Viva la Bookstores!


For me, being able to visit a bookstore is a treasured experience that online book buying will never be able to equal. (What’s Harvey got to do with it? Nuthin’, ‘cept he’s a local landmark at a marine supply shop. No idea.)

A few days ago, Evil Wylie (@EvilWylie, aka Andrew Shaffer) tweeted out a link to an article on Gawker about bookstores being used like a showroom by book buyers, who after perusing shelves, head to Amazon to mail order. I retweeted this with the comment that I do the opposite: I use Amazon to find out about books, then typically head to my local bookstore (Powells) to take a look at the physical specimen, skim a couple pages to see if I like the author’s style, and if so, buy it there. Little backwards of what some people do, I guess.

Now I will admit I like Amazon’s feature that suggests books based on what I’ve previously looked at or purchased. Yes, full disclosure, I do buy books and other items from Amazon, although looking at all my Powells receipts that later become bookmarks it’s hard to believe. And that is where I flip things.

On the way to Powells, Mt. Hood in the distance

However, I’ve discovered that I don’t trust Amazon’s descriptions. I pay zero attention to the reviews. For one thing, I have often seen reviews for something that don’t even seem to apply to the particular item I’m looking at. It’s just not helpful.

And then there’s something heady about opening the doors of a bookstore and running smack (with luck, not literally) into tables and shelves piled high and stacked floor to ceiling with books. Books books books books books. As far as the eye can see (slight hyperbole). I feel like an alcoholic showing up at a kegger. Oooo, shiny! I am frequently overwhelmed, in the best way, by all the choices in front of me. Wander wander wander up one aisle, down the next. Back to the first. Wow, what’s this? I never heard of this author, what’s this about? Wait, what was I looking for? I finally figured out I need to make up a shopping list before I go so I don’t get distracted and forget which books I was setting out to buy to begin with. What about books in foreign languages? I’ve picked up books in Norwegian (a second edition AsbjΓΈrnsen & Moe) and French at Powells. Not language learning, books written in other tongues. I don’t think Amazon offers much along those lines. Maybe someday they’ll integrate with their other stores in France, Germany, etc., but for now we’re pretty much restricted to English language here in the U.S. I’m sure some of that has to do with release dates being staggered and licensing but once a book is out, it’s out. If I wanted to read a Norwegian author in Norwegian, I’m outta luck. (If anyone knows where I can get books in Norwegian please let me know.)

I have this thing, too, about holding one single book in my hand, as if it’s a little universe unto itself. All the action, dialog, scenery, imagery encapsulated in this marvelous little package that I can take myself to and revisit whenever I choose.Β  Like individual planets in space, I like the separateness of each little world. I feel as if I’ve slipped the bonds of time and space and landed Someplace Else. Ok, I’m feeling a little fanciful here. Remember when towns were actually separate from eachother, and each had a distinctive feel to it, its own quirks and uniqueness and personality? I suppose reading books on electronic readers can still transport me, but like urban sprawl, how do you know where one town ends and the next begins?

Powell's, in the friendliest letters possible

Sure I could spend hours in the bookstore, but I feel like it would take a lot longer to even see all the options I can peruse in a real life bookstore. Looking stuff up on Amazon is great for pin-pointing something, but I like to go to the bookstore, pick it up, see it, look through it, and see if it’s what I thought it was, if it’s really what I wanted. Amazon’s displays can be deceiving (although not intentionally, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt there). Save money? I can’t tell you how often I’ve found books on special or at special pricing at Powells. I picked up a copy of Ulysses for $6.98. Sure, Amazon has free shipping over $25, but if you buy a used copy from a third party, that doesn’t apply. (Ulysses was brand new, btw)

I thought I’d share a little virtual tour of Powell’s Cedar Hills location, aka my second home (just imagine aisles and aisles like this, I only show about 10% of the store in these). This is where the majority of author signings seem to be held, as this location has more open floor space than the Burnside location downtown. I got the ok to take some photos, although I think I weirded out a couple of customers. Oops, sorry ’bout that. My haul today was The Conqueror’s Shadow by Ari Marmell (@mouseferatu), The Postman, by David Brin (@DavidBrin1), The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi, and a steampunk novel called The Affinity Bridge, by George Mann. That last will be my first foray into steampunk, it looked intriguing.

