We’re starting a new feature in which we highlight great bookstores for speculative fiction readers. We welcome your input! If you’ve been to a great bookstore recently, please send us a photo (the SFF section would be great!) and a paragraph or two about why you love that store. I’m kicking us off today with Powell’s in Portland Oregon.
What’s better for booklovers than a good bookstore? As we watch Border’s extinguish itself, having itself already extinguished hundreds of independent bookstores (with help from Amazon and Barnes & Noble), those of us who still love physical books and brick-and-mortar bookstores fear the passing of an era. Fortunately, there are still bookstores that not only survive but thrive. If you’re a book tourist — that is, one who visits good bookstores no matter where in the world they may be — you know where to browse away a day or two.
Every Thanksgiving week, my husband and I make a pilgrimage to Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon. We go in armed with lists of books we haven’t been able to find elsewhere (we could probably find them online, but where’s the fun in that?) and settle in for the day.
And really, you need a day — at least. Powell’s main store (there are a number of branches) bills itself as the “City of Books,” and it is enormous: a full city block occupied by a building that rises up to three or four stories in places, 68,000 square feet containing a million or more books. The store is so big that it issues maps. I spend the bulk of my first day (and yes, we’re usually there several times during our usual four-day trip to Portland) in the Gold Room, which contains science fiction, fantasy, horror and mysteries. I also look over the mainstream fiction and literary criticism (they’re in the Blue Room), and try to get to the cookbooks and foodie books (shelved in the Green Room). Then there’s the Pearl Room, which contains the rare books section, and am often delighted to discover that something I own has become valuable.
Because Powell’s shelves used books together with new ones, I can make decisions about which book is in the best condition for the price, and often whether I want a signed copy. This seems like such a great idea to me, but it remains controversial: some think it decreases the number of new books sold, and thus authors’ royalties. I’ve found, though, that I’m as likely to buy a new book as a used one, depending on the book, and I expect that applies to most readers.
When fatigue sets in, I repair to the café for a sandwich and soda; it’s packed with books, too, mostly graphic novels in an unparalleled collection. I’ve never seen so many graphic novels in any other setting, including comics stores. More than books, though: the café is always packed with booklovers, reading as they sip their lattes. I’ve never been to Powell’s when it wasn’t crammed with customers, including on Thanksgiving Day. Powell’s gives me hope that print culture might survive.
Readers, please let us know about your favorite bookstores! Send Kat a photo of the SFF section, the name and address of the bookstore, and a short explanation about why you love that store.