Borders filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Oof.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no love for Borders.  They’re over-priced, their customer service is hellacious (I can only get yelled at by a representative across the store for so long before I say, “No more”), their membership program is laughable, and though there are some things to recommend them above other stores (their Children’s section, their DVDs are often better priced than B&N, and their customer accessible computers being a few), these cannot make up for their refusal to join the electronic age.  I don’t like Borders.

However, there is nothing in this world that could keep me from mourning the passing of a major bookstore.  The good news is that Borders is still attempting to find the financial backing to keep some stores open and running until they can get back on their feet, but I’m not at all sure they will.  Books are a losing venture these days, especially without an e-reader of some sort to contend with Amazon’s Kindle or Barnes and Noble’s Nook.  How sad it is that those people who first fell in love with the delicate pages of a real book have become so consumed with the technology that strips reading of all but its barest essentials.  This, not a lack of readership (as so many people claim), is what killed Borders.

I don’t usually bring what I see as my academic life/career–also known as the book world–into this blog, but the occasional topic is so close to home that I feel the need.  This is one of them.  I am a big advocate for using technological advances to cure some of the worst ills in academia and industry standards, I am certainly no Luddite, but I am not a fan of the e-reader.  I understand the desire to have and to hold your library all in one place.  It is one of the reasons I have considered an e-reader, though I find them to be annoying at best. 

Yet, there are so many reasons not to consider the e-reader. The smell of books, the feel of pages, the non-fragility of the medium (I tend to drop computers . . .), they don’t run out of battery, they are more portable (in my opinion), no screen fatigue, and–most of all–there’s something wonderfully simple about sitting down and turning the pages of a book.  The physical aspects of reading, like seeing your bookmark move through the pages or completeness of shutting the covers after the final words, are as appealing to me as the book itself.  Yes, these are the things I appreciate, but they are many of the things I have heard from other readers as well.

I think the loss of this experience, and the bookstores that follow in its wake, is something to be deeply mourned.  Like live theatre, reading a book is as much the experience as it is the actual book.  Where were you sitting?  When were you reading?  These things may only change minimally, if at all, but what about the other aspects?  Things like, “That’s the page I folded in half in my rush to get the phone so I could take the call and be back to reading as fast as I could,” or, “That’s the bite mark my cat made when I wasn’t paying enough attention to her (I have several books marked like this),” or even something simple as your own scrawl on the page of an academic text.  These things change significantly.  The memories change.  The experience changes, and I have a hard time considering the changes to be for the better.

Buying books is also an experience I treasure.  I walk into a store lined with shelves upon shelves, often with chairs squeezed into the scant spare space.  I walk among these books until one reaches out to me, or perhaps I have a specific book in mind.  No matter how I come in, I then spend half an hour, at least, browsing shelves.  Treasuring old books, reading a chapter or two of new books, quietly mumbling aloud if I’m alone.  I smile at my fellow patrons, help them find a book if they need, I get recommendations galore from the chatty types and a few smiles from the retiring ones.  I breath in the quiet, the dust, the smell, and then I choose the book I want to take home.

This is impossible to replicate online.  There are no other patrons if there are no bookstores.  Some of the best books I have ever read have been obscure little things hiding away in a shelf, or a recommendation from a complete stranger.  I can’t imagine having to rely on just my family’s recommendations!  That would be terrible!  They know my reading preferences too well–some books that I might end up loving would never be brought to my attention because that’s not what I normally read.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, books and bookstores offer a culture and community that I fear is passing.  How frightening that is to me, as it’s not a far step from a loss of bookstores to a loss of public libraries.  And from there: intellectual darkness.  I hope Borders can recover from this, not because I love them so much, but because the world needs them so dearly.

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