Wednesday, February 16, 2011

This bookstore, and everyone in it, is disposable

By now, it's all over the Internet, all over the evening news, all over everywhere: Borders has filed for Chapter 11. Stores will close and people will be out of work. As a book-lover, I should have 'feelings' about this. I guess I do have some. I used to frequent Borders when I was younger. They have a terrific classical music section, or they did back then. The coffee bar in the store was a novelty back then, and sometimes I'd stop in just for a drink. Honestly, I always found their book section sort of lackluster and diffuse, good if you wanted something off the NYT Best-Seller list but not so hot if you're looking for something more off-beat or localized.

If the entire chain goes under, as it seems to be in danger of doing, that would be A Bad Thing for sure. Between them and Barnes and Noble, they virtually killed off indie bookstores in the country. Buying books will be reduced to the click of a mouse for many people. They'll miss the serendipity of the remainder table, of the interestingly-titled book that wound up on the shelf next to what they were going for, or the tantalizing history book they happened across when they accidentally wandered into that aisle. They'll miss the communal experience of having a place to go and feel less alone, the surge of validation when they ask at the counter for an author they were sure NO ONE ELSE had ever heard of, only to be told they were all sold out. If the bookstore was really good, the bookseller might even add, by the way, the store has a book discussion group on that genre, if you want to come.

Many commentors on stories about the fall of Borders have sunk to schadenfreude. It's certainly tempting: you opened your mega-store across from my favorite indie bookstore, they were out of business in a year, how's it feel, motherfuckers, how's it feel? The problem is that the people that stand to be hurt the most by this, as always, aren't corporate suits. They're little guys. Like Manny, Roz, Nicolette and Jackie from Last Night at the Lobster. Kids putting themselves through college, single moms, retirees forced back into the workforce, veterans who came home and couldn't get better jobs. And, increasingly, people who played by life's rules, attended college, and wound up with little more to show for it than a job at a failing bookstore.

The first round of closings will affect an estimated 19,500 people. I wish all of them a soft landing.

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