Being a Portland bookstore that isn’t Powell’s is a little bit like being related to Beyoncé: No matter how good you are at doing your thing, you’re never going to get a fraction of the attention. But learning to accept that fact comes with a certain freedom to find your niche and excel—after all, if Solange’s success tells us anything, it’s that proximity to an icon can have a definite rising-tide-raises-all-boats effect on your career. Or, uh, bookstore.
Portland is chock full of Solange bookstores, and this is by no means an exhaustive list. But if you’re looking to explore beyond the City of Books, here are a few shops to start with.
Best Bookstore for a Deal: Title Wave 216 NE Knott
The stock at Multnomah County Library’s used bookshop can fluctuate quite a bit, so you don’t want to go here in search anything specific. But if you’re in the mood to browse for deals, you can do no better than Title Wave. On a recent trip, I picked up a hardcover copy of Rising Out of Hatred by Eli Saslow—which got a lot of buzz when it came out last year—for a mere $1.50. But my favorite part of Title Wave isn’t the book selection; it’s the big stack of vintage LIFE magazines, whose pages are filled with advertisements for healthy low-tar cigarettes and glossy photo spreads of Tricia Nixon’s White House wedding. (Mon, Tues, Fri, Sat 10 am-4 pm; Wed-Thurs 10 am-6 pm)
Best "High-Brow" Bookstore: Mother Foucault’s 532 SE Morrison
“I don’t want any old book,” I proclaimed before a recent trip to Mother Foucault’s. “I want some literature.” And this inner Southeast spot delivered, serving up towers of existential philosophy, political theory, novels in Russian and German, and thin poetry books from small publishing houses. With eclectic art, an old piano, and a nook with books piled up the stairs, Mother Foucault’s is also one of the coziest bookshops in Portland. Yeah, it might be a little pretentious, but in the best possible way. (Sun-Mon 11 am-3 pm; Tues, Wed, Sat 11 am-6 pm; Thurs & Fri 11 am-7 pm)
Best Bookstore for Graphic Novels: Books with Pictures 1401 SE Division
Everything you need to know about Books with Pictures is right there in its name: They sell books with pictures in them! This is the spot to find a wide range of comics and graphic novels, and the shop takes particular pride in stocking a lot of feminist, queer, and kid-friendly titles and authors. If you’re a graphic novel dabbler like I am, you might share my tendency to be intimidated by the vast fan culture around comics—but at Books with Pictures, casual browsers are welcome. (Sun & Mon 10 am-6 pm, Tues 10 am-7 pm, Wed-Sat 10 am-9 pm)
Best Crowded Bookstore: Wallace Books 7241 SE Milwaukie
Imagine if you took Powell’s entire inventory and crammed it all into an old house in Sellwood. That’s Wallace Books. There’s something delightful about a bookstore that’s packed to the brim with titles both popular and obscure, and the staff’s freakish ability to locate any title on demand makes it even better. Mess? What mess? At Wallace, there’s a method to the madness. (Mon-Sat 10 am-7 pm, Sun 10 am-6 pm)
Best Bookstore for Killing Time: Cameron’s Books and Magazines 336 SW 3rd
There isn’t a clear common thread running through the offerings at Cameron’s Books and Magazines, where 1980s diet cookbooks and old car repair manuals live alongside second-rate genre fiction and vintage postcards. If anything, it feels like a building full of used books that have been rejected by Powell’s used book buyers. But the chaos also has the welcome effect of forcing you out of your literary comfort zone—I could browse here all day for a week and still find new things to discover. (Mon-Sat 11 am-6 pm, Sun 11 am-4 pm)