I spent the weekend in Portland, OR.
Now, I’ve lived in the PNW for a little more than five years, and it pains me to say that other than on drunken rugby weekends with the Old Man, I hadn’t yet spent any time exploring PDX–which is a city, I assure you, that is known for much more than “steak and titties“. With travel credits about to expire, I logged in to Expedia and booked a sweet Starlight Room downtown and planned this weekend. We found a friend to watch the pets and we piled into the truck, sailing out for adventure. The Old Man drove us out and I spent a nice trio of hours chatting with him and catching up on the tower of Vogues from my living room. Upon riding in to town, we picked up the youngest of my brothers-in-law and ate a disgustingly delicious lunch at a hole-in-the-wall burrito joint in the barrio. (Well, as barrio as you can get around these parts….)
From there, it was off to the original reason for this trip, the dream, the goal: Powell’s City of Books. Now, if you Google Powell’s, you’ll see that it is world famous for its size and scope of material. Set on an entire city block, it is a huge building housing books that must number in the millions. It is a compilation of used and new offerings, and, in order to offset the damage you do to your wallet upon entering, they do you the service of buying back any books you don’t want in your own collection. With a $30 credit in hand, I grabbed a handbasket and went to work. From the minute I stepped into the stacks, I was in heaven.
Floor to ceiling shelves stretched as far as my eye could see….row upon row upon row of books dazzled me and I was well nigh overwhelmed. Having been to and enjoyed many a Half Price Books, I thought I knew what I was getting myself into, but I had no idea. It became clear very quickly that I needed a strategy…wandering aimlessly would do me no good. It was time for a plan.
1. Everything Went: there was no way I would have been able to remember and re-find anything I MIGHT HAVE wanted to return to. If I was even the slightest bit interested, I put it in my plastic bin. I sorted everything out and made final decisions just before checking out. (Note: It turns out, my first instinct rules me. I did not put anything back. Not a single thing. It was indulgent and decadent. I will not wince until I pay the credit card bill next month.)
2. Take ‘em Two At A Time: I’m not kidding you, this building was the size of a city block and 3 stories high. The ceilings are approximately 13 feet and each of the bookshelves takes advantage of that entire height. If I were to have walked down a row twice, the first spending time on one side and the second on the other, I’d've been there for days. Instead, I browsed one section of shelves, and then turned around to catch the same section on the other side.
3. Leave No Copy Unturned: From the get-go, I saw that many times, there was more than one edition of a book. I looked through them all to find the least expensive copy. This place is kind of like Costco. Everything is inexpensive, but the sheer nature of buying in bulk is that you’re going to drop a dime or two. It was in my wallet’s best interest that I pinched pennies where I could.
4. Fiction First: Look, I read everything. Theory, classics, history, biography…. My name is Jen, and I’m an addict. The written word is my opiate. I’ll read a cereal box in its entirety if I’m lacking anything else. But my collection, though varied, is ruled by Fiction. My first love, the most dominant, has always been a flight of fancy. My full attention went to this section.
5. Let The Eye Rule: In many ways, if I’m not after something specific, I choose my books like I choose wine at the grocery store: by the label. I’ll be drawn in by the cover, and let the final decision go to the jacket description. At Powell’s there was no other way to do it. Aside from the few recommendations that I was picking up, this was a purely sensory visit. A shopping trip of chance. I wasn’t here to stock up, or round out my shelves (otherwise I’d have spent another chunk of change ONLY on Vonnegut), I simply let myself be drawn in by whim.
In the end, my strategy was only mildly successful. In three hours, I made it through Fiction and was able to skim the Feminist Theory stacks. At the end of the Zs, I stared forlornly down at my bin-o-books. The weight of the basket had become a lesson in the isometric isolation of my biceps and the rain on my parade. I simply couldn’t carry any more. I tripped around a bit, still unwilling to give up the ghost, and then, finally, sat to do my final sort. Sigh. What I needed was a sherpa. And another 8 hours.
I bid a reluctant adieu to the floors and sections of territory that would remain, to me, uncharted, and thunked my spoils down on the cash wrap. With a thrill, I re-chose each title as it was uncovered by the last and handed over my Visa. I called the Old Man to help me with my bags and we headed back to the brewery where he’d been sitting, chatting with his youngest brother for the previous two hours. We sat as I reviewed my spoils and I ordered a drink. Which! Reminds me of:
6. Books + Beer: Pale Ales and paperbacks. Bloody perfect.
The stack is sitting in front of me still—partially because I didn’t sell back enough books to accommodate these which I acquired (this is the express train to an episode of Hoarders, dear reader), but mostly because of the little bit of joy I get from a thing as simple as a teetering pile of tomes. The rest of the weekend was lovely and even mostly sunny. But Powell’s and I have some unfinished business, and I eagerly await my opportunity to return.