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July 30, 2007

Clean Sweep at Powell's

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards:

I finally did it. On our way to the Oregon Coast last week we stopped in Portland at Powell's book store with a box of books to sell.

They bought every book! Which is unheard of, for me at least. I figure I'm doing well if I can sell them two-thirds of what I bring.

(I described here last summer's book-packing project when I moved from Olympia. I tossed a lot of books in the dumpster and sold a lot of others to Powell's.)

For readers not living on the wet side of the Cascade Mountains, I need to note that Portland-based Powell's is a Big Deal for bookish people. The main store takes up a city block in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood on the edge of downtown. It's a jumble of structures where walls have been knocked out so that customers can, at great risk of becoming disoriented, proceed through floor after floor, section after section of books, books, books. I haven't checked with management or even done my own sample, but a good share of what's on the shelves is used books.

That used to put me off. You see, I have this, uh, thing about used stuff. Unless an item is a family heirloom, I have a distaste for having to use somebody else's former things: books, clothing, furniture, cars, what have you. I don't like antique shops, for instance. And seeing all those used books at Powell's mixed with new books put me off.

At first, anyway. I was used to books being either in stores selling all new books or all used books, and finding them jumbled took some adjusting. Now I'm okay with it. I normally look for the new stuff and screen out used books. Unless I spy a book that I want and know is hopelessly out of print.

Yes, I actually can be practical when circumstances demand it. I've worn cast-off uniforms in the army, dealt with antique items in places I've lived -- even lived in furnished apartments -- and bought used cars.

Nevertheless, I prefer new stuff. I guess I'm weird: but you knew that.



posted by Donald at July 30, 2007


Powell's is Mecca for books. Damn, I miss Portland.

Posted by: the patriarch on July 30, 2007 2:55 PM

How about used houses? And used old paintings?

Posted by: Tatyana on July 30, 2007 3:19 PM

With books, I don't care if they're new or used as long as the previous owner managed to restrain himself from underlining and writing exclamatory notes in the margin.

I do, however, object to used movie scripts. A lot of them are filmed these days.

Powell's sounds like a store I could get pleasantly lost in for hours.

Posted by: Rick Darby on July 30, 2007 4:53 PM

I have the opposite attitude. So much of what I see in the new hardcover section of every store is utterly ephemeral, especially the political polemics, that I draw comfort from seeing stuff in the used aisle that deserves to avoid the fate of being remaindered and pulped.

Posted by: Omri on July 30, 2007 5:49 PM

Because I have no room left at home for more books and probably would regret selling certain ones, I look first to the library for any book I'm interested in. Because the Los Angeles Public Library has so many branches, I browse their catalog online and can usually find a circulating copy that can be transferred to my local branch. If not, there's the Burbank public library. Failing those, I find a used copy in decent condition from one of the usual online sources.

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on July 30, 2007 11:19 PM

I hope you sold them some good books on architecture because 1) you have great taste for architecture and 2) I live a few blocks away from Powells.

Glad to hear that you love Powells.

By the way you should check out the ugliest building in portland under contruction just a few blocks away...

Posted by: J on July 31, 2007 1:55 AM

Heaven would not be Heaver if it did not have a used book store.

Posted by: Adriana on July 31, 2007 10:08 AM

I have found that, for a lot of stuff I want to read, I can get an almost-free copy of it, used, through Amazon.

By almost-free, I mean a copy that costs a few dollars, plus $3 shipping and handling. Yes, I would pay $7 not to have to spend the time in the depressing, crazy-and-homeless-person-filled public library.

I have found some great stuff through the used sellers on Amazon. Latest find: this terrific book on John Aubrey, for $5 (including shipping!).

Posted by: James on July 31, 2007 4:05 PM

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