Sunday, November 27, 2011

Powells: Book Nerdvana

If you're a book lover, chances are you've heard of Powells bookstore. If not, you need to know about it. And like Mecca, you DO need to visit it at least once in your life.

Why Powells? Here are some stats about their main City of Books site...and not counting their other sites...that may pique your interest:
• 68,000 square feet packed with books.
• We buy 3,000 used books over the counter every day.
• Approximately 3,000 people walk in and buy something every day.
• Another 3,000 people just browse and drink coffee.
• We stock 122 major subject areas and more than 3,500 subsections.
• You'll find more than 1,000,000 volumes on our shelves.
• Approximately 80,000 book lovers browse the City's shelves every day in Portland and via the Internet.

Here is the main City of Books site page. This page describes their other Portland area locations. This is a store map of the City of Books site.

In case that description sounds a little dry to you, here is a satellite photo of the main City of Books site. Yes, it fills that entire city block.

Two opposite corners from outside

If there are bigger/better Book Lovers' Nerdvanas in the world, I need to know about them STAT.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Another geek tattoo: Timshel

(Photo of new tattoo, along with my original paperback copy of East of Eden and the version I own on my Nook Color)

There's a tattoo shop in Monroe and Olympia called Primeval Ink (Yelp) that I massively enjoy visiting. Three times now, they've taken a geeky idea of mine and made it a reality that's a part of me. Previously, it was a modified Kanji character (done by Patrick) and a laughing wolf (done by Jen) that I now think of as my avatar.

This latest ink was inspired recently, when I read a very cool book about literary tattoos. And today, Jen at Primeval helped make a literary tattoo from a beloved book a reality for me.

John Steinbeck's book 'East of Eden' is my personal candidate for the greatest fiction book ever written. Steinbeck was a writer who could describe funny things and sad things, describe beautiful things in words that can take your breath away and describe ugly things such that you can see them and understand them. But you would still understand that they must be fought. East of Eden is full to the brim of good flawed people who you would still love to know and bad flawed people who you would gladly see locked away.

As his dedication says:
"everything I have is in it and it is not full. Pain and excitement are in it, and
feeling good or bad and evil thoughts or good thoughts - the pleasure of design
and some despair and the indescribable joy of creation."
But the part that has exploded in my head without fail EVERY time that I read it is the timshel speech (text here). The context is to me the purest refinement of the American melting pot ever: a Civil War veteran and an immigrant from Ireland listening to a Chinese worker describe how he and his family learned Hebrew to understand a sentence from the Bible's book of Genesis. The sentence had been translated in different ways in indifferent translations, its exact meaning muddied. What these students found in the word timshel, representing the very essence of free will, is my personal choice for the most magnificent prose ever written. The ladder to climb to the stars is still there in all of us, even if we as a species seem willing to settle for making our world a fraction of what we could.

Aside from its brilliance, 'East of Eden' also brings with it personal reminiscences as a book I read when I had just moved to Silicon Valley in the 1980s. Shortly after I arrived, I discovered that Steinbeck's Cannery Row was a short drive away and went there as often as I could. 'East of Eden' represents those years in California to me, years when I learned a lot about life and myself. Years when I could easily hop on a motorcycle and visit a Pacific beach within an hour. Years when I went from being a 20-something nitwit to being a semi-intelligent adult.

All of this is why I went today and got my timshel tattoo. Actually, I don't feel I had it made's more like a neat tattoo shop helped me reveal something that was burned into my soul decades ago.