Tumbling from the legendary independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon.
“There are certain places that feel charged. Visiting them gives me an electrical surge, as if I have plugged in to some current. The headwaters of the Metolius River are like that. So is Short Sands Beach on the Oregon Coast. And the tunnels snaking beneath Edinburgh. And the Von Trier bar in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
The horror section at the downtown Powell’s makes me feel the same way. I grew up in Central Oregon, but my grandparents lived in Portland, so every few months, we’d cram into the truck and growl over the mountains for a visit. We had no local bookstore — outside of the sad little Waldenbooks in the Bend River Mall — so the Powell’s visit took a lot of time and strategy. This was our literary haul for the next two months. We had to choose wisely.
For those who have never visited, the downtown Powell’s takes up a whole city block. A giant concrete split-level sarcophagus of books. There is a ghost that haunts the water fountain. An urn of cremated remains that moves from room to room, depending on space. The shelves spill books, used and new, and the aisles buzz with the kind of diversity you’ll only find at the DMV: dudes in suits and dudes in mud-caked cowboy boots, a woman with dreads and a woman with a tiara and a woman with bright blue hair. A carnival of wonders for a kid from the boonies.
We would push our way through the 10th and Burnside doors, and the smell of paper and ink and glue (and oftentimes patchouli) would result in a sensory overload. I would feel jittery and starved. I cut through the Blue Room (which I always thought of as English class, home to all of the serious lit-e-ra-ture) and slowly, slowly made my way through the Gold Room, where all the sci-fi and fantasy and thrillers and horror novels could be found.
The smell there — sort of mildewy earthworm meets mottled paper — is one of my favorite smells. I remember the horror aisle as shadow-soaked, far from any window. Over the next few hours, I would pull down books and read from them and build a dark tower of mass-market paperbacks, the greatest treasure of my childhood.”
Author Benjamin Percy is guest-blogging all week at Powells.com: http://powells.us/11QAmNa
“They have been on the move for the past half-year or so now, starting from their longtime home in the downstairs closet, on to my desk, then to my office floor, upstairs into another closet, back down next to my desk, then back upstairs. I am supposed to get rid of them; Amy almost has more than once. But so far, I have not been able to. Just when I feel I’m ready to immortalize them in picture, and maybe words, one final time before parting, something comes up and back they go. It’s not like I can’t let them go, or won’t — I will. I just haven’t yet. Part of it is procrastination, yes, but part of it, I know, is reluctance to let go, broken down and nearly lifeless as they are now.
These are my Montrail Moraines, the first pair of real hiking boots I ever owned in the Pacific Northwest. Before picking these up, I was scraping by with an old pair of Doc Martens patched on the soles with rubber cement. A picture from 16 years ago shows Amy and me relishing the chill wind and incredible view over Lake Tahoe from atop Mount Tallac, and there on my feet are those old Docs.
But when we came to Oregon in late 1997 and figured we’d stay awhile, hike around, explore, maybe even climb a little, we needed boots. Real boots. Sixteen years ago, before houses and kids and all of the real grown-up stuff, these are the ones that I went with. Without personifying them too much, these are the ones that subsequently went with me — or, rather, took me where I wanted to go.”
Read the rest of Jon Bell’s original essay on the Powells.com blog: http://powells.us/12qKoHa