Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Michael Powell Interview

Some interesting excerpts from the recent interview with Powell's Bookstore owner Michael Powell in Poets & Writers.

I was trying to calculate how many books I had sold during my life under the Powell's name. I'd like to think it's coming close to a hundred million. You know, in chaos theory there's this idea that a butterfly flapping its wings on one side of the globe can create a storm in Africa. Well, what about a hundred million butterfly wings? What has it done? You don't know. People hardly ever tell you, "I read a book and it changed my life." Most books are probably sold for entertainment, some are sold for information, and some are sold for inspiration. Certainly some are sold for all three at the same time. But I say to myself, "Well, at least when you're reading a book it's hard to rob a bank." I like to think that some of those books have had a positive impact on people's lives.
And then Powell shatters my fantasy of what it would be like to own a bookstore:

I think everybody--or the uneducated person who doesn't know much about the business--thinks that as a bookseller you sit in a store, read books, and when someone comes in you have a nice conversation and then recommend and sell some things to that person. That you have a stock of books you believe in and know intimately. That you wear patches on the elbows of your sport jacket, and there's a cat somewhere in the window, and there's a fire burning in a fireplace, and there's the smell of coffee and all that.
Well, I've been in many a bookstore, and a handful are exactly like that. Usually small, one employee, used bookstores. On the other hand I've been in some where the owner looks so stressed I feel like giving her/him Ritalin.

My dream is to one day own a used bookstore. But if I can't have the cat in the window and coffee smell, then forget it.

To read the whole interview, click here.


  1. Used bookstores have to have a cat. I thought it was a prerequisite for owning one!

  2. Exactly! I went into a used bookstore once called Kitty's Book Shoppe, and I looked for a cat inside, but couldn't find one. Turns out the owner's name was Kitty, and she was allergic to cats! The irony.