Powell’s City of Books


Due to vacation and a visit from the family, combined with only 75% of The Wise Man’s Fear completed, I haven’t done much posting. On Friday, however, I went somewhere that relates to the material in this blog: Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon.


A little background on Powell’s, courtesy of Wikipedia:

“Powell’s Books is a chain of bookstores in the Portland metropolitan area. Powell’s headquarters, dubbed Powell’s City of Books, claims to be the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world. Powell’s City of Books is located in the Pearl District on the edge of downtown, and occupies a full city block, between NW 10th and 11th Avenues and between W. Burnside and NW Couch Streets. It contains over 68,000 square feet (6,300 m2), about 1.6 acres of retail floor space. The inventory for its retail and online sales is over four million new, used, rare, and out-of-print books. Powell’s buys around 3000 used books a day.”

Powell’s is about an hour drive from my house. I used to shop there about 3 times a month, but now I only make a trip every other month or so. One reason for this is the cost of gas; another is that although Powell’s has a great selection of Fantasy, they don’t stock much in the way of hardcovers, so I have turned to Amazon for those. I still will buy the occasional Fantasy paperback there.


What I mostly shop for at Powell’s are other kinds of books – gardening, cooking, travel, art, computers, digital photography, and Photoshop instruction (those last 3 are found at the Technical Bookstore which is about 3 blocks from the main store). Although I could buy those books online, there’s just something about holding a book in my hands and flipping through it to see if it’s what I want before I buy it, which I can’t do with a book purchased online. I’ve also been to book signings there for Terry Brooks and Robin Hobb.

Powell’s is an amazing 4 stories tall, and I visit all 4 stories. On the first level I check out the Cooking and Landscaping/Gardening sections…here you also pay for the books. On the second floor is Fantasy, graphic novels, and the coffee shop, where you can sit and watch people scurrying through downtown Portland. The third floor has an incredible travel section. Finally, I check out the fourth floor for art, architecture, and music. Understand that there are many, many more sections, these are just my favorites.

The crown jewel, though, is the rare book room on the fourth floor. A quiet, warmly lit room with tables, lamps, and shelves filled with leather-bound books, you can find tomes from as far back as the 1600s. I saw a couple of books I would have loved to buy, published in the 1800s, in the $2000+ range; a 3 volume history of the Freemasons for $700, and a first edition Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. One wall displays a large page out of a book, of which the top half is a classically-illustrated medieval picture, while the bottom half is scribed in Latin. The room reminds me of a tiny version of the University Library from Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles, although there are no sympathy lamps present…

Finding a needed book in Powell’s is like unearthing buried treasure. I remember trying to find a French cookbook for my sister at the last minute before I was to drive up to Seattle. I went to Barnes and Noble first, and what did I find? One not-so-great book for $50. After a trip to Powell’s, I walked out with 2 good-sized French cookbooks, with loads of recipes and beautiful pictures of almost every dish, for $40. Though they were used, they were in almost new condition, and my sister absolutely loved them.

If you ever have a chance to visit Portland, make sure you stop by Powell’s City of Books. In the age of Kindles and e-readers, dying independent book stores, and major chains like Borders closing, Powell’s continues to stand as both a must-see Portland landmark and a place that is very much a book-lover’s dream.

Powell’s City of Books Website

UPDATE: One more thing I forgot…if you have an iPhone, there’s a Powell’s app that helps you navigate the store called Powell’s Meridian in the Apple App Store. You just type in the title of the book you are looking for and the app navigates you to the book from where you are standing. And it’s free!