Rain or shine, book lovers and bibliophiles flock to Portland cafes and bars with their winter readings in hand. While the weather outside has been appalling with a high risk of snow ahead, the overall atmosphere inside has been warm, cozy, and strewn with distant individuals enjoying their slow afternoons.
With the spirit of gift giving in the air as Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Years approaches, it’s time to grab your last minute literary gifts. From sci-fi and fantasy to non-fiction and candid generational stories, this month’s readers describe their current favorites and suggest gifts for the people from the book in your life.
Before I get to the featured December selections, I’d like to highlight a few of Portland’s independent bookstores and vendors (other than the famous Powell’s Books) where you can shop during the holiday season and throughout the year. ‘year :
Open from noon to 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve
2827 NE Alberta St.
An original one-man business owned by Mitch Melville, Melville Books features a patio of books to browse as well as a small indoor boutique stocked with new and used volumes.
Open until 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve
3415 SE Belmont St.
An eclectic treasure trove of new, used and rare books, magazines and ephemera owned by Joe Witt, Belmont Books also publishes The sunny pages, a local newspaper focusing on events and art in the Sunnyside area.
Mother Foucault Bookstore
Open until 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve
523 SE Morrison Street
Specializing in used, rare and vintage books, Mère Foucault is known for her collection of books on art, poetry, philosophy and live readings.
Paper moon books
Open by appointment only, from noon to 4 p.m.
4712 SE Belmont St.
Owned by Andrea Drinard for over 40 years, Paper Moon Books is a secret store selling used and vintage books online and by appointment.
Annie Bloom’s books
Open until 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve
7834 SW Capitol Hwy.
This Multnomah Village store sells new and used books, magazines, CDs, and gifts, as well as a catalog of local and self-published Oregon authors. It also hosts free events virtually every month.
Third Eye Books
Open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Christmas Eve
2518 SE 33rd Ave.
Founded in 2019 by Michelle Lewis and Charles Hannah, Third Eye Books is a black-owned new and used bookstore with the vision of becoming the premier supplier of African books and accessories in the metro area.
Now let’s move on to recommended reading:
Tell me how long the train has been gone
Written by James Baldwin
Read by Jordan Marquez
Caffé Vita, northeast of Alberta Street
“Deep and touching”
Having recently moved to Portland from Wisconsin, Marquez learned Tell me how long the train has been gone from a YouTube interview with James Baldwin and American poet Nikki Giovanni. A product design student with a focus on user optimization, he was drawn to the title of the book, which he described as “intensely captivating.” We took a moment to talk about our long and ever-growing book lists and the joys of chatting with others in cafes. He suggests this book to anyone who enjoys life-changing and moving stories.
Marquez and I also spoke about her sister, a New York-based freelance poet who writes about food justice and visibility issues for Métis communities in Wisconsin and the East Coast. He then suggested Ocean Vuong’s works to anyone interested in poetry about love, loss and transition.
The power of uniqueness: make your crazy ideas powerful enough to rock the world
Written by Nilofer Merchant
Read by Ron
Palio Dessert and Espresso House, Ladd’s Addition
“A game changer”
Ron said his granddaughter recommended this book about an Indian woman destined for arranged marriage who broke up to choose her own path. The book sparked a conversation between us about the importance of appreciation and the willingness to admit when we don’t know.
An amateur writer working on a book on his “three inheritance” theory (goods, genetics and language), Ron explained his take on how language is present in everything humans do. For those interested in science fiction, non-fiction, and physics, he suggests Merchant’s book on How to Turn Creative Thinking Into Action.
Written by Karl Ove Knausgaard
Read by Sloan C.
Dragonfly Cafe, Pearl District
I noticed that Sloan across the cafe was reading a book that I’m also currently invested in. Autumn, by Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard, is one of four books in his series named after the seasons. A collection of stories and essays written in a creative-non-fictional style, the volume explores mundane objects and concepts through a detailed and ethereal micro-focused perspective. While my favorite sections so far are called “Frames” and “Labia”, Sloan prefers the section called “Beekeeping”.
Sloan said her artist friend Sarah recommended the book after recently traveling to Norway. Sloan suggests it to anyone who appreciates introspective writing, meditative art, and memoir.
Pounds of Blood: Volume 1
Written by Clive Barker
Read by Will
Caffé Vita, northeast of Alberta Street
“It will make you laugh how disgusting and strange it is”
I chatted with Will, a self-proclaimed big fan of science fiction and fantasy, who had two books at his table, both purchased from Melville’s Books. He described Barker’s work as “adult goosebumps” to anyone looking for a bloody psychosexual thrill. Will also read Harlan Ellison’s book I have no mouth and I have to scream, although he was not a huge fan. Despite its cool concepts, the book is wordy, straightforward and forgiving, according to Will, who was not wowed by its execution.
In addition to Barker, Will suggests Fever dream, a 1982 vampire novel by George RR Martin known for his dark undertones and Portland author Patrick deWitt.
Song of Solomon
Written by Toni Morrison
Read by Carly O.
Lutz Tavern, SE Woodstock Boulevard
“The most invested I have ever been in a story”
A Generational Story of a Family and Community that Deal with Love, Loss, Mystery, and Buried Treasure While Confronting the Effects of Racism in America, Morrison 1977 Song of Solomon quickly became one of Carly’s favorite books. Next to me at the Lutz Tavern, Carly said that she had felt such a range of emotions reading it that she was happy to have a drink in her hand. She suggested it as a gift to anyone wishing to immerse themselves in literature featuring the experiences of black Americans and stories of family resilience. She also recommends The house of the spirits by Chilean author Isabel Allende.
The will to change: men, masculinity and love
Written by bell hooks
Northeast of Alberta Street
The day after I learned of the death of American author and activist Bell Hooks, I spotted a copy of her The will to change under the arm of a walking individual with a cup of coffee in hand. Dissect the oppressive environment created for men by a patriarchal culture, The will to change helps men find ways to break down emotional barriers and express themselves.
All or nothing marriage: how the best marriages work
Written by Eli J. Finkel
SE Boulevard Hawthorne
In the Hawthorne neighborhood, a woman carried a basket of vegetables with Finkel’s All or nothing marriage balanced on top. “After years of debate and investigation, the key to a great marriage has remained shrouded in mystery – until now,” Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: the new psychology of success, said of Finkel’s 2017 release.