Sunday, July 14, 2013

A book lover on vacation

Anyone following my Twitter stream (@annaobriendvm) is aware that I've been away on a two week vacation through the Pacific Northwest.  Driving up and down the western parts of Washington and Oregon, visiting national parks such as Olympic, Crater Lake, Mt. Rainier, and North Cascades, and stopping at all the little espresso huts our bladders could handle, we also briefly spent time in Seattle and Portland.  The top two attractions on our list in those two cities were naturally book-related.  Here's the low-down.

First stop: Powell's Books in Portland, OR

We had heard about Powell's Books prior to coming to Portland.  People who knew us and knew we were going to Portland instantly said: Oh, well you've gotta go to Powell's.  And now I pass along this bit of advice to you, too.  If you are a book lover in ANY sense of the title, you CANNOT pass this up.  This place is amazing.

Taking up the space of one entire city block, this multi-level, multi-room, book universe is reportedly the largest independent bookstore in the world.  The place is so big that the rooms are color-coded and you need a map to roughly navigate the maze of aisles.  There is also a cafe that makes a smoooooooooth latte. 

I judge a book store by two aspects: how good their pet section is (naturally) and how good their space section is (not so naturally).  Powell's excelled in both genres.  The pet section had some oldies, some goodies, some I've only ever seen in ancient catalogs, and some veterinary textbooks I've never seen in the flesh outside of a vet school or clinic.  Now I was impressed.

Just a taste of Powell's section on horse books
Then the space section.  This held books on NASA history that I've never even seen available at the National Air and Space museum, a place I love for many reasons, but they also have a respectable book section in their gift shop. 

We first spent an evening there as mostly a reconnaissance mission.  The next morning, we headed back with more serious intentions.  Another awesome thing about this place is they ship books, a required element for the out-of-towners with limited suitcase realty.  Turns out if you show up at their desk with a handful of books to buy, they can ship them all to your home address for a flat rate fee of $12.95.  So what did we do?  Showed up at their desk as our parking token was about to expire and mailed a bunch back home.  Bliss.

Sci-fi section in Powell's has a wall autographed by various visiting sci-fi writers
Second stop: Seattle Public Library

My brother introduced us to this literary haven.  Apparently a study in modern architecture, the Seattle Public Library (SPL for the cool kids) is an immense geometric structure with large glass windows.  Although unmissable on a city corner, my first thought was not: oh, there's the library.  The uniqueness doesn't end once you go inside.  With ten floors, the SPL has modern creature comforts such as a cafe, small bar, and gift shop, as well as neon yellow escalators to take you to your destination.

Top floor of the Seattle Public Library

This bibliophile's heaven had a floor plan to get you in the general area of your reading goals and they even have a set-up where librarians can help you choose your next five books to read based on your preferences.  With lots of quiet reading spaces, I can easily see how someone might get metaphorically lost in this building, hours flying by as you peruse shelf upon shelf upon shelf.  It's probably a good thing we don't have Seattle library cards. 

Can't end this blog without a photo of one of my favorite espresso huts. This just screams WASHINGTON!

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