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Powell’s City of Books: Soaking up the litmosphere

I was in a labyrinth. A maze of bookshelves. Amid a community of new and used paperbacks and hardbacks. I had no idea where I was, yet I was completely found. I was in heaven.

Powell’s City of Books was the only requisite stop on my visit to Portland, a town more suited to unplanned strolling than an itinerary. But I couldn’t miss out on Powell’s. This is a bookstore the size of a city block, with over 1.6 acres of retail floor space. It has four levels and sections designated to just about every book category imaginable. Maps are available on entry, yet it’s still a struggle to navigate.

In a word, this bookshop is amazing.

The facade says it all.

“POWELL’S BOOKS” it shouts from its corner sign. Underneath are the names and dates of visiting authors. I couldn’t help but imagine my name tacked up there one day. Wouldn’t that be nice?


The columns resemble piles of classical books. Need I say more?

book column at powell's books

This “Pillar of Books” is a sandstone carving with eight of the world’s great books. The inscription around the base reads:

“Buy the book, read the book, enjoy the book, sell the book.”

And then there’s inside. Four levels and a coffee shop. Colour codes mark out the 3,500 different sections. Subsections include astronomy, atlases, erotica, home construction, languages, manga, metaphysics, nautical fiction, railroads, rare books, role playing games … *deep breath* … travel, woodworking … and so much more.

Every which way you look, you’re inspired, as with this citation above the check out counters:

citation above powell's books checkout counters

This is a place where you’re amid likeminded people. Book lovers want to stop you in the aisles to talk about the selection. You take sly glimpses of the piles of books the person next to you is holding to see if your tastes align. But you’re already buddies: this person loves books just as much as you, even if they’re cradling comic books or young adult fantasy epistles.

And when your fellow hostellers eagerly snatch the chance to visit the bookstore with you … well, you know you’ve found your lot.

Self-control is non-existent here. There are grocery baskets to carry your growing burden. Travellers lament the additional weight they will have to carry in their backpacks or suitcases. But it’s worth it, we all reason.

And it really is.

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  • Reply
    July 30, 2015 at 6:58 am

    “I had no idea where I was, yet I was completely found. I was in heaven.”

    Enough said!! This has been put on on the to do list!!

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