Sometimes coincidences can really dampen your spirits. This week I was driving around with a CD that features Johnny Cash lamenting “I don’t like it, but I guess things happen that way.” Then I learned that the Borders bookstore chain will be shutting down completely by the end of September.
One of the highlights of my small-town high school days was getting to run wild (or as wild as my strict upbringing and my $2.35-an-hour wage would let me run) in an honest-to-goodness college bookstore, so I shed a tear for the people who will now find it less convenient to browse aisles and aisles of books, and for the budding authors who will find it harder to get noticed.
On the other hand, I know that bibliophobes will feel no sadness over the loss of Borders. (“I don’t care if 10,700 employees get put out of a job by virtual retailers. Those bookworms should have had a REAL man’s job anyway. What do I do for a living? I haul bricks and mortar. Uh oh…”)
I hope that mom-and-pop bookshop proprietors won’t gloat too much over the ill fortunes of the mass marketer. When you regale first-time shoppers with stuff like “That reminds of an amusing story about Willa Cather’s literary agent’s brother-in-law and how he responded to his supposed case of plantar warts…,” it sort of explains all the dust in the store.
The 40-year-old Borders chain has faced insurmountable odds, such as the rapidly changing book industry, the e-reader revolution, the turbulent economy and the fact that “the naughty librarian” still conjures better adolescent images than “the naughty second-shift clerk who operates the cash register when she’s not at her other job cleaning out bird cages.”
Borders was too slow to compete with TV and the Internet. They should’ve restructured their categories to include “History (of Casey Anthony),” “How To (Get Even More News of Casey Anthony),” and “Mystery (Of Why William and Kate Don’t Lock In Casey Anthony As A Future Nanny”).
I will grant you that online communities of book purchasers do have certain advantages. For some reason, I’m always squeamish around a patron who has just laid down a copy of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Curing Highly Contagious Flesh-Eating Viruses – Fast!”
Sure, Barnes & Noble and other competitors will snap up the prime Borders locations, but many malls and communities will be left without a single major bookseller. Many consumers will drift into spending their money on something else. I dread living in a cold, gray world where public speakers rave, “That hideous necktie opened up whole new worlds for me…”
My son (7-year-old Gideon) recently opined that he prefers ink-and-paper books to their electronic counterparts. The way things are going, it looks as though his generation will be the last to view physical books as anything but relics. Don’t give in to the sound bites and the tweets. Nurture in your children and grandchildren a love for turning pages and hobnobbing face-to-face with fellow booklovers.
I started with Johnny Cash, so maybe I should close by evoking the musical “Camelot.”
“Don’t let it be forgot/That once there was a spot/For one brief shining moment that was known/As a bookstore parking lot.”
• Danny Tyree welcomes email at email@example.com and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.”