During my holiday vacation in Portland and Eugene, I browsed indie bookstores. This is “going native”. Oregonians love to read and don’t seem to care whether books are bestsellers or unknowns. In these stores, new books are crammed in with the old, the famous with the obscure, and the shallow with the deep.
Powell’s has a big presence in Portland. This one is their flagship. It’s a lot bigger than it looks. Three levels and several rooms that are color-coded according to the genres they store. You can download a Powell’s app to help you navigate. Powell’s also has a huge coffee shop, which was crowded in late afternoon. I drank my java at the window counter, alternately watching street traffic and reading my purchase, a nonfiction by Milton Rokeach called The Three Christs of Ypsilanti. Powell’s inventory includes books from the library of Anne Rice, each of these labeled as such with a sticker. Neat novelty gift, huh? Shelved near The Three Christs was one of her old paperbacks, a book on psychology that looked to be college required reading.
Though you could probably go into Smith’s Family Books in Eugene with a list and systematically fill it, I get the feeling most purchases are unplanned. Tall shelves criss-cross rooms and line every wall. It is not uncommon to turn a corner and see someone sitting on a stack with an open book across their knees. I browsed for hours, finally limiting myself to two of the seven or so gems I discovered.
When I’d finished the two books, I went to Smith’s university store (University of Oregon). My brother sold my books back to Smith’s for me. I got about half what I’d paid and then bought a used copy of Sarah Waters’ novel, Fingersmith, for $6. Paul bought a used copy of Tube Guitar Amplifier Essentials and quickly got lost in it.
Eugene’s Tsunami Books sells new, used, and rare books. I bought Octavia E. Butler’s time-travel novel, Kindred. Tsunami’s mellow atmosphere serves as a community gathering spot. Our father, the poet Michael Wurster, has given readings there. When I visited, they had two copies of his second book, The Snake Charmer’s Daughter.
Downtown Eugene’s J. Michaels is so densely shelved with old books that it has the feel of an antiquarian library. However, it also stocks bestsellers and new books. Last year, I bought Jennifer Homans’ history of ballet, Apollo’s Angels, which had just come out.
This region’s overcast, daily drizzle is a perfect climate for book browsing and book reading. It can be very cozy sitting inside with a book and a warm drink or a micro-brewed beer, while rain patters softly on the windows.