Friday, July 29, 2011
I helped kill Borders. I'm so ashamed.
I love books. In many ways books are my worst vice. Worse than drinking-I rarely drink, almost always imbibe socially, and because I'm a lightweight I drink very little. However, I do like the good stuff. It's worse than my miniature wargaming hobby/habit. At least I'm currently living off my the stash of figures I've acquired over the last twenty or so years. It's worse than music and movies, which I dearly love, but have found ways to cut back on. Music is merely a matter of aging and realizing the 70's were over 30+ years ago, and discovering the wonders of the library. For movies, the answer is Netflix. I've managed to reduce my ridiculous movie purchases by at least 90% in the past year. But books are another story. I have over a thousand books. Lots of history, literature, baseball, Lewis and Clark, gaming topics are crammed into abundant bookshelf space--that are unfortunately full. It's always difficult for me to walk past a bookstore, any bookstore without checking it out.
Took me and my book problem down to the local Borders store today. When the announcement was made last week that Borders would liquidate, I was on vacation. I felt a certain amount of disappointment and shame the store was closing.
When Borders opened its store in the vacated Piggly Wiggly store in Willows shopping center some 15 years ago, it was like a light shining through the darkness. I like to think of my home community of South Hill as a cultural desert. Strip malls, chain restaurants, schools, churches, but not much else. A nice place to live, but not a lot going on. Borders brought something special to the hill. It was much larger and offered much wider selection than its Waldenbooks little brother across the highway in the South Hill Mall. More than that, it was welcoming. One could grab a book and read it in the in-house coffee shop. There were events-book events-where authors came to speak about their writing. Children's writers like Lemony Snickett and Eoin Colfer spoke to my students about "A Series of Unfortunate Events" and Artemis Fowl.
Borders seduced me with "Educators' Appreciation Days" and later with 40% off coupons sent to me by the magic of e-mail. I purchased some of my favorite books there. Bill James' Baseball Abstracts, Jonathan Sumption's Trial by Battle, and kidlit galore-Roald Dahl's Danny Champion of the World and Cornelia Funke's Inkheart are books I loved and shared with my students. I was proud to shop there, and would spend hours just looking at books.
A few years ago my book buying habits changed. The advent of Amazon.com, with their discounted prices, gigantic selection, and quick delivery effectively severed my relationship with my local Borders store. With my interest in fairly obscure non-fiction topics, Amazon was the way to go. My trips to Borders became fewer and fewer, and only with a discount coupon firmly in my grasp. If Amazon was not a deadly enough dagger poised at Borders's heart, I also began using AbeBooks, an online seller of used books. Initially I searched Abe for out-of-print titles, but it gradually morphed into books I wasn't interested in spending a lot on. Another nail in a trusting friend's coffin.
My trips to Borders gradually shrank to ten or so times a year, down from maybe once a week. I probably bought something there three or four times a year. Why bother when I could get the same items discounted, right? So what's the problem with trading Amazon for Borders? I know they are both big corporations with CEO's and shareholders and big corporate profits. (Well, in theory, Borders was losing their shirts for years.) One less place of light is left in my town. It's not like there's an awesome local independent bookseller on the Hill to take its place. If anything, South Hill has gotten even more sterile, more corporate with its Costco, two Wal-Marts, two Appleby's, and its plethora of chain drug stores.
The saddest part is I know I am an author of Borders' destruction, with my book, movie and music orders. My Kindle acquisition which I use occasionally is just the icing on the cake. I'm one of Borders' willing executioners and I feel bad about it. When I walked out with my copy of The Shattered Sword: The Untold History of the Battle of Midway today (discounted 20%, of course) it was a with a salute to those about to lose their jobs, and a certain sense of shame that I'd let down an old friend.
For another take on the destruction of Borders and literacy in general read Kevin Horrigan's column in stltoday.com