Tuesday, October 16, 2007

I love good bookstores

So...instead of picking up the trade paperback of 'The Exterminators', I ended up with something completely different. This is the risk you run when you shop your local bookstore instead of the mega-box near the mall. Don't get me wrong - I'm not taking sides on this one at all. I love both kinds of book stores.

What is it that makes a book store awesome though? Is it a huge selection? A hyper-specialized selection? Great staff? Awesome prices?

I'm pretty much of the opinion that it's all the above. The more a store has all of those qualities, the more awesome it is. But can a store really have all of them?

Ummmm...yeah. And that store is Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon. If you're ever, ever, ever in the Portland area you must stop there. It is Mecca for book lovers. I would stack Powell's against any book store in the world and it would never let me down.

First off, the place is enormous. It's a city block large with multiple floors. They give you a color-coded map when you walk in and you'll need it. Big can be daunting, but in the case of Powell's it's more of a wondrous marvel. Everything is just where you would suspect it of being - which is a very nice surprise indeed.

All those books also means that you're very likely to find what you're looking for. Out of print? Probably not much of a problem - they'll likely have it stocked.

They have both new and used books too. And, unlike most places, they shelve them together. Looking for Tom Sawyer? You'll have your choice of buying a new copy or picking one of several used copies. You have no idea how cool that is until you're standing there picking books off the shelf - adjusting your running total in your head as you go. You can often double or triple the amount of books you walk out with just by buying used.

They're also the place to go if you need to find a book on - let's say - the structural engineering specifications for bridge building, or how to build your own sailboat, or the collected writings of some obscure romantic poet.

The staff is great too. They all know books and they know their store. I've never had rude treatment there in my many trips either. There are a lot of places that could take some lessons in customer care from Powell's.

They're online too and every bit as slick as Amazon, but I would rather give my money to Powell's. In my mind, Powell's is the original and everyone else is a pale imitation - including Amazon, I might add.

Anyway, this whole spiel came from nothing more than starting with the idea that I bought a book by Ethan Hawke - 'The Hottest State'. I'm not done with it yet, but I'll let you know. So far, it seems to be a nice little story about first love. It's got angst and all that good stuff, so we shall see. One of the links I found for it was Powell's site. So, there it is - a rather imperfect circle.


thephoenixnyc said...

What makes a bookstore -

-Musty smell
-Smell of leather bindings
-Pretentious bespectacled sour owner

Anything else is a fake!

Laura said...

There's two Powell's in Chicago if you're ever lookin for a road trip...

THere's also a great store in Long Beach that is just this warehouse of old books. I found a 1st edition Mutiny on the Bounty for my dad there.

Used bookstores are awesome.

Shawn said...

PNYC - Right on! I love all the above. You would like the Rare Book Room at Powell's - everything but the cat and the bespectacled isn't sour so much as supremely uptight.

Laura - Cool. Mutiny on the Bounty? That's not one that would pop into my mind as a gift, but it's cool.

I think the Powell's in Chi-town were the original spot and then they moved to Portland, expanded a lot and sold the original. It would be cool to check out.

dbackdad said...

Used book stores rule. There used to be a about a half dozen along Camelback here in Phx that I used to troll for books on chess.

I always tend to the used bookstores but I love all book stores and will go to the chains also. When we were in L.A. this weekend, I went to the coolest Barnes and Noble that I had ever seen at the Grove at Farmer's Market. It's a 3 level store and Peter of Peter, Paul and Mary was there at the time doing a book signing of Puff the Magic Dragon.

Anna said...

I'm completely jealous of your book store. I live in a small town, and we have one "book store" that sells new books. At last count, I think there were, oh, five books in there. Total. We also have a used book store, but it's not organized AT ALL; it seems like, when someone brings books there for him to sell, he just puts whatever they brought on whichever shelf has the most space. So you'll find, say, Edgar Allen Poe between some battered children's book and a book of witchcraft. It's miserable.

Don't get me wrong, there are two Borders within an hour of us, though (one an hour east, and one an hour west), but one of those is a mall store, so the selection is limited; the other one never seems to have what I'm looking for.

So, as an avid reader, and someone who loves to collect books and spend hours in book stores, I'll say it again: JEALOUS.

Shawn said...

DbackD - I hope you picked up a signed copy of Puff while you were there. Every home should have one.

Anna - Not that it will make the selections any better for you at your little town bookstore, but you can at least know that I don't **sniff** live near Powell's anymore. So, you don't have to be jealous.

But, speaking of jealous, I wish I had your new kitchen!

SME said...

I don't think any single bookstore could be all things for me. I need some variety...weird places with cats for that out-of-print excitement, and a plain ol' box store when I just want a cheap potboiler.
My fave bookstore was in Duluth. An elderly man and his wife gradually filled 3 stories of their waterfront Victorian home with books, finally squeezing themselves into the attic to make way for well-stocked religion, philosophy, history, and children's sections. They had everything.

The Zombieslayer said...

I'll keep that in mind next time I go to Portland.

I like what Phoenix said. I'm all about the pretentious bespectacled sour owner. That will be me in 30 years. And I love leather bounded books. Bring back leather!