Powell's City of Books. Photo by lwy, under cc.

Every so often, I get to visit Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon. When I was little, I always asked my parents to buy me issues of Asterix the Gaul that I didn’t already own. Now, I buy my own books, and endeavor not to bankrupt myself in the process.

The last time I was there, I got so many books that I could barely fit them all into the generously-sized baskets they provide their shoppers. The clerk said, as she rang me up, “you’re not from around here, are you?” When I said no, she said that she could always tell — it was the visitors who bought heaps of books, not the locals. “It’s almost like it’s a pilgrimage,” she said.

In a lot of ways, it is. For a gatherer, Powell’s City of Books is a sort of Mecca. Check out this map (pdf) and you’ll see why – over a million books are on the shelves. The place takes up an entire city block! What makes it particularly exciting to browse there is that used books are shelved right alongside new ones. You never know what treasures you’re going to find. I’ve snapped up reasonably-priced, good-condition copies of out-of-print books I never thought I’d get my hands on, sitting quietly next to the latest trade paperback. Plus, there’s the Rare Book Room, which is the sort of collection that inspires hushed reverence from book collectors. I’ve seen some amazing things up there — not that I could afford any of them, but man. Getting to see them was almost as awesome.

I’m going to be going there again next month, and I can’t wait!

This is probably a symptom of my bibliomania — after all, I haven’t finished reading the books I bought last year! But even so, it’s hard not to feel a thrill at the thought of tracking down rare books I don’t have yet. I’ve started making a little list of things to look for when I’m there, and looking eagerly at the money I’ve been saving the last few months. I’ve even got a count-down widget on my smartphone (34 days!).


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2 Responses to Pilgrimage

  1. jillian says:

    I’m not even a bibliophile but when I visited there last month – I was memorized! It’s like a labyrinth where you don’t want to find your way out!

  2. Mazarine says:

    I was there last month, doing research for my book, and it was the best! I wish there was something like Powells in Austin. I got 10 books under my belt by the time I left! So fun to sit in the coffeeshop and decide which books you want to buy, while sipping a delicious trilogy kombucha!

    So happy you are going to powell’s, they had to lay off 1500 people earlier this year, and it really sucked a lot. I hope my friends who work there have a safety net just in case.



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