Part of the children's area

But just think: someday we’ll all have neural implants like Johnny Mnemonic, and books will be instantly downloaded to your head, implanting them, and sparing you the time and trouble of reading them at all.

30 thoughts on “Viva la Bookstores!

  1. I’m totally mad about bookstores. Love, love to browse. Sure, sometimes I go in looking for something specific. But there’s always the thrill of browsing and discovering new treasures.

    Most stores here have an Engish section. Often also French and Spanish. In larger shops I’ve also seen Russian and Italian sections. Shall let you know if I ever see Norwegian.

    I understand using amazon when one can’t find what they are lookng for, and if their local store can’t order it for them for whatever reason…but why go to your local store, see the book you want, and not buy it there?

    I’m a big believer in supporting one’s local bookstore. A world without bookstores (and libraries!)would be so ugly and soulless.


  2. Me too, just love to hang out and browse and wander. I think I was only there for an hour yesterday and did enough damage to my bank account in that time. Luckily I had a coupon that cut my cost in half! I didn’t have anything specific in mind when I went, except wanting to get the pics, but how could I resist? πŸ™‚ Plus, if you go to your local store, there are nice people to talk to and who can help you.


  3. Me too! I have to touch and feel a book and become, well…intimate with it, I guess. If I feel a sense of intimacy, then I will read it. I could NEVER read a book on my pc or a Kindle or any of those contraptions. If I did, it would cease to be book reading, it would become just Kindle reading. Nothing compares to searching aisles and aisles of books and then finding one that you can hold and smell and yes, become intimate with for hours and hours. I enjoy the sound of the pages as they are turning and looking to see how much I have left to read. Yes, I am a book lover too. And the only place in my town are libraries and one Barnes & Noble. I agree with you that Amazon can be deceiving and that most of those reviews are pretty much useless. Now I must say that I am jealous of your local Powell’s. Thanks for the photos so that now I am drooling like a newborn babe over those book aisles. Show off! πŸ™‚


  4. Hi mallowblossom,

    Thanks for coming by πŸ™‚ HAha, yes we are the envy of the book-loving world, and the pics are from the smaller location. The Burnside store occupies an entire city block, and has several floors. You get a map when you go in so you can find your way.

    That’s a good point about being able to see how far along you are. I understand the early versions of e-readers did not even have page numbers. Ack, that would make me crazy. I guess the next generation won’t be so hung up on it, but I’m with you. I like to be able to see my progress, especially in very long books.


  5. I have no problem with Amazon or Alibris, (as our friend McCaustic sez, “I don’t care where you buy your books, just keep buying them) but I just love camping out in bookstores – you never know what you might find. I’m getting a rush just looking at those pix of Powell’s, although I wish I could find a bookstore that had a statue like Harvey out front!


  6. Hahaha, There was another pic I was going to post from the route to the bookstore of a diner with a collection of carved wooden black bears outside, called (appropriately enough) the Black Bear Diner. Oh, and the dog groomer with a 5′ tall statue of a schnauzer. Or Airedale. Not sure exactly what it’s supposed to be. Lots of lawn art up here πŸ˜‰

    Buying books from anywhere is good, but to keep the bookstores open, we need to give ’em the business (in the best sense!). To date, Powell’s does not charge for author appearances, which many places are starting to do.


  7. I would LOVE to see pics of your bears diner. That’s another thing lacking in my town, diners. Plenty of fast food dumps but no mom and pop diners, or even better, Greek diners (the best, in my opinion). Lawn art is wonderful, you luck girl.


  8. Haha, ok, I’ll post it when I get home (it’s on my home computer).

    No diners?!?!? Wow, I thought it was in the Bill of Rights somewhere that every town was to provide diners for the enjoyment and edification of all residents. No? Oh, nevermind. :::puts the bottle down:::


    1. Your Jersey girl is showing, DD – I think that’s in our state constitution, but not the Federal one…


  9. Hey DD!

    Can’t wait to see the diner photos when you have time. I sure hope you’re wrong about the future. I really don’t like the idea of having books downloaded to my brain! Boy, will that change the meaning of the word “loaded!” If it does happen though, I’m charging the publishers for storage space!!


