How would you describe your job to someone you just met?
I work at Powell’s PDX. I’m a jack-of-all-trades and I’m involved in every aspect of Powell’s PDX from top to bottom. My job is basically to help facilitate everyone else’s work at our PDX store, make sure our customers have a great experience, and to work with our team to ensure that we have a healthy and vibrant location with an interesting (sometimes surprising?) inventory.
Last book you loved:
A Brief History of Seven Killings
by Marlon James. I love Jamaica, I love reading dialect, I love bleak, and I’m a huge Bob Marley fan (Catch a Fire
is also a remarkable read).
Where are you originally from?
Newcastle upon Tyne, England. About 28 years ago in Santa Barbara I met a girl from Roseburg, Oregon, fell in love, and the rest is history (or romance... or sci-fi... or mystery?).
What did you want to be when you grew up?
A race car driver or a pirate. A fireman. Ronnie Wood. I’m OK with what I got tho’.
What did you do before you came to Powell’s?
I’ve been a bookseller for the last 36-ish years, so before I started my 25 years at Powell’s I was already doing that. Prior to that, prehistory, back in England, I taught guitar at a community center and also occasionally labored on building sites (I once “helped” build a room with no door that had a forklift trapped in it).
What is the best part of your job?
I’m lucky to have my days be mostly self-directed, and I’m involved in lots of different areas and processes of day-to-day bookstore life, which I still find fascinating. I work with a team of folks who make me better at my job and provide inspiration. It’s all “best part.”
What is the most interesting part of your job?
People and the exchange of information and stories. The various, unexpected books that draw my attention during the day and end up in my collection. The ability to extend influence in a positive (I hope) way by sending my favorite stories out into the world. I love that every day I get input from the fantastic, clever, interesting people I work with (who often hand-sell me books I wasn’t expecting). Bookstores are populated with people who think and create, and, particularly at Powell’s, we’re also surrounded by and have easy access to one of the biggest and best collections on the planet. It’s a fantastic place to be steeped in, and then you get to filter all that info you’ve absorbed and find a way to release the bits you like best back into the world.
Share a memorable experience you've had on the job.
I truly believe it just takes the right book at the right time to change the whole trajectory of a life.
Asking Ian Rankin
about why he chose to name some of his books after Rolling Stones albums and him telling me all about meeting the Stones and which of them read his books. Talking about if and when he was gonna kill Inspector Rebus!
When you’re not reading, what are some of your favorite activities?
Friends, football/basketball, music, travel, wildlife, photography, movies, food, camping.
What’s your favorite spot in Portland?
Sauvie Island. I take (mostly blurry) bird and wildlife photographs and I’m often on Sauvie Island doing that. Also, the Moda Center: go Blazers!
What makes for a good book in your eyes?
I think it can be different things and I can generally find something to enjoy in most books. A really good book has, at least, a compelling story, feels like it’s “honest” and has been cared for in its construction, and has solid character development. I usually need a sympathetic character or at least someone I can absolutely despise — both are great. I love a strong sense of time and/or place, as it pulls me into the plot more. I’m drawn towards the fairly bleak, where the character struggles with whatever but then (mostly) pulls through in the end.
Why do you think bookstores remain so popular in the digital age?
Are bookstores still popular? My opinion is that bookstores have dwindled and are nowhere near as common as they used to be or should be. It used to be that most communities, whether large or small, had a bookstore, and I don’t think that’s true anymore. What we have in Portland with Powell’s is rare and becoming more so. I want more bookstores, and more communities to have access to what we have.
Going online is useful for news and reference, but for me it’s all surface and immediate gratification and I can’t delve deeply into a specific topic online or on an electronic device. The general trend online seems to be towards scanning every bit of information available rather than attaining deeper knowledge in a specific area. Picking up a computer or phone just gives me that “superficial” feeling, so I can’t read a book on a computer. Books are about removing yourself from the day-to-day and visiting somewhere else. They offer a relationship and a commitment and a much deeper immersion into whatever you choose.
Recommend a book or author you think everyone should read.
Everyone should read something and I don’t think it really matters what it is because it’ll take you on to other things. I think reading is a “gateway drug” and it leads to self-reflection and knowledge and maybe even the reading of better things. Stephen King
gets knocked for writing some crap, but if you figured out how many folks he started down the path to becoming bibliophiles...! I think Mr. King probably deserves a medal for his contribution towards creating readers and keeping booksellers in business.
Do you collect any particular types of books?
Seems like I collect all the books all the time. When I started with Powell’s, I was the events guy at Powell’s at Cedar Hills Crossing. That got me some signed first editions and I do kinda still pick up the odd one here and there. I also got to meet some fantastic authors (and nearly Burt Reynolds). Also, special mention, James Lee Burke’s Robicheaux
What’s your biggest literary pet peeve?
Waiting for the next book in a series.
Tell us about your first memorable reading experience.
When I was just a little kid I had a great teacher who was a big influence (kudos to teachers!). He gave me a copy of Born Free
. I think that started the wheels turning and it’s the first time I remember being so engaged and taken away by a book. I truly believe it just takes the right book at the right time to change the whole trajectory of a life.
I also want to give a shout-out to books as everyday tools. I’m someone who learns by reading and then doing, and all through my life books have helped me make decisions and get better at things. I learned to play guitar from a book; I learned about Oregon from books before I got here (and then from books while being here); my wife and I bought a small, rickety house 28 years ago because of Charles Givens
(three months before he went to prison) and we never looked back and still live there; there’s been a Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America
living in my truck for as long as I can remember; travel = guides; how do you fix the carb of a ’65 Pontiac? Go to Powell’s and find a book. Also this: Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades
. Some of the biggest decisions I’ve made during my life were book-assisted!
Do you have any odd reading habits?
I like to read hardcovers and I tend to beat the crap out of them as I read. I have a collection of bookmarks at home (is that odd, doesn’t everyone have this?) from all over the world, and I can’t just use any old bookmark (and yes, book and bookmark sometimes have a tenuous link). I often have an atlas beside me that I consult if it’s appropriate to what I’m reading (I’m a geography nut). I occasionally make a note here and there and sometimes a list of characters. I usually have cats on me. (Man, DO I sound crazy!)
What’s your favorite book of all time?
You mean this week? “Favorite book of all time” is kinda like Bigfoot. It’s probably out there, and there are sightings all the time, but there’s never been definitive evidence of its existence. Some recent “footprints” include: The Wayward Bus
, What Is the What
, Treasure Island
, and West With the Night