Recently, I had the great pleasure of traveling around the Pacific Northwest, specifically Seattle and Portland. The trip was part business, and lots of pleasure. Among other activities, I visited several bookstores and libraries.
My first stop was the Seattle Mystery Bookshop. I read all kinds of genres, but mysteries are definitely a favorite, so when I read about this store, I knew I had to visit. And oh my goodness, I'm so glad I did. The Seattle Mystery Bookshop is now one of my favorite places. It has new and used books, including collector's items. Whatever type of mystery you like, be it cozies, hard boiled, noir, thriller, or mysteries involving animals, cooking, or knitting (seriously, there is an audience for such stories and plenty of novels to satisfy them), you're likely to find it at the Mystery Bookshop. Perhaps the best thing about this store are the people who run it. They really know their stuff. Case in point: Before I left for Seattle I made a list of books I wanted to look for, which of course I forget to bring with me when I went to the Mystery Bookshop. Still, I figured it couldn't hurt to ask the man behind the counter if he had heard of a new series centered around a vicar in a small British town who used to work at MI-5. I didn't really expect to get an answer given my vague description. To my delight, within a few minutes, he had the author of the series and the title of the first book. Score!
My second stop was The Elliott Bay Book Company, a store I visited once before the last time I was in Seattle. This independent store impressed me so much that I have never forgotten it even though the last time I was there was over a dozen years ago. It's a great independent store, that feels local and global at the same time. You can find just about any book here, and have a cup of coffee and a snack at the (non-chain) coffee shop in the back. If I lived in Seattle, I would spend a great deal of time here.
The first time I saw the Seattle Public Library, I didn't realize it was a library and walked right passed it. The oddly shaped glass and steel building doesn't immediately evoke a sense of books and reading, at least not on the outside. See what I mean here and here. Inside is even more amazing. With so many windows to let in the light, the space feels open and airy, not like being in an office building at all. One of the amazing things about the architecture is the book spiral which allows patrons to browse the nonfiction collection on four floors without having to take the stairs or go to another part of the building. Here's a Ted Talk with one of the architects talking about the design of the library. More than a place to find a great book, this is truly a great community space.
Anytime I mentioned going to Portland, whoever I was talking to told me to go to Powell's Books. I did. In fact, I ended up going everyday I was in Portland, just to enjoy the atmosphere. This might be my favorite bookstore ever. I am seriously considering making an annual trip to Portland just to go to this treasure trove of books and bookish items. The store is huge, huge! I went back the second time in part because I realized I hadn't actually seen the whole store, despite having spent several hours there the day before. There is so much to love about this bookstore. One of things I appreciated was in the mystery section. Like many other bookstores, Powell's highlights certain books that the staff likes for whatever reason. Powell's has gone a step further and highlighted books set in other countries. So for example, if you're want to read Canadian mysteries, Italian mysteries or South African mysteries, simply browse the shelves and look for the appropriate sign. Powell's also has the largest science fiction and fantasy sections I've seen outside of a store that didn't solely specialize in these genres. There's a whole (and large) room dedicated to art related books. Thinking about it now, it is probably a good thing that I don't live in Portland because I would move into Powell's and never leave. There's a coffee shop on the first floor and a bathroom on the second, so really I could survive there for weeks.
So that's what I did (in part) on my summer vacation. I brought back a carry on full of books and souvenirs. Can't wait to start reading!