How would you describe your job to someone you just met?
Powell's has a massive selection of used books and I'm one of the people who buys them in. I look through what customers bring to sell and decide what to purchase based on sales history, stock numbers, and relevance. It's a mixture of data analysis, trend prediction, and general industry knowledge. I'm also on our inventory team, which means I often see the books I've bought multiple times as they make their way through our sorting carts and onto the shelves.
Last book you loved:
By the time this post is published, my answer will have changed! Between our overstuffed shelves and the advance copies we get from publishers, I'm lucky enough to have a never-ending supply of reading material — I'm never without a book in my hand. It's not out until next year, but I'm going to pick You Know You Want This
by Kristen Roupenian because it just ruined me for all other books for a while. After I finished it, it took me at least a week to stop gushing about it to every single person who made the mistake of talking to me. Roupenian wrote "Cat Person" (the New Yorker
story that broke the Internet harder than Kim Kardashian ever could) and she got a seven-figure book deal out of it. Worth every penny.
Where are you originally from?
I grew up in the land of beaches, smog, and In-N-Out, aka Southern California.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
For a long time, I didn't realize it was possible to have a job related to books — I loved them too much to think of them as a profession. After I saw The Silence of the Lambs
, I wanted to be a forensic psychologist. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that wasn't what I actually wanted to do; I just really liked that movie — and Jodi Foster, apparently.
What did you do before you came to Powell’s?
Before I moved to Portland, I was the Events Manager at Changing Hands Bookstore
in Arizona (shout-out to my alma mater — they are destination-worthy). If you'll allow me a strained metaphor, I got to learn what goes into the sausage of an author appearance, from the pitching process to marketing to planning to actually executing an event. I also ran their Instagram account, bought used books, and wrote about a billion book reviews for display.
What is the best part of your job?
Just being around my favorite thing in the world: books. When I was a kid, the only way I would pay attention in math class was if the teacher framed math problems in terms of candy. I view my job in similar terms: as long as I'm doing something in the book world, I find it fascinating, compelling, and important.
What is the most interesting part of your job?
I love when I get to research a book! People bring in the most incredible variety of books to sell and I love when I get to really dig deep into a buy, to ascertain what makes a certain book unique or valuable. There's a story behind every story, and I want to know what it is.
Share your favorite customer quote.
I can't think of a specific quote, but my favorite customer interactions are the ones where they leave with a book I love. Picking out the perfect book for people is my superpower.
Share a memorable experience you've had on the job.
One of the coolest buys I ever had was a gentleman who brought in a 16th-century edition of Martin Luther's Table Talk
. It was in incredible shape — the buyer's father had spent years getting it restored — and the pages were onionskin thin. It was the oldest piece of history I've ever encountered and I was afraid to breathe on it.
When you’re not reading, what do you like to do in your free time?
[As] long as I'm doing something in the book world, I find it fascinating, compelling, and important.
I don't have a great answer for this because I fill all of my free time with reading! If I'm not reading, I'm probably walking around Portland aimlessly or otherwise. According to the Wu-Tang Name Generator
, I am Midnight Wanderer, so there's that.
What’s your favorite spot in Portland?
I spent the last four years living in the desert and I can't get over how green it is here. There are trees everywhere: By the freeway! Growing out of cracks in the sidewalk! I'm going to say my favorite spot is Anywhere Trees Arch Over a Walkway Like a Canopy.
What makes for a good book in your eyes?
My favorite books are the ones where the author doesn't sacrifice good storytelling for good writing and vice versa. Ditto on books that make me feel something strongly, even if that something is deep sadness.
Why do you think bookstores remain so popular in the digital age?
This is something I think about a lot, as this industry is very important to me for both personal and professional reasons. A book is a conduit to another world, but it's also a barrier in the physical world. Readers (myself included) tend to be very introverted, but that doesn't mean we don't long for connection. And not to get too Black Mirror
-y here, but technology tends to isolate us further. So shopping for books can be a very emotional experience, a chance to be a part of a larger community. Independent bookstores offer this opportunity, this safe haven, as well as a very individualized shopping experience. Indies are such reflections of their communities.
Recommend a book you think everyone should read.
by Tommy Orange — no matter what you like to read, you will love this brilliant, beautiful, heartbreaking debut. Also anything Lindy West
writes because she is absolutely brilliant. If I were a zombie, I'd go for her brain first.
Walk us through your favorite route when browsing books at Powell’s.
First I make a giant, aspirational stack of books in the Blue Room, then go through them very carefully to decide what I can't live without. Then I put everything I don't buy back where it goes, because I am a bookseller and it's part of our code. (As an aside, we never judge customers who leave books with us to put away — that's what we're here for!). Then I repeat this routine in the Gold Room and Red Room, finally leaving with a pile of books and yet another pin for my work lanyard.
Do you collect any particular types of books?
Yes! I will buy anything published by the inimitable New York Review of Books or Persephone Books. Not only do these books look lovely on a shelf, but they only publish amazing titles. Seriously, not a dud in the bunch.
What’s your biggest literary pet peeve?
Inadequate editing! I hate when a good book gets lost in a huge page count. If you're going to write a tome, it better be tomeworthy.