Powell's: It's an amazing store, but after semester upon brain-wracking semester of college, an impromptu visit to Powell's Blue Room—which you had originally intended as a leisurely outing—can wind up feeling like college all over again. Highlighted copies of Candide fall off the shelves in front of you. People discuss the symbolic role of sunrises in Their Eyes Were Watching God. Suddenly you're having flashbacks to Comparative Lit 302, and you mentally justify going home to watch Battlestar Galactica instead.
What you need, my scholarly friend, is a place full of sweet books that have nothing to do with a formal education. Lucky for you, you're in Portland, where there are more than a few sweet spots to catch up on some non-required reading.
Reading Frenzy (921 SW Oak)—Reading Frenzy, is of course, the mecca of Portland's zine and underground lit scene. Thirteen years old, this place is as fresh and exciting as ever. With a fantastic selection of graphic novels, magazines, and zines, Reading Frenzy should be one of your first stops upon arriving in Portland.
Tender Loving Empire (1720 NW Lovejoy, #109)—The newest kid on the block out of this bunch, Tender Loving Empire does a whole hell of a lot for occupying such a small piece of real estate—they're a screenprinting shop, record label, indie publisher, and a boutique that sells, among other things, cool self-published books. In addition to sweet TLE-published graphic novels like Brian Oaster's At Home on the Earth, they stock a carefully curated selection of micro-published art and design books from all over the country. Plus, they've just started doing zine consignments, so you can pick up local titles like Chuck E. Cheese Please and We Are on Our Mind.
Floating World Comics (20 NW 5th, #101)—Located in Chinatown, Floating World is a far cooler than average comic shop. Sure, you can get your Halo and Green Lantern fix there, but the store is also stocked with awesome underground stuff, from Top Shelf's American Elf to Arkitip, a rare magazine made of original artwork that packs limited edition pieces inside from artists like "the fourth Beastie Boy," Ricky Powell.
Grass Hut (811 E Burnside)—The reigning champs of Portland's lowbrow-ish art scene, Bwana Spoons and Justin "Scrappers" Morrison, recently opened this gallery and shop on the hip East Burnside strip. In addition to way cheap art, you can find a ton of cool publications, from The Portland Funbook to Plazm to Yeti, with absolutely no risk of hearing people discuss Flaubert's attacks on Romanticism in Madame Bovary.