I was in college when I realized Powell’s was a Big Deal. I know, I know, it’s Powell’s. How could I fail to see that? But although Powell’s wasn’t our local bookstore when I first learned to read, it was just down the road by the time I acquired enough spending money to spend recklessly. My mom would drop me off and I would wander the impossibly tall stacks, treading a well-worn path to my favorite authors or genres so I wouldn’t get lost in Biographies or trapped in Current Events.
I grew up at Powell’s…sort of. I still can’t reach the top shelf, but I’ve gone boldly past Easy to Read through Series Fiction and Young Adult to Romance and Fantasy and on into Literature, Criticism, Pop Culture, Graphic Novels—even *gasp* Biographies and Current Events. My well-worn path now looks like a map of the entire store.
But even though I knew Powell’s was awesome, it wasn’t until I took Writing and Culture my sophomore year that I realized other people thought so, too. We had an assignment to visit three bookstores—at least one chain and one independent—and write a paper about our experiences. When we were discussing our essays in class, several people started talking about Powell’s. And it wasn’t any particular thing they said so much as it was that my classmates from Hawaii, Colorado, New York, and Florida were all saying Powell’s in these hushed, reverent tones as if my bookstore was some kind of Mecca.
To see something that had always felt so local and personal have such national prominence was…strange. I had my own seven stages of grief for the childhood vision of Powell’s—Horrified (“What!?”), Confused (“What??”), Possessive (“Mine!”), Outraged (“I beg your pardon”), Resigned (“Ugh.”), Grudgingly Impressed (“My Powell’s?”), and Delighted (“Mine!”).
Now that I’m away from my favorite bookstore, I take a peculiar pride in that traumatic day. Sure, it was a room full of massive book nerds in the Pacific Northwest—obviously Powell’s would come out with good reviews. But even as I fall in love with new stores such as the Tattered Cover, I still find myself thinking “Well, I’d never heard of it before today…” which simply renews my inevitable conclusion that Powell’s is the best.
…Nostalgia coupled with Trendiness is a hard combo to beat
Anyway, Powell’s is celebrating its 41st anniversary this week and I thought I would join in remotely : ) Authors are writing sentimental blog posts, there’s a new twitter hashtag, and (I imagine) all of Portland is in raptures. If you’re in town, there’s a list of festivities here, and it sounds like they’ll be an absolute blast.
Buy a book for me, okay?