7 Things to Do Inside Powell’s Books

Literary Travel, Reading,

So, you’ve found yourself in the bibliophile’s mecca that is Powell’s City of Books in downtown Portland.  Now what?  Try out the suggestions below – while many of these can done in any bookstore, the size of this one creates an extra challenge!

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1. Grab a map

Powells Store Map
Yep, you’re in a bookstore that has its own map, available at any of the information desks.  Powell’s footprint is an entire city block and its three floors are stocked with over a million impressively organized books.  You can wander through the color-coded rooms and labelled aisles, where dog-eared paperbacks nestle alongside shiny uncracked volumes.  Or, if you need to beeline to a specific title, there’s an app for that.

As a bonus, the back of the map can be converted to a poster.  This one struck a particular chord with me, as it dovetails nicely with my love of Adventure Reading.
Powell's Map Poster

2. Get lost anyway

After several hours of browsing, our feet cried out for a rest so we headed for the exit – Powell’s is definitely more bookstore than library, so don’t expect lots of comfy lounge chairs.  We thought we’d seen it all, but got turned around on the ground floor and found ourselves in the crowded science fiction and fantasy section.  How did we miss my favorite genre without my realizing it?!  Beware the mind-scrambling effect of book overload.

3. Leave notes to future readers in your favorite books

Scribble on a sticky note, piece of scrap paper, or traditional bookmark and slip it between the pages.  It doesn’t really matter what you write – it could be an inspirational message or quote, a recommendation for similar books, or a secret confession.  With 6000 people coming through the bookstore a day, someone’s bound to find it eventually.  Like the author of the book, you will be reaching across time to whatever kindred soul deems that book worthy enough to pick up – neat!

4. Seek out the strangest book

In the Metaphysics aisle, we sat down on the floor next to some empty shelves and thumbed through the Shamanism section, where we found “The Art of Shapeshifting”.

“Too bad I already know how to shapeshift,” I said.

That might be mistaken for sarcasm, but I was just being elitist. On multiple occasions, I have transformed into animals using the method the book describes as “Dreamwalking”.  This meant I was able to achieve shapeshifting without practicing some of the book’s bizarre exercises:

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Though it appears that by not prancing around as a unicorn, I had missed out on some masculine “energies”:

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Oh boy.

There are plenty of other weird books that have even this one beat.  Other variations on this game?  Try finding the oldest or priciest book in the store (hint: head to the Rare Books room) or the most niche book.

5. Do a dramatic reading of a children’s book

Pick up a nostalgic favorite or a potential future classic.  I selected The Gas We Pass.  I don’t have children, and it’s been a long time since I babysat, but it’s still fun to put on a silly voice and read aloud.  This one was especially delightful with its visceral sound effects (*bubbly bath fart*), and it ended with a pun.

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The one disappointment with this book is that it makes the In Your Pants game far too literal (for non-nerdfighters, that’s the one where you append the words “in your pants” to every title, much like the “in bed” game with fortune cookies).

6. Judge books by their covers

The world of physical books is a feast for the eyes.  While you might be looking for the perfect edition to brighten up your bookshelf, it’s just as fun to find the worst offenders in the cover wars.  The Romance section is an obvious place to head (especially if you like oily muscled man-chests), but we also found some delights in the Young Adult area.

For those with a particularly vivid title and/or artwork, try writing your own excerpt before reading the official blurb.

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Persephone vanquished the last vampire with a flying kick of her stake-tipped stilettos.  She stumbled as she landed, and just like that Bane was at her side and she was in his arms.  His tawny lion eyes flashed with mischief above a roguish smile.  She leaned in as if magnetized, her lips parting slightly, but he jerked away.  “Not too close, babe, you’re gonna smudge my eyeliner!”

But I doubt anything can beat these self-published cover monstrosities.

7. Buy a Book

Powell’s prices aren’t the most competitive, but any books you purchase will double as souvenirs, tied to the memories of your time spent in this giant bookstore.  Remember that time you read that book about farts? A-ha-ha-hahaha. Heh. Yeah.

The problem being, I was so overwhelmed with options that I couldn’t decide on what to buy, so I purchased nothing.

Alternatively, if you have books you’re willing to part with, head to the counter in the Orange Room to sell them.  Powell’s purchases 3000 used books a day to cope with the churn from the book-buyers.  I had a used book in my purse, but wasn’t quite done with it – another strike on this item.

At least you can support this independent bookstore with a purchase from World Cup Coffee & Tea… Oh, wait, it was crowded and we don’t drink coffee so we didn’t do that either.

What kind of book-lover am I?!



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