How would you describe your job to someone you just met?
I am the Online Buyback (OBB) Manager. Through Powells.com, we buy used books from people all across the United States. I lead a great group of people in getting those books from the UPS truck to the shelves, and then getting those sellers their money, either through Paypal or Powells.com credit. We get to look through used books all day long: not too shabby.
Last book you loved:
Anu Partanen’s The Nordic Theory of Everything
was an eye-opener. Partanen is a Finnish American writer, and discusses the differences between the U.S. and Finnish governments and how they work (healthcare, education, assisted living, taxes, childcare). Partanen is fantastic at showing ideas Americans should not be afraid of and questioning how free “The Land of the Free” really is. I’d love for every politician in the country to read it.
Where are you originally from?
Forest Lake, Minnesota.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Oddly, I didn’t want to work at a bookstore. I despised having to read until my mid-to-late teens. It’s strange to think I once had an aversion to something I can’t get enough of today.
What did you do before you came to Powell’s?
I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand. I spent 27 months in Sangkha, a small district in the province of Surin, near the Cambodian border. I worked with some of the local schools, taught a group of boys how to play baseball, and assisted other volunteers in their communities as well. It’s a great way to serve your country, and the adventure of a lifetime. I can’t recommend it enough. Plus, there was a lot of down time; therefore, I got a lot of reading done.
What is the best part of your job?
Everything books. Whether it’s seeing what used books are coming through, getting the first look at new releases, or just talking books with coworkers. I’ve had other jobs where I’m the only reader. Here, I’m surrounded.
What is the most interesting part of your job?
Tracking book sales. It’s great to see something unique come through and then track to see how quickly (or not) it finds a new home. When I was working the used book buying counter at Cedar Hills, I was fortunate enough to have someone sell the store an autographed copy of No Country for Old Men
by Cormac McCarthy, one of my favorite books. It was fun to see it sell within the week.
Share a memorable experience you've had on the job.
Being able to shake Bruce Springsteen’s hand and tell him how much I loved his memoir. I’m a huge fan and Born to Run
When you’re not reading, what do you like to do in your free time?
I’ve had other jobs where I’m the only reader. Here, I’m surrounded.
My wife is attending nursing school and spends a lot of her time studying; therefore, I have a lot of time to myself and I usually hit other great independent Portland stores. I love to hit up Music Millennium for tunes, Water Avenue Coffee, and countless places pouring delicious Oregon beer.
What’s your favorite spot in Portland?
Anywhere that involves sitting outside, drinking an Oregon IPA, and either reading a good book by myself or playing cribbage with my wife.
What makes for a good book in your eyes?
I’m not much of a book critic. I have a hard time explaining why I liked or didn’t like a book. I'm not afraid to put down a book no matter how far I’ve gotten if I’m simply not enjoying myself. As soon as the novel begins to feel like work, I usually put it down. So, I guess to answer the question, a good book in my eyes is one I finish.
Why do you think bookstores remain so popular in the digital age?
Because they’re wonderful! I owned a digital reader when I was overseas and I found it very useful in a place where there weren’t many bookstores. However, the entire time I couldn’t wait to get back to the States to hit the bookstores and libraries. The digital reader broke on the flight back — I guess that was a sign.
I also care about where my money goes and at indie bookstores you can see where your money is going. You’re not clicking away your cash to some corporation behind a curtain. You can go speak to booksellers and know your hard-earned dollar is now going to be theirs in exchange for a great book!
Recommend a book or author you think everyone should read.
Anything you want! If you don’t know what you want, I encourage everyone to either go to any Powell’s location, Powells.com, or your local independent bookstore and talk to a bookseller and figure it out. Books are so much more rewarding when they have a connection to someone else: bookseller, librarian, or friend.
However, there are a few titles I feel span many reading preferences: City of Thieves
by David Benioff, Lonesome Dove
by Larry McMurtry, 11/22/63
by Stephen King, Destiny of the Republic
by Candice Millard, and Dead Wake
by Erik Larson.
Walk us through your favorite route when browsing books at Powell’s.
When I’m shopping for myself, I have to hit a few places. I always attack the Blue Room. Along with checking a number of authors I’m into at that time, I always check out the Philip Roth
shelves to see if there’s anything collectible. I tend to head up to the Gold Room and check out the Stephen King
titles. The Red Room has all my history needs, and it’s always fun to see what’s new in the rare book room.
Do you collect any particular types of books?
If I’m collecting, I’m planning to reread. I have quite a few books on my shelf, but the only ones that are safe from the Powell’s used book buying counter are the first five books in Karl Ove Knausgård’s My Struggle series
and my Philip Roth Library of America collection
What’s your biggest literary pet peeve?
My only literary pet peeves are my own and they usually involve spending too much time online when I could be reading.
Tell us about your first memorable reading experience.
at UW-Stout for a class called Fiction Into Film. I didn’t get seriously into reading until college and that was the book that kicked off my love. I haven’t gone more than a few days without a book since.
Do you have any odd reading habits?
I will sometimes spend more time choosing my next book to read than it might take me to read the book I choose. It usually starts with a stack of 5 to 10 books that I might read, going through the synopsis of each and perhaps the first page, and eliminating them down until I have one left. This can take between 5 minutes and 48 hours.
What’s your favorite book of all time?
The Plot Against America
by Philip Roth. Roth is one of America’s greatest authors writing a what-if story about a very interesting time in U.S. history. I’ve read it a few times and was happy to see it experience a resurgence after the 2016 election.