My pre-trip research on Portland, Oregon’s Mother Foucault’s Bookshop led me to some interesting descriptions. Most glowed about the enviable antiquarian stock, with some varying descriptors ranging from the negative (pretentious) to gushing (old-world charm, eclectic, cozy, high-brow) to creatively unique (it’s setup like a 1900s living room, it smells like old book glue and whiskey).
Each of these (with the unfortunate absence of the whiskey smell) played a part in my rather unusual trip. Upon arriving, the gentleman working the shop was in the middle of a heated telephone call with someone that seemed to have something to do with a book drop-off. I was a little hesitant to take some photos due to the multiple signs prohibiting the use of cell phones, and wasn’t in a position to explain this blog at the moment, but I took advantage of the clerk’s distractedness and covertly got some shots.
Throughout the two-room space, visitors will find a variety of well cared for and expertly curated books in floor-to-ceiling salvaged wood shelves, with stock covering everything from philosophy to poetry to literary fiction to a wealth of books in French and other languages – all in ample supply. In fact, the shop’s motto is “We have no specialty.” Every genre is given ample space. There’s also a stage for author readings and small concerts, a piano, and a nook above the main floorspace with additional shelving.
The second room was a 2,000-square-foot expansion that occurred in 2015. The original space was opened in 2011 by Craig Florence, who was not in the shop during my visit. Craig was traveling abroad when he wound up in Paris working for George Whitman, owner of the famous Shakespeare & Co. bookstore, and brought the experience home to his native Portland.
After the aforementioned telephone conversation came to its end, the store clerk politely informed me that he may have to close up shop and run an errand, obviously resulting from the phone call. So while my browsing was cut slightly short by this announcement, I had already chosen enough selections to have made the trip a success. In fact, the beautiful leather-bound copy of the collected works of W.H. Auden that I pulled from an upper shelf in the poetry section had the clerk rather envious. Oh well. It has found a good home.
I must confess, after the sensory overload of my prior visit to Powell’s, which I adore, stepping into Mother Foucault’s Bookshop was a welcome respite and a bit more to my taste – in all of its wonderfully high-brow, pretentious glory.
Mother Foucault’s Bookshop is located at 532 SE Morrison Street, Portland, Oregon. Open daily.