March 20th, 2001
"...one can never say enough about Powell's. It was one of the first
independents on the Web, certainly the first and most aggressive indie
to take on Amazon.com and the chains. Today it offers one of the most
extensive bookstore web sites, with its contests,
online cafe, wish lists, free books, Puddly
press section, technical
books, dishy staff picks,
referrals to 'other voices' (check out Free
Will Astrology) and some of the best author
interviews ever (Jane Smiley, featured now, has never been more eloquent).
"But I read Powell's on the Web because the writing is sensational.
This is a very big store and a mighty presence on the Internet, but the
attitude is playful, light, independent, adventurous, no-nonsense, sly
and professional all at once. How can the web site duplicate the experience
of walking through all those colored rooms at Powell's City of Books with
their million titles and oddball matchups and used books mixed in with
the new? Why, it invites us to 'Do
the Shuffle' on a page where a random selection of eight books, pulled
'from selections throughout the City,' beckon in fabulous range and variety,
and every time you hit 'shuffle,' you get eight more. A Powell's e-mail
newsletter says: 'A reader in Oxnard, California wrote to say that the
Shuffle pages are 'the most addictive book browsing feature since the
invention of the shelf.'' Who could put it better?
"Then there are the Great
Deals on Really Good Books mostly new sale books (Blonde,
Daughter of Fortune) where the writing is so good you want
to own the hardcovers even if a paperback is in sight. For example, I
admit to avoiding the sadistic writings of A.M. Homes like the disgusting
bag of tricks they are, which means I haven't the stomach to give her
a chance. So what a surprise and delight it is to find that Powell's not
only got through Homes's Music for Torching but found it 'exhilaratingly
perverse,' even 'unsettlingly recognizable.'
"The site has partnered up with the Electronic
Privacy Information Center to offer an astonishing mixture of books
'about civil liberties issues posed by new technologies and the information
"Best of all, I love Powell's e-mail newsletter.
'FOR THOSE WHO ARE ABOUT TO READ, WE SALUTE YOU,' it sometimes begins.
One time an update on the bestseller list was headlined 'YOU KNOW YOU
KNOW BETTER' because only three books on the Powell's Top 20 were found
on USA Today's bestseller list. 'Do Powell's shoppers know something
the rest of America doesn't?' the item read, giving us a feeling that
if we DO know something, it's about this goofball intimacy that Powell's
engenders. Here's an item for the
store's book of author interviews:
"LEIBOVITZ. ONDAATJE. BRYSON. HIGGINS CLARK. JIN. etc. Twenty-two authors and artists talking. What they read and how they work. What they think about. 'When I finish a novel,' Michael Ondaatje explains, 'I've said everything. I have to start again from scratch. It's a strange state to be in. I'm broke, trying to build again.' Nicholson Baker notes, 'Jiffy Pop right now feels imperiled.' Save 30% on The Powells.com Interviews in paperback now and see Helen Fielding admit, "I'm not sure if I can do the long sentences anymore.' "
"I think the feeling you get at Powell's, in the store or on the
Internet, is that this is one big, happy, dysfunctional, nutso book-addicted
family that loves to kick it ALL around, and we're welcome to take part
in it, any way we want to. Walk in or log on; this place is for real."
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