I admit it: I am nutty about books. Spending time in a rockin’ bookstore ranks right up there for me with Jik Jak ice cream at Burr’s (chocolate with a hint of cinnamon and nuts). Or noodling around on the marimba, figuring out songs I used to know years ago. Or singing loudly in the car. Oo! Or having my feet massaged. These things give me pleasure and make me feel alive in the best possible way.

So when Dick and I realized that we had some extra time built into our traveling schedule around Portland, I dipped a tentative toe in the water. “Welllllll,” I offered. “We could maybe make a stop at Powell’s.”

It is a measure of how much this man loves me that he barely paused before he said, “Yeah, we could do that.”

On my 40th birthday, we were in Portland, and Dick gave me what might just be the best present of all time: a day at Powell’s. A whole day in a three-story bookstore that sprawls over a square block. Not just any bookstore—one of the best on the planet, a self-proclaimed City of Books. John Balzar, writing in the LA Times, said, “There is simply no place in America like Powell’s. No bookstore is so big or so meticulously organized, and none has such a psychic hold on so large a community.” Or on me.

And Dick said on my 40th birthday when he surprised me with a full day at Book Heaven, “You point; I buy.” It was better than Disneyland. Once inside, I became so absorbed and lost in the stacks I had to take breaks, my eyes got so buggy looking at and through books. We zipped out for lunch and dinner and probably spent a total of nine hours in there before I gave up. 

It was not just that I got to buy any books I wanted. It was that Dick understands that places like Powell’s are cathedrals of literature to me, the best kind of libraries because you get to keep the treasures forever, if you like. Yes, I have too many books and not enough bookshelves. But I don’t keep every book that comes into my life—only the most special ones. Really. Words are what I play with, what I coax out of others, what I breathe—so amazing bookstores and libraries hold special magic for me.

So here we are at Powell’s, where they’ve set up a nifty little green screen that you can pose in front of, and a nice young man takes your photo that he will email to you. (How high-tech is this?!)

Dick and Jan in front of the green screen.


We spent “only” an hour and a half at Powell’s on this visit. That’s when our free parking space was going to turn into one that required money—no big deal, really. We coulda popped for parking. But we were traveling, and Dick knows well that I need some kind of deadline, or I could spend the night in Powell’s.

So I started in the Green Room, which is where the cashiers live, looking through books on sale and found two paperback copies of “Fluke” by Christopher Moore, which I couldn’t find anywhere, even on Amazon, for heaven’s sake. And since I’d given my copy away and I really needed another one, well, there were two. I put in my plastic basket new hardbacks of a few old P.G. Wodehouse books because the editions are just so lovely, and I’m a huge Wodehouse fan. I picked up a 1950s edition of To the Lighthouse because Virginia Woolf has inspired a missing chapter in my novel. I chose a few obscure literary journals because I like obscure literary journals. I oversee one myself.

I was happyhappyhappy for those 90 minutes in Powell’s, and Dick was happy because he says he likes to see me happy. It is one of the best birthday presents I could have in anticipation of my day, Friday, July 30. I will be 52, which is what I’ve been telling people for most of the past year. For some reason, 51 just feels like an odd number. (It is an odd number, Jan…) I’ve been saying, “I’ll be 52 on my next birthday.” And here it almost is.

Running my hands over the spines of books in a tremendous bookstore was a great way to begin this year’s celebration. Thank you, Dickie!

About janishaag

Writer, writing coach, editor
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7 Responses to Powell’s

  1. aprilpeletta says:

    I love this post Jan…well I love all of your posts, but this one made me green with envy for the books, and someone as special as Dick. Honestly that 40th birthday present goes in my hall of fame for romantic gestures. I’m about to hop into bed, but I plan on dreaming of those book cathedrals tonight. One day I’ll make it to Powell’s, but until then I’ll count book spines instead of sheep.

  2. janishaag says:

    Thank you, April! I appreciate this (Dick does, too!). I am a hugely lucky woman for so many reasons—one of them is to have this man in my life. You’ll get to Powell’s; you’ll find a man who adores you, too… keep the faith as you count those book spines!

  3. hilary abramson says:


  4. joey says:

    What a beautiful love story! I savored every word. Thank you!

  5. Did you know that Nich and I had our first date at Powells? It was the cathedral for me too, and if I believed in marriage, I do believe we’d try to get married THERE. If you wanted to find me in undergrad, all you had to do was look down the fiction aisles of Powells late at night, feathering through book pages, ready to shut the place down. It’s my number 1 dream spot on the book tour. Man! I wish I were there with you! How nice of Dick!

  6. Sonya says:

    Ah, Powell’s, and only the downtown store. It’s gotta be the greatest, bestest bookstore in the world! And, a great pre-birthday jaunt!! I’m jealous!

    I always try to make a stop there when in Portland, but I wasn’t able to this last visit.

    I’m sure you’re having a great time, and I’m following your travels on the itinerary you left.

    Love, Sonya

    PS The new plantings in front — great curb appeal. And, Paul was here yesterday to fix your sprinkler, so, no more brown lawn patches.

  7. emmaswan says:

    You crack me up. Here I am sitting laughing my head off seeing you two cute people wandering around being happy together and being happy on the planet. Thanks for the images, the smiles, the great green screen pic with theater logo. Have a fun fun trip.

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