Powell’s Books: The Happiest Place On Earth?
I don’t remember the first time I walked into Powell’s in downtown Portland, but every time I walk through those doors, I am convinced it is one of the truly magical things we have at our disposal on this planet. From the outside, the bookstore looks like this one block-by-block mass of bricks. The sheer size is impressive, but nothing compares to what you see when you take that first step inside.
When I walk into Powell’s, I am immediately overtaken by the seemingly endless shelves of books and stories just waiting to be read, waiting to be heard. I walk over and look at the cover of a book and I immediately see the potential for adventure, for heartbreak, for yet more unrealistic expectations of what kind of man I should be able to find. I thumb through the pages and the words promise new perspectives and ideas, a new way to travel inside myself and discover new layers. I read the back synopsis and about the author. I want to know this book like someone normal might want to get to know a new friend. And when I put down that first book and turn around to face the rest of the store, I see thousands and thousands of more books, just as enticing, waiting to be picked up and known, too.
I am a huge Disney person. At 20 years old, I still squeal when I see Minnie Mouse walking down Main Street, and if, for whatever reason, someone asked me to sing every word to “Part of Your World” from Aladdin flawlessly, it would be a lie to say that I couldn’t do it. And naturally I would be both Aladdin and Jasmine. Disney is magic. But to me, the “Happiest Place on Earth” is anywhere that has shelves and shelves of books and the general scent of ink and pages, and Powell’s fits that bill like no bookstore I have ever gone to. I find it equal parts fascinating and terrifying that there are too many books for us to ever read them all, and that new content is being created constantly. Powell’s has several staircases and multiple stories (the stair kind, but also the book kind) that are proof of the seemingly endless array of words and themes and characters and morals that are possible in this world. I don’t know how anyone can be less than entirely flabbergasted at the sheer endlessness of potential stories and formations of words, and the billions and billions of pieces of writing we have at our fingertips. It gives me chills.
I see a world that gains meaning from the lens of words. I hear it in lyrics to songs, acceptance speeches, lectures, conversations I hear in passing, the perfect wit of dialogue between characters on my favorite TV show. I see it in powerful ad slogans, on billboards, on sweet birthday cards, and of course in the scripts of novels and memoirs and every being with a bound spine and a story to tell. This world of words is beautiful to me and so impactful. It amazes me that lives can be transformed from hearing just the right combination of words at just the right time. It blows my mind to think about the hard conversations, bursting with emotional and vulnerable prose that have saved relationships and started new ones, professed deep feelings, and even offered comfort and truth in someone’s final days.
Due to my obvious affinity with phrasing, I find myself drawn to authors that have a particular skill of morphing everyday words into clever and beautiful passages. I like the sentences you read that make you audibly say “whoa” and reach for a highlighter. One of these authors for me is Rainbow Rowell. She is an incredibly skilled wordsmith, with a knack for creative characters and plotlines. I was in Powell’s (shocker) last spring and picked up her novel Carry On. I had heard a lot about it, and after reading Eleanor and Park, I was totally ready to be a Rainbow Rowell groupie. I brought this novel back to campus, cracked open the cover, and finished all 520 pages in less than 48 hours; I was completely gripped. While I don’t want to give too much of this beautiful story away, the best way I can describe it is it’s like Harry Potter, but with so much more angst and emphasis on the romance (so, all of the really good stuff). This was the kind of book that when I finished it, I slowly closed the cover and hugged it to my chest- the highest honor a book on my shelf can receive. As I write this paragraph dedicated to Carry On’s awesomeness, I am staring at the spine of this beloved tale. It acts like a security blanket for me, and I take it with me everywhere. Books give you the opportunity to travel to places you couldn’t ever dream of, but they can also provide unparalleled comfort and peace, which is one of my most favorite things about them.
Words are powerful and life-changing, and when I walk into Powell’s, I see billions of words, perfectly crafted by the given wordsmith, laboriously tended to with love and frustration until that particular formulation was just right, waiting patiently to be read. I think Disneyland is a magical entity in an obvious way, and I entirely succumb to its tricks and mystique each time I return. But I see bookstores, and especially Powell’s, possessing a type of magic that is more obscure and less celebrated, which almost makes it more special. The magic of books lies in the words printed on their pages, and the idea that any given person can pick up any given book on any given day, and when they read those final words and end the story in reverence, they could be changed for good. I tell you, it just gives me chills.