Shelter in Place, Pt. XIV: The Gold Room

One of my favorite places on earth is completely and utterly ordinary and that’s okay. Powell’s City of Books, located in the heart of Portland, is subdivided into rooms identified by color. In the Blue Room you’ll find literature and poetry. Philosophy and self-help are in the Purple Room. Each room, like a dog on the internet, is very good, but the Gold Room is my place, the home of science fiction and fantasy. There, in the second golden aisle, you’ll find a collection of Ursula Le Guin books. And that’s it. That’s one of my favorite places on earth.

I’ve spent countless hours standing in front of that small stretch of shelf, leafing through old editions of books I’ve read a half dozen times before, admiring the pristine spines and newly designed covers of whichever of her works have been most recently reprinted, grabbing any copies I can find of the dwindling number of her books that aren’t already in my own personal collection.

It’s been eight years since Caitlin and I left the west coast and came back to Michigan but I miss that spot in the Gold Room regularly, just as I miss Le Guin regularly. That longing intensifies every now and again—the wanting comes in waves, as another Portlander once said—and recently it’s been strong. Predictably, I blame the pandemic. Living as we have for a year now, trapped in isolation, with a near-complete absence of the social and public experiences that define so much of who we are, has made the experience of missing something both commonplace and painfully acute.

One year was enough. I’m ready for it to be over. I’m ready for it to be safe. I want to go back to the Gold Room. Maybe they’ll have a reasonably priced copy of The Water Is Wide.

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