A surprisingly massive horde of shoppers descended on my local Borders store yesterday, after the mortally wounded chain announced the start of its close-out sale. Everything must go, and judging by the turnout, go it will. Many shoppers were expressing to the harried clerks how sorry they were that the store was closing … it made me wonder how long it had been since these patrons had last had shopped there, possibly preventing the current state of affairs. It made me wonder if I, too, should have made an effort to come in more often – but that was a fleeting, nonsensical thought. Read on, and I’ll tell you why.

In case you live under a rock, the current state is that the Borders book store chain is closing its doors.

“It’s not pining, it’s passed on! This [bookstore] is no more! It has ceased to be! It’s expired and gone to meet its maker! This is a late [bookstore]! It’s a stiff! Bereft of life, it rests in peace! If you hadn’t nailed it to the perch, it would be pushing up the daisies! It’s rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. This is an ex-[bookstore]!”

My apologies to Monty Python, and my condolences to Borders lovers everywhere.

I (Unwittingly) Helped to Close Borders

I can tell you quite candidly that I am one of “those people” who loved having a Borders around (yes, I am a card-carrying Borders Rewards member) but rarely set foot inside it. Why?  After all, I read a lot.  I thrive on having books all around me.  And Borders has so many lovely amenities and some marvelous merchandise.

It all comes down to practicality: time and money.  I might meet a friend at Borders about once a year for coffee and browsing, I’d always stop there pre-Christmas, and I would check out a special sale or author’s book signing now and then.  But my time is so limited that most of my book shopping is done online.  I order, and my book arrives in two days without me having to spend time and money to go get it. And guess what?  I actually pay LESS for that privilege. The fact is that whenever I compare pricing in brick-and-mortar stores and online sellers, I can always find books for less online.  Don’t even get me started on the merits of my Kindle.

Now listen carefully: these are the musings of a traditionalist reader who’d like nothing better than to sit each morning (or at least once a week) in a coffee shop attached to a book store, then peruse the shelves, chat with clerks about recommendations, and purchase precious volumes from its shelves. I even dreamt (and often do still) of owning an eclectic book-store/sweets-and-coffee-shoppe in my pseudo-retirement years *sigh*. But I’ll tell you, I don’t know many people in my circle of RL or cyber friends in a far-flung radius who have either the time or the money to partake of such luxuries. We’re all working harder, not smarter, it seems, and quick downloads, borrowing from the library where possible, and cheap paperback purchases with two-day delivery to the front door are a sign of these times.

But I am not discouraged in the least. It’s all part of the fuzzy plan, and the pendulum keeps swinging.

A Brief History of Bookworm Evolution

Unquestionably, I count myself among the bookworms of the universe. Yet I am feeling ambivalent about the whole Borders going-under thing. Here’s why: if you take the long view, perhaps it’s just a matter of bookworm evolution.

The advent of books, with the invention and proliferation of the printing press, turned reading from a pastime of wealthy and pious snobs into the edification and entertainment of the masses. Availability of books shaped literature itself. Supply and demand, demand and fulfillment. This model evolved and grew for over five hundred years (yeah, well, pre-technology evolution is languorous).

Then came innovations like audio books and e-books and e-readers and brain-embeddable microchips with the entire Library of Congress on them. OK, I made up that last one, but really, how far-fetched is it?

Now people well-versed in techno-gadgets can absorb the same best-sellers as those who still belong to a book-of-the-month-club.  Geeks on the go can order their cyber-versions of books and begin reading instantaneously. Entire web communities have cropped up to discuss and disseminate the latest literature, which now includes genres our parents never could have imagined in their wildest dreams (or nightmares). Bookworms flourish! Only now they do so in cyberspace more often than under the fluorescents of the bookstore.

Is this loss of localized community sad? Certainly. But look at the big picture: Reading is alive and well. Literature flourishes and evolves in infinite new ways.  Readers flourish and multiply. It’s a brave new world!

Betting on Darwin

It’s sad that the dinosaurs are gone too. But evolution has its reasons and purposes. Some of the old must make way for the new. I guess I’m ready to go with the flow and see what happens next. It’s a dynamic universe, and its myriad mutations and adaptations result in the innovative strengths of survivors.