Death of the Book Giant

For the kick-off of my new theme for Wednesdays — Bookworm Wednesday — I’d like to talk about something that has made many of us bookworms very sad.  The bankruptcy and imminent closing of Borders Bookstores.

I worked at a Borders Bookstore in Kansas City for a year, during my senior year at my undergrad.  It wasn’t an easy time for me — I was taking 18 credit hrs, working 30-35 hrs a week, participating in 3 student organizations, and working as the Chief Editor of my college’s Fine Arts Journal.  Not to mention applying to graduate programs for the following year.  I ate little, slept less, lived on coffee and ibuprofen, and kept myself moving by pure momentum and stress-energy.

And yet, I LOVED working at Borders.  I got to talk about books all day!  How was that NOT a good thing?  It also helped that my manager was a really nice guy, unlike some other jobs I’d had.  After the first few months of covering any and every position in the store (with the exception of the cafe), I became (pretty much by accident) the Children’s/YA book guru.  I knew just about everything there was to know about Children’s picture books, easy readers, Independent readers, and Young Adult fiction.  People came to me for suggestions on what their kids should read, they came asking me who had won the Newbery and Caldecott Medals that year, and when the next Diary of A Wimpy Kid or the next Sarah Dessen book was coming out.

So, I went to the only local Borders bookstore on Monday.  It was seriously depressing.  The shelves were already half-empty, even though they’re hoping to stay open until at least Mid-September (according the employees).  Every single fixture is for sale, from the bookshelves to the cash registers to the espresso maker in the cafe.  I nearly cried when I saw how wiped out the Scifi/Fantasy section had become.

But I was determined to make the best of the situation by buying as many books as I could, saving them from being boxed up and shipped back to their publishers.  I feel like if I buy a ton of books it will help lessen the blow somehow, though I know that’s not really logical.

So I bought five books, but I plan on going back the moment I get my first paycheck at the beginning of September (I’m also considering buying a couple of the bookshelves and/or a display table.  I have fond memories of those things.)  The books I bought (for those who might be curious) were:

Stories by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio – which I’ve been planning on buying for some time.

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The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson – After loving Elantris, how could I resist?

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Pyramids (Discworld #7) by Terry Pratchett – Because the Discworld books are brilliant.

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Guards! Guards! (Discworld #8) by Terry Pratchett – see above.

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History of Madness by Michel Foucault – which should give you some idea of my varied interests.

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I cannot begin to estimate the amount of money I’ve spent at Borders over the years.  Just in the year I worked at Borders, I bought at least one book per week.  Sometimes $50-60 on pay-days.  Since then, I have had to cut back on the number of books I buy, both because I am a dirt-poor grad student and because I simply did not have as much time for leisure reading while working on my Master’s.  Still, I sometimes felt that the money I alone poured into the store HAD to be enough to keep it running.  I’m sure many of us feel that way.  And yet… and yet.

Now, I am not one of those people who feels the need to make any grand statements about how nobody reads anymore, or how amazon and other online stores first started the cold-blooded murder of brick-and-mortar stores, or how the ebook revolution was the final nail in the coffin for Borders.  No doubt, a combination of all these things had an negative impact on the Borders corporation.  However, the crippled economy as a whole did quite a lot of damage as well and Borders simply has not been as business-smart as Barnes & Noble in its attempt to keep up with the times.

Furthermore, the claim that people don’t read anymore is patently untrue.  You might (and I strongly stress the might) be able to show enough numbers to prove that fiction-reading as gone downhill a bit in the last 10-15 years.  But people do still read: nonfiction, biographies, magazines, blogs, graphic novels, etc.  Yes, I do wish more people still read fiction.  But the ebook revolution is actually helping on that end of things.  People who never felt the need or desire to buy a $15-20 hardcover or even a $8-12 paperback book are perfectly willing to shell out $5-7 for an ebook that they can carry around with them all over the place, either on their e-reader or smart phone or iPad.  And the ebook revolution has made it much easier for people to both find and afford indie titles as well.

So yes, while it is terribly sad to me that Borders has died, I cannot blame it on any one cause, and it is foolish to rail against the illiterate youth or the internet or the ebook revolution (I picture my mother when I say this — she is currently railing against all three).  It is a tragedy.  But it is a product of society as a whole, of the passage of time, and the rapid revolution of media.  Let’s mourn the loss of Borders with dignity, not with vitriol.

