This summer my family spent nearly three weeks in Portland and around Oregon. On our first full day in Portland, we visited Powell’s. If I thought anyone reading my blog would require a definition of Powell’s, I’d willingly describe it here. But I think when you hear Powell’s, sights and smells come to your mind, you visualize the books on your shelves that came from there, and the lost hours and money parted with.
I actually haven’t spent much time in Portland, the other Brooklyn, the caucasian Brooklyn, if Park Slope didn’t already hold that title. But I had visited Powell’s before, in 2008, shortly after my novel, The Sign for Drowning, was published. And although I’d loved the bookstore, was inspired and just plain happy while wandering through it, something stupid happened that made me think, “You’re not so cool, Powell’s. You’re not The Strand. You’re a little lame.” I’m somewhat embarrassed to say that my snubbing of Powell’s had a bit to do with my ego. This was during the short window period (think how long a box of cereal lasts you) that I could find my book in hardcover in bookstores, without it needing to be ordered. So I wanted to see if my book was all the way in Portland, Oregon, in the illustrious Powell’s. What I found was a creased ADVANCED READER’S COPY, which was clearly labelled on the softcover (which hadn’t come out yet), NOT FOR SALE, and a Powell’s sticker stuck on the battered cover with a bar code and a price, probably $8.95 or $12.95 or whatever. Uncool.
Anyway, I held a little tiny grudge until we walked in there this August. It is a book lovers’ heaven. As we entered, I briefly noticed a leading-man handsome guy, standing tall in front of the big windows being filmed by a TV crew. He may have sounded Australian. He was clearly from TV land and the show was naturally visiting Powell’s.
Our four-year-old son lead us directly to the children’s section. My husband and I were both probably spinning our heads 360 degrees while we followed the kid. Of course the children’s section was wonderful in its own way. Kid-sized tables, bookshelves they could reach as far as the eye could see, a dozen parents reading quietly to a dozen kids. This was fun for about five minutes, but the rest of the store seemed to have octopus arms that were reaching out to me. I was not in the mood for Bernstein Bears or even Zen Tales. My husband said, “Go take some time and then I will.” I lunged, but mistakenly said, “I’ll come back in half an hour.” He pushed me to thirty-five minutes, to return on the hour. But it didn’t matter. I walked away from them and time stood still for 35 minutes, and then I needed to return. Had even a minute passed? To be fair, I wasted too much of my time finding the perfect blank journal to make a memory book of our trip in. And then I just wanted to be back in the huge airy atrium at the entrance and see all the new releases in fiction, and buy the books I would be able to read for three weeks in Oregon. Three weeks of reading, and I’d purposely not brought books to read. I did return to the children’s section with three books to purchase, and the perfect trip journal. So I’d done something. But I hadn’t browsed. Then Bill took off. I’ve never, in New York, had the desire to leave my son alone in public. But this was Portland, and Powell’s, and he would have 100% let me leave him, and I thought about it. He’d read, I’d wander. The otherworldliness of Powell’s was intoxicating, but not that intoxicating. I could remember that four year-old kids don’t get left alone in large public places full of hundreds of people. All too soon, Bill was back and it was time to eat and eventually leave. I knew I’d return, hopefully alone, later in the trip. We glided back to the atrium and paid for our new books, books for each of us.
Outside, blinking in the bright sun, I said, “I wish they had childcare. I really wanted to look in the erotica section.”
I heard an Australian laugh, and turned to find Leading Man still standing around doing his shoot, knowingly nodding at me. My first thought was- if you caught that on tape, you can use it. My second thought was- Can you watch our kid?