    1. Okeedokee, got that sorted out. Black Bear Diner is now added πŸ™‚ You can click on it to enlarge it so you can see the bears better.

      Wouldn’t that just be awful if it came to that, downloading books to your brain? Bleah.


      1. Hehehe and amazingly, in all the years I’ve lived here I’ve never been in there. I’ll have to check it out sometime and report back πŸ™‚


      2. Oh please do. If a place like that has good coffee AND it’s near a Powell’s AND you have fewer mosquitoes in the summer, I may just have to tell Fang we’re moving. (Actually our place in the mountains has 2/3 – cool diners and 2 nice independant bookstores within a short drive, but in high summer the ‘skeeters are even worse than NJ!!!!)


  10. I feel the same way. Besides, you never know what you might discover hiding in a corner of a book store. A book you never heard off? Or that one book you have been looking for a long time?

    Amazon is great if a: you want to buy in bulk and b: you already know what you want.

    Otherwise, I’ll prefer the bookstore.


    1. Yep, it’s a voyage of discovery every time I go there. Amazon has its uses, but an outing to the bookstore can’t be replaced by surfing the Web.


      1. I follow a tumblr account call book porn which sometimes blur the lines between book porn and porn with books in it, but I always like good book pictures


  11. Oh boy! You do have the most picturesque diners! And I so agree with the assemblage that bookstores (and libraries) are the most delicious places to lose yourself. Full disclosure: we do use amazon in the household primarily to order textbooks b/c the university bookstores are outrageously overpriced — considering the patrons are overwhelmingly students. But the fun part comes when we see what amazon “offers” us when next we log on….. when you have Johnny Cash, Lady Gaga, Margaret Atwood, Netter anatomy books, Poli Sci and Spanish II textbooks in your queue the algorithm says WTF…. who ARE these people???


  12. Hi Rosie!

    Oh sure, I use Amazon at times, and the textbooks is the best reason for them. (DVDs are another, my local Target has an abysmal selection and now that all the Blockbuster stores have closed around here my options are limited for buying DVDs).

    I know what you mean, my own ‘Wish List’ is pretty eclectic πŸ˜‰


  13. I find myself relying on Amazon or Alibris when I’m looking for an older book by an author I like – Barnes/Noble, Borders, and even my beloved little independents upstate don’t always have more than the most recent couple of novels by any given author, especially if it’s somebody a little obscure.


    1. oo, thanks – I’ll have to bookmark that one, no pun intended. I must say, tho, my absolute FAVORITE way to obtain books happened the other day – I came home to find a big UPS package on my porch: as he does once or 2x a year, McCaustic, who works for a big publishing house, sent me a box of books he’s been setting aside b/c he thought they’d interest me. This time it wasn’t just novels – he included a package of antique-look book plates, a few cute blank journals, and three intriguing books of crochet patterns. I thanked him prettily and promised to buy him lunch – too bad the Black Bear Diner is so far away ;D !


  14. I miss Oregon so much. My mom and I was talking about that a few weeks ago. At the time I was living there I was trying to persuade her to move there because of the weather and the natural beauty. Unfortunately I could not convince here due to her winning argument. Once I leave she would be all alone.

    I was looking at the Powell book store entrance photo and thought they had a new look until I read farther and it said in Cedar Hill. I never been to the one there only on Burnside since it was a good 15 minutes walk or so from the Pearl District for us. I enjoyed that books store. So many great finds.

    I too love to hold a book in my hand, especially before I buy it. Last week I went to Barnes and Noble to read some books before I bought them. My mother smile and said I still see you have not change. We first checked out Borders and so many have close down due to Amazon, Ebooks, and Barnes and Noble. I was so surprise.

    I love scifi and hope no one implant any thing in me. It is nothing like using our 5 senses when it comes to everything….and less sense only when it is a must because some sad thing happen in life.


  15. This is where they moved to after they vacated the location across from Washington Square. It’s much larger, and they’ve added all kinds of gifty things that they didn’t have room to carry before, but the main focus is still the books. There is of course NOTHING like the Burnside store, though πŸ˜‰


    1. Than I must compare one day. I love Powell and thought the person who built it was smart. They don’t concentrate on only new books but old books. This is what I like. For me I always felt a nice find/treasure hidden away and when I don’t John does.


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