Last week I went to Borders with my son, and it was sad and exhilarating at the same time. We strolled into the store, me refusing to press the silver button with the blue chair in the middle, Bryce trying to help. He’s into opening and closing doors these days. Somebody waited for us to pass into the store. The second door was propped open so customers could come and go easily.
The place was packed. I had the sense that it would be full of people all day. It was around 2:30 in the afternoon. I scanned the place. I had never been to Borders on State. We had one in the neighborhood which we frequented before it met the same fate dressed in yellow with bold black block letters. Bryce was immediately captivated. He’d glance up at me and then to the shoppers. He looked from left to right, nervous and a little thrilled that we were there. People scanned titles. They hoisted novels, stacking them in their hands and holding them in a line over their bellies. One lady called somebody and read the back cover copy over the phone. She asked, “Have you heard of this author before?” I pressed ahead into aisle and ignored the conversation after that. It felt like people were looting, excited over the broken glass of ten thousand authors’ dreams.
Before we left, the boy gave me the signal that he was ready for a snack. He, like me, tired at the scene and needed nourishment. I couldn’t blame him. The writer in me, the reader in me, wanted something to eat after that. I wanted something to sustain me after seeing another bookstore close. Books are the things that have built me and built many of the people that I love. Books have taught me and us. We should buy them, in stores large and small. We should rent them from our public libraries. We should.
I thought of my usual places to buy books. I thought of Azzizzi Books in Lincoln Mall and Powells in Hyde Park. I recalled my last visit to the Seminary Co-Op and to it’s relative, 57th Street Books. All of sudden, pushing the boy back toward the bridge we’d cross to get to our car, I felt like the closing of Borders was, in part, my fault. I was like those readers, those scavengers in that store. I, too, looked for the best price for a book when I shopped. I chose and do choose to buy most books for a discount because my book budget comes mostly when I get an honorarium of sorts that I don’t expect. I’ve changed that over the last four or five years as I’ve learned how to buy an author’s work for the toil that’s seen and unseen. I don’t mind–in fact, I enjoy–buying a book for retail or from an author directly since it comes under a habit I think the world is poorer without.
I’m not into e-readers. I’ll protest them as much as possible. I will take my books, open, and read them. I will crave and consume the spines and jackets and covers be they soft or hard. I will smell the pages and rub my fingers over the corners, turning that page slightly when my eyes are half way down. I will flip the page or pages to see how long it is until the chapter is finished. I may scribble a note to the author, continuing what feels like a conversation between us. I’ll move my bookmark to the page I want to stop at for the night, never counting and only judging by whether I’ve started at 11:30pm or 1:00am or by how far I think that night’s insomnia will take me. I will laugh and squint and sigh and hold my breath. I will sit my book on my table by that glider or in my bag or on the desk.
I’m sad for the funerals happening for all the Borders stores across the country. I’m sad for the careers that have been upset and altered and forever changed because another company has failed. But I will keep reading and renting and buying books. You should too.