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.
The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson – After loving Elantris, how could I resist?
Pyramids (Discworld #7) by Terry Pratchett – Because the Discworld books are brilliant.
Guards! Guards! (Discworld #8) by Terry Pratchett – see above.
History of Madness by Michel Foucault – which should give you some idea of my varied interests.
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?