Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved bookstores. I remember discovering The Virtue of Selfishness at the Wilmette Book Shop where I grew up and asking the store’s owner, Mrs. Burmeister, a former Broadway dancer married to a businessman who was the town’s mayor, what she thought the title meant. She told me, I bought it with whatever money I’d earned shoveling snow or babysitting, and owned one of my first books. I loved the big door with the bell, the creaks in the floor, the smell of the place, and the people in the narrow aisles.
They were always alone, and, as we all easvesdropped on whatever Mrs. Burmeister and her business partner were debating at the front counter, one by one we would make our way to the cash register with a book in our hands. I brought the love of books to New York City, where I finished my first novel and discovered countless creations on bookshelves throughout Manhattan, from Animal Farm to Whose Life is it, Anyway?
It was there that I found my first Barnes and Noble and I have always been more a Barnes and Noble than a Borders bookbuyer. Their stores are better managed, their staff more attentive, their customers less intrusive, and the experience more about browsing and buying books. I like the name and the motif. Borders has fond memories for me, too, but I’m not surprised to read that they’re going out of business, liquidating their assets as early as Friday. Borders, which started in 1971 as a used book store in the Midwest, was, in my experience, lazy about protecting its own value. Stores felt more open, which was nice, and staff were friendly but they were also generally unconcerned about driving the primary purpose of the store: to sell books and stuff. People would come in and park themselves in the aisles or cafes and read for hours. An entitlement mentality took root, and every Borders seemed like a squatter’s paradise, with staff more supportive of the squatters than those unable to find a place to sit and drink a purchased coffee or walk the aisles to find a book to buy.
There are many fine memories, too, of meeting friends, dates, and colleagues in the Borders Cafe, sometimes before or after a movie screening, hearing an author speak, or just killing time before an appointment or engagement, always with an opportunity to buy a book, CD, or greeting card. I read books mostly on my iPad, or one from my library, or review copies from publishers, and I am excited about the possibilities for media in this age of new technology (as I wrote about here), but I’ll miss Borders, in all its egalitarian mess, from Wilmette to Westwood and everywhere else I’ve ever browsed their aisles. They provided a sense of place to my life, and I will forever associate certain periods, aspects, and events with certain locations, like memories embedded with certain emotions triggered by certain songs. Borders in Glendale recalls my early years in California and hearing Curtis play his guitar. Borders in Westwood means running into friends and catching up over coffee. Borders in Tustin evokes meeting a friend after class. I’ve made countless connections, and read, listened to and bought hundreds of products that have improved my life in these Borders. Now, they’re closing and it’s sad. Better choices and opportunities lay ahead, but Borders going out of business is another sign that our streets, and our times, are getting darker. I didn’t even like them at the end. I like losing them even less.