Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Elegy for Borders Bookstore (and an early peek at "Don't Kill the Birthday Girl")

When I first heard about the first wave of Borders Bookstores closings, I told myself that all would be well.  The company was just consolidating.  It had taken a successful model and tried to get too big.  I wrote about my hopes for the store and memories of it here.

Well, it appears Borders will be closing the remaining bookstores that were left open and closing for good.  No one wanted to buy the business.  So, the remaining books and other goods will be liquidated.

I feel sad, as I always do when any institution closes.  But I feel like I would be hypocritical to declare that the closing of Borders means the end of civilization.  How long has it been since I even went into a Borders or a Barnes and Noble?  A long time. 

I'm like the rest of the nation:  I buy books from Amazon or straight from the publisher.  I buy most things online, except for the things that would go bad in the relentless sun if they were delivered when no one was home--like wine or medicines or ice cream.  I don't have a lot of free time, and I don't want to waste the time that I have going to a mall.

I wasn't always like this.  I was a typical teenager, in that I met my friends at the mall.  We were untypical in that we spent a lot of time in the mall's bookstores (remember B. Dalton?  remember Waldenbooks?).  I would save up all my allowance and money I earned babysitting or doing chores, and my greatest delight was to take a chunk of money and buy as many books as I wanted.

That delight is still one of my favorites.  I hit that same spot by going to the library and leaving with armloads of books.  And that treat is free!  Well, I pay for it with my taxes, and I don't mind one bit.

I like ordering online too because I get mail.  Old-fashioned mail, delivered to my mailbox.

Yesterday, I got Sandra Beasley's Don't Kill the Birthday Girl in my Amazon box.  Now I love Beasley as a poet, in addition to her prose, but I first knew of her because she wrote for The Washington Post.  In fact, I'm almost sure that one (or more?) of the essays that she wrote for The Washington Post magazine went on to spark this book.  I remember reading about her tales of living life with various and extreme allergies and thinking, wow, at least I don't have to think so carefully about what I eat.  Sure what I eat might make me fat, but it's not likely to kill me.

I planned to read it all along--I've been to several readings where she mentioned it and read from it, and it sounded fabulous.  When Sandra posted to her blog that Amazon pre-orders counted towards the first week book sales, those statistics that can be so important in the life of a writer, I placed my order.  I've been in awe of Sandra's decision to forsake her regular job to pursue the writing life, and I'm happy to help.  Hopefully there will be enough of us so that Sandra's publisher will support her next book.

If she continues down the memoir route, I'd love to read more about her life as a writer without that safety net of a regular job with health insurance.  What else might she write?  When I think about the blogs I read (see the sidebar, if you want specifics), I find myself wishing that those bloggers would write books to inspire creative writers; I look at those bloggers and see the next Julia Cameron, the ones who could write The Artist's Way for the next generation.

I plan to read Don't Kill the Birthday Girl and to write a more detailed review in the coming weeks.  But at first glance, it looks like just the kind of book I hoped it would be:  interesting details of a life well-lived along with some science details to make my brain feel like maybe it isn't shrivelling up, and a glimpse of a life that's very different from mine, yet not so different that I can't relate.  It looks like a good mix of memoir and analysis of our culture (including popular culture), and it looks fast-paced enough to keep my attention.

Perhaps Sandra will be our next Natalie Angier or Laurie Garrett, someone who can make science accessible for those of us who haven't had a science class in decades.  She's done that for the world of allergies in this book.

Yes, I can hardly wait to dive into this book.  It's such a pleasing book, both in terms of content and in terms of it as a physical artifact.  What a cool cover.  It's the perfect size to carry with me.  And can I just say that the print on the paper is easy on my middle-aged eyes.  I've started noticing how many books aren't easy to read:  the print is too small or the paper throws off a strange glare or the book is hard to hold.  These details are probably what will throw me into the arms of an electronic reader.

Perhaps we can look to those details when we look for reasons why readers everywhere seem to have given up on going to bookstores that exist as a geographical location.

RIP Borders--thanks for all you've done for my writing and reading life.