Do you have any stories to share about Borders?  Any parting words for the dying giant?

12 thoughts on “Death of the Book Giant

  1. I hate seeing book stores close, but I’ve never been in a Borders. I know – horrible. They don’t have them in West Texas, only Barns & Noble…so that’s where I’ve gone since moving to the Metroplex.

    • Oh, I completely understand. When I lived in Kansas Borders bookstores were EVERYWHERE. We had Barnes & Noble too, but I swear there was a Borders on every other corner. When I moved to Houston and discovered there’s only two Borders in the entire greater-Houston-area, I was SHOCKED. But there are Barnes & Nobles on every other corner instead. Lol.

  2. I will seriously miss Borders. I have never been a B+N fan and probably won’t visit them, even though they are going to be the only game in town.

    • I don’t mind Barnes & Noble, though I certainly preferred Borders. But I’m the kind of person who can’t NOT walk into a bookstore when I’m near one, so I’ll definitely be shopping at B&N more once Borders is gone. Though, of course, I’m also an amazon-addict, more for dvds, but still…

  3. I admit I am guilty of finally giving in to the ebook craze, but if anything I have felt like that had only furthered my love of books in general.

    I would spend at least once a week going to Borders, usually buying at least something, but even just enjoying the atmosphere. I think this is one of the thing that upsets me the most about them going away… the experience of a bookstore, Borders in particular.

    • I agree, the atmosphere is definitely part of the appeal of bookstores. I also feel like ebooks can (at least for some people) simply extend the love of books into new avenues without taking anything away from our love for traditional print books.

      Thanks for commenting!

  4. We used to have Borders in England too, and it closed down a while ago – I was very sad! It means that we have less book stores now, and less competition means more expensive books – which is always a tragedy.

    By the way I love the part of your blog title “crazed academic, unrepentant geek” – I can definitely relate! It brings to mind one of my favourite song lyrics by Pink – “too school for cool” – that is so me.

    Love your blog

    • It is definitely a tragedy to lose a bookstore. It’s so sad to watch.

      And thank you! I’m pretty much the quintessential geek, but life is more fun that way if you ask me.

  5. I can hardly feel sad for Borders, since it was huge stores like theirs that put out of business many little independent bookstores. I have fond memories of those and not so fond memories of them closing one after another over the last 10-15 years as the chains became more numerous. But I can’t carry books with me anyway–I live out of a backpack.

    The world changes and some things get left behind. But I can understand how it is sad to lose something that you have a personal connection to.

    • Yes, it was sad when the independent bookstores were mostly murdered by large bookstores. A few indie stores still survive — there a couple really good ones here in Houston, actually — but I understand how you feel. But, just like I try not to rail against amazon or ebooks for killing Borders, I try not to get too angry about the indie stores because I understand that businesses and cultures change and trying to stop it is like trying to stop the tide.

  6. It broke my heart to see the Borders by my house close a couple months ago. It was an even bigger tragedy last week to see the Borders by my work now closing. The one thing that frustrates me is that people were so anti-book buying and all into the e-reader craze but once Borders went bankrupt and started having the sale that’s when everyone decided to spend their money on actual books. Not only that, they flock and leave the stores in such an unorganized disarray. Being a loyal Borders customer (and any bookstore for that matter), it was an eye sore and heart ache to see.

    At Borders, I always felt comfortable and drawn into the shelves; sometimes at Barnes and Noble I felt like only the elite are welcome.

    The one good thing that has come from Borders closing is that I’m saving money (haha, I swear I’d always spend too much money every time I walked in) and that I’ve come to find an even deeper appreciation for used bookstores. The other day I went into a used bookstore and found a book that I couldn’t find at any of the chain bookstores (not to mention the book was only $6 rather than $16!). Old, used books need loving too!

    • Oh, I love used bookstores. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve found books in used bookstores that I hadn’t been able to find anywhere else. Case in point: all the old Christopher Stasheff Warlock Saga books. I started reading those on a whim when I found the first couple at a used bookstore, and I’ve been working to collect them all ever since.

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