Portland, Oregon, got its name from, of all things, the flip of a coin. The alternative was Boston. Be that as it may, PDX (as it's affectionately referred to by natives) could - just as well - be called Booktown. This Sacramento Librarian had heard rumblings of Portland's literary side, but had to take a first-hand look. Ergo, a long weekend...
My first stop was Powell's Books on Burnside (an ancient road that runs East-West through Portland). It's also located amidst the VERY fashionable Pearl District of Portland (again, Portlander's use code for such spots; in this case we refer to this place as "the Pearl") . Back on task, Powell's is - in a word - huge, and as is reputed to be the largest independent bookstore west of the Mississippi River. Aptly enough, upon entering the store, one is greeted with a map. Genres are divided into rooms, with there being a total of 8. Purple is where one can find history, biography; red is where one can find theology; and, gold is where one can find fiction, etc., etc.
There's certainly nothing fancy about the 30-year-old store. Dust isn't too rare a sight and the Linolium HAS to predate the business. What's more, the place just smells like books. Cellulose, milldew, the whole deal.
After grabbing a few choice titles, one can then make their way to the cafe, located just west of the Gold Room. I recommend coffee and a chocolate chip cookie. Upon entering, the place is packed. Scarves, jackets and bags are thrown over chairbacks and the floor is slippery, due to the near-constant fall/winter rain. It's certainly one of the only places where you can sit elbow-to-elbow with a total stranger and feel a mentionable detachment, simply because whatever you've chosen to read has taken you away.
In sum, this is a must-see spot with quantum-size character. The presence of high quality used books at a reasonable price, not to mention, new titles, means that Powell's will rarely disappoint the frugal book hunter.
Just up Eleventh Avenue is one of the most charming Central libraries in the country. The Multnomah County Library's Main Branch was built in 1913 and rennovated in 96-97. Little authenticity has been lost to time; simply put, it's hard to imagine the building having changed much over the past 90-some years, save the addition of 130 public computers. I guess I was most
taken by the mass amount of granite used to build the library. Both inside and out, the stone's sparkle is remarkable. Another spectacle is the granite benches that ring the entire branch, each one etched with the name of a literary great...Voltaire, Twain, William Something-Or-Another. Another few items of note are the branch's Starbucks booth (with a portion of coffee sales going to the library) and fantastic giftshop (where else are you going to find a "Where the Wild Things Are" backpack?).
Portland is a charming, progressive town that possesses a youthful hum. It's worth mentioning that the city's protector, Portlandia, a massive sculpture resting just outside the city government's Portland Building is reaching for something. There's clearly nothing there, but she might as well be reaching for a novel by long-time Portland resident Chuck Palahniuk. Visit PDX and enjoy and don't worry about bringing a book...