’re just looking for a cool Portland experience you should also make a stop at Powell’s. You can spend hours wandering around and perusing through books. Check out this map of their main location to get an idea for where things are, but you can also navigate pretty easily once you’re there. That is unless you have a million different topics you want to explore (like me) and then it becomes hard to decide which one to do first. But Powell’s makes it easy once you make that decision. And if it’s hard to make a decision just check out the Green Room, which has the best sellers and recommended books!
Powell’s City of Books- 1005 West Burnside St Portland, OR