The big bookstore, Borders, where I bought books, stationery, CDs, occasional DVDs, gifts, magazines, and heard fellow writers speak about their books over the years, has gone belly-up. I visited what's left of it today, and found myself saying to anyone near me, "What a loss," "This is a tragedy," "What will happen to books now?"
I think I know, for myself, at least. I'll order them, sight unseen, from Amazon.com, or electronically on my Kindle, based on some friend's suggestion or a great review in the Times by a stranger. But I can’t browse them; I can’t turn the pages in advance, drinking coffee in Borders’ little coffee nook, or look at the pictures, if there are any.
Well, what’s so terrible about that?
The Kindle is a wonderful tool. In seconds, free and out of the air, I can summon a chapter or so of nearly any book ever written, just by pushing a few keys. Then, if the sample intrigues me, I can make it appear in its entirety in another few seconds, by agreeing to pay a small -- but increasing -- price, secured by my credit card number. Easy, yes?
So why shouldn't Borders disappear? And maybe Barnes and Noble after that? And maybe all bookstores everywhere? Who needs them?
I do. Old fashioned me, who likes to cuddle a book, to write my name in it, with the date and place I bought it, who likes to guiltily glimpse the last page like a peeping tom, or rifle back and forth when I can't remember the name of the hero's brother or how he met his first love.
And I'm a writer, a writer of books. Who will cuddle mine, write their name in them, scrawl in a margin: "What?" or "I love this!" or "Stupid!" or "Shopping list: Get stamps"?
My passion for books began early. I remember reading my way through the children's section of the Port Richmond (Staten Island) Public Library, then begging, when I was about ten, to be given the special privilege of a grownup card, and reading my way alphabetically through the grownup authors: Austin, Bronte, Cather, DuMaurier -- my taste a bit rococo -- Baroness Orczy, Sabatini, Dumas. I remember how those books, fingered by so many, smelled, how the paper felt, heavy and creamy, the look of the glue on the bindings, the purplish date stamps, stuck on the end of a pencil, that the librarians marked my library card and the book with, a kind of ceremony that bound us, for two weeks if my memory’s right, together. In those ancient of days the penalty for keeping a book overtime was a penny a day. I used to walk home with as many as the library would allow – boy were they heavy! -- and keep them only a few days, a day apiece, to read them.
When I got old enough to have my own money, I bought books with the lust of ownership, improvising bookshelves out of lumber and bricks in the earliest places of my own, later buying bookcases, and then having them built to order, covering walls up to the ceiling with books, trying to arrange them by title, by author, by category, until I gave up and just stacked them in the order that I bought them, and read them, and loved them. Did I ever throw a book away? I don’t think so. I have school books from high school, from college, hundreds -- I’m afraid to say this: maybe thousands. On a few shelves. I have copies of my own books, books I wrote, that have my name on the cover. What’s that like? That’s like seeing your name on a list of “those whom love of God hath blesst,” like Leigh Hunt’s Abou ben Adam.
And will there be nowhere else in the world, nowhere beside my own bookcase, where my books can stand with their fellows, an army of crazy, besotted, dedicated “writers who write”? Is that groaning sound as Borders comes down and gives up its books, its records, it’s very fixtures, the creaking and cracking of a dying part of the world?
Over the years I’ve almost gotten used to losing things, places, dear ones that I’ve loved...but I will miss Borders bookstore!