How would you describe your job to someone you just met?
I’m an Inventory Specialist. Basically, I help oversee all the aspects of what happens to a book once it reaches the store: data entry, shelving, pricing, inventory maintenance, transferring books back to publishers, etc. It’s almost always a busy day in the Inventory Department.
Last book you loved:
by Jeff VanderMeer and Red Clocks
by Leni Zumas.
Where are you originally from?
I’m originally from a small village in Germany, near where most of the Brothers Grimm
stories were collected (I was born about 10 minutes from the town of Hameln, where the Pied Piper comes from). Then I moved to Montana as a child, and made my way to Portland as an adult.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I desperately wanted to be a special effects makeup artist and work on science fiction and horror movies. I also always wanted to write stories.
What did you do before you came to Powell’s?
I was a part-time college student and stay-at-home dad, as well as a regularly performing musician.
What is the best part of your job?
Seeing the myriad of books that come through the Burnside store (we receive thousands of books each day), and my amazing coworkers. The people I work with are by far some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met.
What is the most interesting part of your job?
Some people might find this boring, but the most interesting part of my job is helping to oversee the vast inventory that the Burnside store houses. We have nearly a million books in the building, as well as another 100,000 or so gift and souvenir items at any given time, and it’s a bit like perpetual juggling to try and keep everything current and correct in our database. It’s a daunting task, but one that I find is always stimulating.
When you’re not reading, what do you like to do in your free time?
A good book is one that makes you forget it’s a book.
I write fiction, play music, and like to spend time with my family. I also try to be as active as I can in ILWU Local 5, the union representing Powell’s and Oregon Historical Society workers.
What makes for a good book in your eyes?
A good book is one that makes you forget it’s a book. Subject matter is irrelevant — if you’re able to completely lose yourself in a story, whether it’s a 2,000-page epic or a short picture book, then it’s a good book.
Why do you think bookstores remain so popular in the digital age?
Bookstores are a little apart from the average retail store, or at least good bookstores are. They’re an archive of human history, a place to find a new story or revisit old ones that have affected you. I think as a species we are fundamentally drawn to and even need stories, and a brick-and-mortar bookstore is a place to quench that thirst in person, immediately. There is always the convenience of ordering a book from your phone or computer, but nothing can replace the feeling of searching through the aisles and discovering a new book all by yourself.
Do you collect any particular types of books?
I love older paperbacks with wild cover art, like the sci-fi and fantasy titles Ballantine Books was putting out in their Adult Fantasy series in the ’60s and ’70s. I’m not much of a collector for rare or valuable books since I don’t want to be afraid to physically read them, but I do have a few prized items signed by famous authors or in hard-to-find editions.
What’s your biggest literary pet peeve?
There are so many! Book blurbs, for one, drive me crazy. Phrases like “tour de force” or “a literary triumph” have become utterly meaningless because of the incessant prevalence of marketing blurbs. More often than not they detract from the book by drowning it in superfluous praise before the reader ever has a chance to open it, and usually I end up thinking less of the person being quoted rather than being enticed by the book it’s printed on.
I also can’t stand overly elaborate book designs, where dust jackets might have cutouts or multiple layers, or the slip case is almost a puzzle box to solve to get to the book inside (I’m looking at you, McSweeney’s
). Typically, these kinds of designs just end up getting torn up on bookshelves anyway. A book’s main job is to showcase the words within it without detracting from the immersive experience. Just keep it simple.
Tell us about your first memorable reading experience.
When I was far too young to be doing so, I was rummaging through my dad’s collection of Stephen King
books and pulled out his copy of It
. I opened the huge hardcover and read the first few pages of the story, and despite being viscerally terrified, I was also captivated by the more complex language and imagery than I was used to in children’s books. A light bulb kind of went off in my head that there was a whole larger world of books I hadn’t yet discovered, and my nose has been buried in them ever since.
What’s your favorite book of all time?
The Book of the New Sun tetralogy by Gene Wolfe, comprised of The Shadow of the Torturer
, The Claw of the Conciliator
, The Sword of the Lictor
, and The Citadel of the Autarch
, respectively. It’s set in a distant dystopian future where civilization has mostly collapsed into a kind of neo-feudalism. The series follows Severian, a journeyman torturer, on a very strange journey across time and memory. It’s by far the most multifaceted, immersive, and puzzling piece of fiction I’ve ever read. I reread the series almost every year, and each time I find whole new parts of the story emerge that I hadn’t seen before.
Editor's note: The Book of the New Sun tetralogy is available in omnibus form as Shadow and Claw and Sword and Citadel.