Finding a used bookstore in Portland is like finding a needle in a needle stack: There is no shortage of places to buy obscure sci-fi short stories from the 1940s, feminist handbooks from the ’60s or even textbooks for 99.99% off. “Crooked House Books and Paper,” in particular offers a unique experience in that the owner, Rachelle Markley, has committed to only selling books and objects she herself would be interested in. The store is located at 1602 NE 40th Ave in Hollywood.
When you enter the bookshop, the smell of varnished wood and old paper is the first thing that greets you. It is the kind of smell that makes you feel eight years old again, searching through boxes at your neighbor’s stoop sale for an old book, toy or baseball card. The store is home to two cats, one Siamese named Bruno and another whom I did not see during my visit. They might greet you when you enter or, as I experienced, just be napping on the couch. The store operates out of Markley’s home, which provides a very personal, friendly feel. Some rooms are open to the public, while others are curtained off, meaning you might hear someone fixing lunch as you look through the shelves.
During my visit, there were two or three older men there to visit with the owner or drop off books. My friend had a very nice conversation with one of them on topics ranging from Sappho’s recently uncovered poetry to good starting points for the classics — they settled on Catullus. It did not feel like “Crooked House” was just a store. Instead, it felt more like a meeting place for people interested in old literature where one might just happen to buy books.
Markley opened the store in 2013 after she realized that she would rather work with old texts as opposed to modern ones. Books were always a cherished item in her house growing up and she wanted to help others discover a love for them as well. Most of the time the store is self-run, though recently she has been looking to expand. According to Markley, their most common genre of book is of the domestic type which include cookbooks, handbooks and home economics. She also mentioned that they sell a lot of feminist and pre-feminist books that highlight female autonomy and discuss the image of women in media. There are also robust children’s, sci-fi, horror, classics and poetry sections.
“Crooked House” is open Thursday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., but busy students, or those who rely on public transportation, have the option of ordering online. I would advise that if you have the time to make the 20-minute trip by car, that you should. I went in hoping to buy a copy of “The Phantom Tollbooth” by Norton Juster, which I have not read since I was a very small child. True to the nature of many small indie bookstores, there was a copy hidden away, but I was unable to get to it. After browsing for a while I ended up buying “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James, which I previously knew nothing about but seemed interesting. The experience of looking through the stacks and walking away with something you never knew you wanted is very rewarding.