Visiting Powell’s

This past week I’ve been traveling out west, on a short author’s tour for my new book “On Conan Doyle.” It’s been, as these things go, both wonderfully exhilarating and terribly draining. But I’ve made some new friends and seen old ones, visited both the magnificent Kansas City Public Library and the University of Kansas, admired an astonishing book and art collection assembled by one of those new friends, endured the horrors of modern air travel, talked reasonably well (I think) and sold some books, and, of course, visited used bookshops when I had a spare hour or two.

In Lawrence , I stopped by The Dusty Bookshop and picked up an E.F. Benson novel—“Mrs. Ames”—that I only had in paperback. Alas, Spivey’s in KC itself was closed on Monday and is, sad to say, going out of business. In Seattle I walked down to Pike Place Market and stopped in a memorabilia store where I bought a Sherlock Holmes doll, then chatted with the owner of a magic shop who told me that my friend Neil Gaiman had been in the week before, and finally picked up a copy of B.C. Bloomfield’s bibliography of Philip Larkin at Arundel Bookshop downtown.

In Portland, of course, I went to Powell’s. I’d never been to either the city or the store before. Powell’s is, of course, an immense emporium, divided into color-coded rooms, with a mix of new and used books. I wish it continued success, but—to be honest—I dislike the mixed shelves of old and new. For my tastes—admittedly rather narrow ones—I would have preferred fewer crisp, shiny jacketed current titles and more battered, worn volumes. And lower prices, too.

I did buy two old first editions of Arthur Conan Doyle: His autobiography “Memories and Adventures” and his very winning book about his library and favorite reading, “Through the Magic Door.” I also picked up some early issues of the newsletter of the Arthur Conan Doyle Society.

And now I’m in Denver, where I’m visiting my eldest son. No doubt I’ll contrive to have him take me to a used bookshop or two. It’s a sickness.

Do the other Reading Roomers look forward to travel chiefly as a means of visiting used bookstores? Do any particular shops stand out in your memory? Which ones—and why? Have you been to Powell’s? What, in your view, makes for an ideal used bookshop? Or an ideal new one for that matter? Please share your thoughts on memorable bookshops.

Michael Dirda

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