City of Books
I’d been looking forward to the last week of April for about 6 months. A good friend of my wife’s was getting married and had invited us to the ceremony and weekend activities. The event was to take place at the Hotel Monaco in Portland, Oregon.
I’d only been to Portland once before (in the summer of 2003) and honestly didn’t enjoy most of that trip. We stayed in a cheap hotel on the southeast end of town, had to drive and fight for parking way too much…
But I really enjoyed my time exploring Powell’s Books. I vividly recall walking into the store, feeling overwhelmed by the massive shelves, the sheer number of books, the impossibility of ever seeing everything.
When I heard the wedding was in Portland, I knew I was going to return to Powell’s and that was an amazing feeling. I made my list of 1st printings I wanted to find (it’s a new passion for me, collecting certain books in 1st printings. I am more of a snob all the time) and tried to keep my anticipation at a minimum.
We picked our hotel (The Mark Spencer, a great place if you’re looking to stay in a great area of downtown Portland. The food options alone will blow your mind) from those near the Monaco and in close proximity to Powell’s. We couldn’t have done better. This is the view from our hotel window.
We arrived on Friday and planned to spend all day Monday at the bookstore, but when our dinner with the bride and groom ended earlier than we expected, we had several hours to spend exploring and shopping.
In my head, I was going to find all these amazingly clean copies of books I’d been looking for for quite a while. When I reached the halfway point of my list and hadn’t found a single 1st printing, I began to worry. In my memory, Powell’s was the place to find specific copies of books, not just any old mass market or trade copy, but that is all I was finding.
Then the flood gates opened. I found 80% from the second half of my list. So many that my basket was almost too full for me to effectively search for more. My arms grew tired.
I also learned how tricky the staff at Powell’s can be. After my success in the second half of the list (and finally noticing copies in the staff only section), I revisited the first half, checking the overflow shelves to see if I’d missed anything. Sure enough, just out of my reach was a hardbound edition of a Russell Banks book I was looking for. I had to get a staff member to retrieve it, which I hated doing, but it was worth my discomfort as I found a signed 1st printing of Cloudsplitter ($6.95 people). This trend continued with other authors, multiple trade copies on lower shelves and editions I wanted up high. It makes sense- Leave the less valuable copies where the average buyer can see them, and place the collectible copies just out of reach.
My unexpected score was a 1st printing of Watership Down. Of course when I was showing it to a friend, some of the glue snapped. Luckily the binding is sewn as well as glued, so it isn’t a total disaster.
We visited the bookstore almost every day and I regret nothing.
All in all I spent way too much money, but when I look at my shelves, see some completed collections, it makes my heart glad. Of course there are still many books to buy, and I have to decide if I want to hope for the serendipity of a thrift store or independent bookstore find or give in and buy from online sites.
As for the wedding- It was incredible. I get very emotional at weddings, and I am unashamed to admit that I usually cry. There is something wonderful about two people finding each other in this crazy world that always warms my heart. It is especially poignant when the people are older and have had a rough go of things, been treated badly.
Yeah, I’m a romantic and that’s fine.
Here is one last photo- some cool art on a building near our hotel.
What is your favorite bookstore? What sort of things do you collect? Am I a total nutjob?