Each night, once we’d unloaded the car of its many, many bags (we haven’t mastered the art of traveling light, especially given the bags of books we accumulated along the way), and got the kids into their pullout sofa or rollaway bed or sleeping bags, I would write notes about the bookstores we’d seen that day.
I was just looking them over and found a scribbled line–written in a moment of jubilation after a day of visiting a total of six chains and independents–that almost made me cry.
The line said, Long live Borders!
At the Borders in Champaign, IL, I met a manager named Amanda. Amanda was so enthusiastic about Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day that she began making plans for how her store could celebrate it later this year while i was still talking to her. And she went to the trouble of finding this blog and leaving a comment after we’d left.
Later in the trip, I went to the Borders in Provo, UT, and met Kirsten. Kirsten took the bookmark for my forthcoming novel and said with an expression that I can still see, a look of earnestness and worry and plaint, “I really hope I’ll be ordering this 18 months from now.”
What is going to happen to all these people who don’t just sell books like they might sell tires, or groceries, but who have a genuine affinity for their product? (Some people might love to sell tires, or groceries. Kirsten and Amanda love to sell books). Will they find jobs at other bookstores? Will they feel disillusioned by an industry that can wipe out 11,000 employees in a single stroke?
A student wrote me the other day to ask about the impact of the loss of Borders on his publication dreams. I mentioned that once there was a Waldenbooks in virtually every mall, and now there isn’t, but other bookstores abound. I said that this industry is constantly in flux, but the one perpetual seems to be that books keep getting sold and everyone is always looking for the next big thing, which should give all authors hope and sustenance.
It’s not that the loss of Borders makes me worried for books, or even bookstores, let alone publishing. It’s that it makes me worried for a slice of our…humanity.
Books more than other products–tires, to my mind, not that there’s anything wrong with them–seem truly connected to people. The people who write and read and sell them. When a massive branch in this industry is cut, the trunk bleeds a little, too.
Maybe the one constant isn’t books or bookstores, but storytelling, as human a need as our need to eat.
This is a sad chapter in our story.