How would you describe your job to someone you just met?
I’m a book curator! I’m part of the team that buys new books for all Powell’s locations. We look through catalogs of upcoming books and meet with publisher representatives to decide what should be on our shelves. I’m really passionate about books for kids and teens, so it’s exciting and rewarding being the buyer for young adult, middle grade, and some younger kids’ titles. I also have the fascinating challenge of ordering non-English titles for all ages.
Last book you loved:
The Girl Who Drank the Moon
by Kelly Barnhill. It’s one that slipped through the cracks for me; I only just read it, and I wish both that I had read it when it first came out and that I could somehow wipe it from my mind and have the experience of reading it for the first time again. It lives up to every bit of hype you’ve ever heard about it, and if you’ve never heard of it, pick it up anyway — you’re in for a treat.
Where are you originally from?
I was born in Detroit, MI, but I grew up in Pullman, WA. There’s a very cool used bookstore there called Brused Books. I have a lot of fond memories of sitting on the floor of their kids’ section, rifling through old paperbacks for my next favorite.
What did you do before you came to Powell’s?
I worked at Neill Public Library in Pullman on college breaks from Ohio Wesleyan University, where I earned my degree in English Literature and Theatre. Accordingly, I took a diversion into acting Shakespeare and working at bowling alleys before returning to the world of books at Powell’s. I still perform Shakespeare when the opportunity arises, but I am — and always have been — a terrible bowler.
What is the best part of your job?
I think getting kids and teens reading is incredibly vital. Books encourage empathy and help us better understand ourselves, both of which are especially important at a young age. I love bringing in books for kids and teens that I know will (even a little bit) change someone’s life — whether that’s because it’s got a really fantastic hook that I know a reluctant reader is going to love, or because it’s going to allow someone to see a character who has the same background or identity as they do, maybe for the first time. While there is always room for improvement, representation in YA and children’s literature has come a long way in recent years, and it’s heartening and fulfilling to put titles on our shelves that are written from diverse viewpoints and feature protagonists of diverse identities.
Share your favorite customer quote.
A good book knows what it’s setting out to do and accomplishes it.
“Do you have any books by William Wonka?” This very nice woman turned out to be looking for coffee table photo books about Gene Wilder
. We got there eventually.
When you’re not reading, what do you like to do in your free time?
I work with local theatre companies as an actor and a dramaturg/researcher. I also love video games and board games! My roommates and I constantly struggle to get our schedules to line up to have board game nights; when we manage it, Ticket to Ride
(with the 1910
expansion, naturally) is a perennial fave. If we can’t match our calendars and board games aren’t an option, I can probably be found replaying one of the Dragon Age or Mass Effect games — or the LEGO games. I’m not too proud to admit it! Those games are FUN.
What’s your favorite spot in Portland?
I love the stretch of Hawthorne where the Hawthorne and Home & Garden Powell’s locations are. The Bagdad Theatre is my favorite place to see a new movie; the Waffle Window is one of my favorite brunch places; there are easily 6 amazing thrift shops within walking distance — I absolutely love that neighborhood.
What makes for a good book in your eyes?
I think a good book knows what it’s setting out to do and accomplishes it. For me, a popcorn-y, trope-y, beach read of a romance that embraces exactly what it is and excels at it can easily be just as “good” as the next big work of “serious literature” — sometimes better, because I find that some of the things touted as “serious literature” set out to be insightful and end up just being self-indulgent.
Why do you think bookstores remain so popular in the digital age?
When I want to discover something new, nothing beats a brick-and-mortar bookstore. Sure, if I know exactly what I want, it’s easy to look it up and buy it online. But if I want to browse a genre, it’s so much simpler and more personal to walk down an aisle and see what sticks out to me. And if I have no idea what I’m looking for, I can tell a bookseller, “Here’s some books I like — what do you think I should read next?” No algorithm, no matter how detailed, can beat the random kismet of a personal recommendation, especially from someone who’s trained and practiced in making them.
There’s also something magical about a local bookstore — it becomes a microcosm of the flavor of its community. Whenever I visit someplace new, I like to explore its independent bookstores to get a feel of the place and its people.
Recommend an author you think everyone should read.
I think everyone should read at least one book by Sir Terry Pratchett (G.N.U.). I’ve seen him described as one of the best philosophers of the modern age, which might seem like a strange thing to say about a sci-fi/fantasy author, but I find it very true. Terry Pratchett loved the strange, awful, beautiful human-ness of humanity, and he wrote about it with a fiercely heartfelt sense of humor that always punched upwards. He really embodied the ability of humor and parody to highlight problems in our world, and hopefully inspire people to help fix them. I know his writing continues to inspire me. If you don’t know where to begin — he was very prolific! — I’d recommend Monstrous Regiment
; it’s part of Pratchett’s Discworld series, but it makes an excellent standalone, too.
Do you collect any particular types of books?
I collect just about anything by Diana Wynne Jones — she’s my all-time favorite author. She was a master at making the strange familiar and the familiar strange, and I get something new from her books every time I reread them. It’s unusual for me to own the same book in multiple editions, but I snatch up every version of Howl’s Moving Castle
that I can find. My favorite is Wizard’s Castle
, an out-of-print book club edition that also includes Castle in the Air
; the cover is just gorgeous. My best friend knew I was coveting it and tracked me down a copy as a gift — I’m pretty sure I cried in public when she gave it to me.
Tell us about your first memorable reading experience.
My childhood was all books. My parents read to my middle sister and me every night; we could almost always agree on Poems to Read to the Very Young
by Josette Frank (with the Dagmar Wilson illustrations), and I can still recite more than one of those from memory. I also repeatedly got in trouble in elementary school for reading under my desk (sorry, Mrs. Luhring!).
My most memorable reading experience, though, was getting to help pass the magic of books on to my youngest sister. When I was in high school and she was about six, we read Ella Enchanted
together (aloud and with plenty of character voices, of course). A couple of years later, she had to do a school project about her first memorable reading experience, and that was the memory she picked. I still can’t help smiling when I think about it.
Do you have any odd reading habits?
When I am on the fence about picking up a book, I like to read the last few pages to see if the ending hooks me. Knowing the ending never gets in the way of my enjoyment, I promise! But it feels so taboo that I can’t help being embarrassed about it — I can’t do it if other people are shopping near me. I always feel like they’re judging me, even if they’re obviously not looking my way.