How would you describe your job?
I’m a bookseller and head of staff at Powell’s Books at Cedar Hills Crossing. I maintain several sections in the nonfiction area of the store, help customers navigate the aisles, and make recommendations.
Where are you originally from?
I was born in Portland, but my family moved when I was very young. I grew up in Spokane and Sacramento and graduated college from San Francisco State University. San Francisco is where I first began bookselling, initially for Waldenbooks and then A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books, another wonderful independent bookstore, which has sadly closed its doors.
What did you do before you came to Powell’s?
My partner (another bookseller) and I moved to Portland nine years ago after 20-plus years in Seattle — many spent working for University Book Store. But I have had the good fortune of working many different jobs over the years: as a teacher, research interviewer, telemarketer, and paralegal, among other things. For three years prior to our move to Portland, I worked as a clerk for the U.S. Probation Office, which was fascinating. But I have to say, there's not a single job I've loved as much as bookselling.
What is the best part of your job?
Being around books is always wonderful, but mostly I love working with the creative people who find a home in bookstores — artists, musicians, filmmakers, writers. The energy, the sharp minds, and the comradery are what have kept me coming back to bookselling.
Share your favorite customer quote.
On being an English major: “It’s a hard way to make a living but a good way to make a life.” Which might be said of bookselling as well. You don’t do it to get rich.
Why do you think bookstores remain so popular in the digital age?
Bookstores are a communal space where conversation and the exchange of ideas and information can thrive. And they’re a place where you can actually touch the books, flip through the pages that hold extended examinations of these ideas and information. Also, I think people are realizing that when they want to escape a little from the rest of their workday, they don’t want to turn their attention to another glowing screen. The constant flicker and scrolling of a computer screen is not restful; it’s not relaxing. Reading is meditative. And sensual: the feel and smell and look of each individual book is not something you can replicate with a tablet or ereader.
What was the last book you loved?
I’m at a point in my reading life where if I don’t love a book right away, I feel no compulsion to finish it, so the last book I loved is most often the last book I’ve read. I just finished rereading Alan Garner’s The Owl Service
, an odd little YA novel from 1967 that takes one of the Welsh Mabinogion tales and reimagines its haunting effects on three young descendants of the tale's original players. I read it years ago and it’s stuck with me ever since.
Recommend a book or author you think everyone should read.
There are two books I’ve read (or am reading) that I think are very important:
1. The Drone Eats With Me
by Atef Abu Saif — a Palestinian author’s day-to-day journal of everyday civilian life in Gaza during invasion. The description of life under drone surveillance and attack is surreal, terrifying, and heartbreaking.
2. Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice
by Adam Benforado — which I hope will become required reading for everyone involved in the criminal justice system. It’s shocking how much of what is standard procedure is not based on good science, or any science; it’s just the way we’ve always done it — with tragic, unjust consequences.
What’s your biggest literary pet peeve?
“Nonfiction” books that don’t cite sources.
Tell us about your first memorable reading experience.
Being read to as a child. We did not have a lot of books in our home, but we did have a complete set of the Childcraft: How and Why
books. My mother read from several of the volumes, and the folk and fairy tales one was my favorite. But I also have a very strong memory of looking at the volume on art, and coming across a picture of a Jackson Pollock painting. I thought it was funny, something my little sister could have done and I said so. I’ve never forgotten what my mother said to me then, which was, “I think there’s something more to it than that.” She didn’t tell me what that something was, but it made me pause to reconsider. I like to think that because of her words, on my better days I've remembered to pause and look a little deeper before rendering judgment.