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Book Tour

One of the highlights of visiting Portland (besides the company), was the precious two hours spent browsing at Powells, bookstore to the Gods. While perusing the stacks, jaw firmly scraping the floor, I felt as close to an archeologist as I ever have, unearthing relics from the shelves and briefly holding them in my nervous hands before I returned them to safety, far from my credit card. Because at Powells (City of Books, an entire city block, like Macy’s), the used gems are mixed in with the new publications, and part of the fun is finding that un-findable tome, calmly sitting there, waiting for you.

The first used gem I found in Powell’s fantastic music section: the Selected Letters of Virgil Thomson, which I plucked off the shelf at first with curiosity, but then after flipping through a few pages, held onto with excitement. Thomson was a character for the ages, and his letters read like a juicy novel, where all the players are straight out of that beloved list of ex-pats in pre-war Paris … Copland, Gertrude Stein, George Antheil … I’ve ripped through half the letters already on the airplane voyage home, and have giggled maliciously on almost every page. The peek into Thomson’s world of cafés with Picasso at Le Boeuf sur le Toit was just too rich to pass up. I restrained myself from purchasing the copy signed by Thomson in the ’80s (about $100 if I remember correctly), and grabbed the dog-eared used volume for $6.

The more exciting find was huge, in heft and in importance: Letters from a Life, Seleced Letters of Benjamin Britten. I’ve been looking for the out-of-print Britten letters for 10 years—anytime I’ve gone into a used bookstore’s music section (almost always a disappointing experience, even in NY) it’s the first thing I look for—I’ve never actually ever seen a copy. And here was Vol. 3 (1946-51) staring me in the face. This one volume (itself, a mammoth item) would have to do for now, it was all they had—so volumes 1-2 are again left for future discovery. But now I’ve tasted blood, and must have the others. My internet search has begun in earnest. It’s only a matter of time…

I was later tempted by a gorgeous (and complete) mid-19th century edition of Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, hiding not so very far away from the aisle of Howard Zinn (ya gotta love Portland). It was rough walking away. But I eventually settled on a copy of Blair Tindall’s spicy book on sex and the Classical Music scene of the 1980′s, released I believe sometime last year. Too many people have asked if I’ve read it yet, so it’s time to dive into the coke-snorting fun myself.

My pile was now getting pricey, and Better Half had put together an impressive stack of books herself, so it was time to run while we still had available credit. Next trip out west, I’ll bring field rations and a tent. Perhaps the easygoing Portlanders at Powells won’t mind me camping out.

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