Powell’s City of Books, established in 1971, is the largest independent bookseller in the world. Titles spread over a city block, arrayed in color-coded rooms. Blue for literature and poetry. Pearl for art and photography.
It’s poetry month, so all titles were 15% off. I love a sale, and took advantage and milked it as illicit permission to linger longer amongst the poets, including my crush, Shakespeare. I pored over selections ranging from brand-spanking new LGTBQ poems to rarer, older tomes wrapped in protective plastic. I passed a red Shakespeare t-shirt that read: “This shit writes itself,” but resisted the temptation to buy it, and snapped a photo instead.
It’s a readers’, writers’, and book lovers’ paradise, so big and so awesome that I visited twice on my first day in Portland. This is a marathon, not a sprint, so I checked out and shipped the first basketful of books off before I went to reload. Also, I had to stop for sustenance and to regroup mid visit. Fortunately, the World Cup coffee shop is located in the red room surrounded by erotica, anime, and manga.
The level of eclectic here is unrivaled on the Post Road. The metal hanging from one cashiers ears looked like replacement auto parts.
I felt self conscious because my hair is just brown and not some color of the ubiquitous rainbow. Portland is delightfully inclusive, and rainbow posters in many establishment windows proclaim that loud and proud.
A man sat close by crafting daffodils, calla lilies, and morning glories from napkins and straw wrappers. Between each creation he hand danced like an Olympic ribbon gymnast with his raw materials to music from his earbuds.
A Kathy Bates (circa “Misery”) look alike and her look alike husband sat, comfy and dumpy, hunched over a mountain of books and their lattes. It may have been Easter Sunday, but this was their church.
My seat at the wooden counter at the window allowed me to watch the world go by: Buffalo Vintage across the street was closed for the holiday, but Patagonia and Icebreaker Merino were bustling. The passing cars were small and disproportionately electric, and the bicycles plentiful. And by some stroke of fortune, so was the sunshine.
Checking back on the crowd inside the cafe, I watched a young woman with jet-black hair in pigtails that pointed up to the cosmos, like antennae looking for alien life, cross stitch a raven onto a gossamer piece of beige gingham. Her short sleeved shirt pattern blended seamlessly with her tattoo sleeves.
A young man with a voluptuous red beard and seemingly matching red plaid flannel shirt approached the paper sculptor. He wore a pussy hat composed of quilting squares, and had what looked to be a small Navajo rug safety-pinned to his back. Snug white kitty-clad tights covered his legs.
The man next to me watched Game of Thrones on his iPad.
Refreshed and refueled, I dove back into the volumes, wandering through all the colors.
After nearly three hours, I pondered exactly why this place felt like nirvana. What sway did those stacks hold over me?
In part, maybe because I write, I have an endless, insatiable fascination with the multitude of ways that others find to twist and tie a finite number of words together to create seemingly infinite quantities of delight. They hold the power to teach, transport, and titillate. I lament only the limited time to tackle these treasures.
Also, I think about my dad. He and I shared this passion. There was not a garage sale, bookstore, or street fair that he’d pass up if it featured books. They held his attention longer than almost anything, except maybe fishing on Highland Lake. We could indulge in this activity and be together without saying a word. We bonded silently in reverence for the written word. He bought me the first in my antique book collection, and contributed to it often. When he died 15 years ago, one of the hardest things for me was sorting through, and ultimately donating, many of the books we’d bought together. Maybe, I though, another father and daughter would peruse and select the collection together.
On my way out of Powell’s, a disembodied voice from the PA system announced “attention Powell’s shoppers. If you left your Tupperware in the ladies’ room please come to the information booth on that level. It’s waiting for you.”
And as I exited, red beard man stood pointing at Powell’s: “That’s a big bookstore! I’m a small bookstore, and he pointed at his chest. Several bundles of small square cards, which I realized were completed sudoku puzzles, hung from his neck from colorful ribbons. “I made these! They’re books!” I stepped closer to admire them. “Really nice,” I said. “My son makes books too. He’s taking a class on bookbinding now.”
“Cool,” said red beard as he smiled and nodded.
As I thanked him and turned to go, his handmade books flipped around. On the back of each is the word YES, writ large.
“Yes,” I think. Yes. Yes. Yes