A License to Read

Posted on 25 July 2011

When I got my driver’s license, I did what any healthy young girl with a sense of adventure and a taste of freedom would do.

That’s right. I drove to Borders. Repeatedly.

I spent countless hours browsing the shelves at my local Borders during my teen years. When I look back now I can easily picture my 16-year-old self huddled in the little poetry section. I can see her reaching for a Best American Short Stories anthology, or scoping the magazine racks, or methodically walking up and down all the fiction aisles.

Borders was my go-to place when I was bored and had nothing else to do. I’d meet friends there or, more likely, I’d go alone. Afterward, maybe I’d stop by nearby Long’s Park, where I’d walk around the man-made lake and think about books and writing and authors. And how far off I felt from becoming a real writer.

When I learned that Living Arrangements would be published, I thought I’d like to arrange a reading at my old hometown Borders, if possible. That, of course, will never happen now.

Last night I stopped by the closing sale at my nearest Borders here in Cleveland. I somehow still haven’t read Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, and I got it for 30% off. I also bought some discounted magazines, like Publisher’s Weekly and Zoetrope and the Atlantic fiction issue. I didn’t feel good about any of it, though. The whole thing was depressing. I rushed to make my selections as the harried, unhappy employees hustled everyone through the line. The store probably had more customers shopping that night than it usually saw in a whole week.

I have no neat ending for this post. I brought my close-out books and magazines home, where they are currently sitting on my bedroom floor, still in the bag. Soon that Borders, and my old hometown one, and all the others, will be out of business entirely. There’s nothing more to tell.

Are you losing a favorite Borders? Do you have independent bookstores in your town? Or is shopping in any physical bookstore nothing but a memory for you anyway?

Photo: rubenerd


13 responses to A License to Read

  • Averil Dean says:

    I am losing my closest bookstore–which is still several miles from my home. We have zero independent bookstores in town (that I know of). Zero used bookstores. The nearest B&N is around twelve miles away.

    This is all so depressing.

    • Oh, that is rough. :( I’m fortunate that Cleveland has two independent bookstores within 20-30 minutes of me (though I honestly don’t get out to them as often as I probably should). I also live about 2 miles from a Books-a-Million. I’m also a big-time library user, and my hometown library and the library near my office are both pretty good.

      Despite my early Borders experiences, it’s not like I was emotionally tied to Borders in particular. (And, by the way, there’s a Barnes & Noble located about a one-minute walk away from the closing Borders.) But to see a large bookstore shutting down and to know there’s no room in the world for these books…it’s so disheartening.

  • Teri says:

    We lost our town’s Borders a few months back, but the building is still empty and I go by it almost everyday. It’s a big black hole where I used to go at least 3 times a week, not always to buy books but just to go there and smell them and touch them and see which covers caught my eye. And to complain, of course, that they had all the wrong books on the front table!

    Now I follow my husband around to his rare book stores, and I must say that I love it. It’s totally different, of course. But the owners of these stores are always wanting to chat about old books, collections they’ve just bought, the state of reading in this country, etc… so it’s a very fulfilling overall experience. I’m also learning things about the different kinds of first editions, how to spot a fake dust jacket, how writers collect their own books, and whatnot, so that’s fun!

    • I didn’t even know fake dust jackets were a thing. (Can you tell I don’t buy many rare first editions?) Do tell — how do you spot a fake one?

      • Teri says:

        There are a big variety of ways, one being that there’s “bleed” from the jacket on the book but the jacket’s not bleeding. There is apparently a whole criminal business of creating fake jackets — as the jacket can double the price of the book. Who knew?!?!

  • I’m so sad about Borders shutting down. It’s been my favorite place to shop for books for as long as I can remember. There are three near my house, and then one very small B&N – and that’s it. Now I’ll be left with nothing but the tiny B&N, as independent bookstores are basically nonexistent around here.

  • Lyra says:

    I had a similar experience. I find such joy in finding/searching for books in a physical bookstore and the whole process was depressing when we went to Borders. To have three stacks of books that we were buying and yet to see things change so palpably, to see the employees who would be out of work…so sad.
    No. No neat ending to be had.

  • Paul says:

    Our last Borders is closing. I made the mistake of going to one other others when it was having its closing sale, and it felt like a wake. Very depressing. I decided the deals couldn’t be good enough to make me go to the death of a decent bookstore again.

    I’m told we have only one independent bookstore still in Kansas City. It seems to be thriving, or at least holding on. Plus we have plenty of really good used bookstores. They may be the last hold out of the printed word in our lifetime.

  • Lily says:

    Where I live, the chain bookstores are seen as the enemy of the independent and when they close people are not unhappy, I suppose because every time a chain moves out, people move over to the independents. But that is only because I live in a university town (Berkeley) that has a very strong independent bookstore culture. But when Cody’s Books, a huge fixture on Telegraph Avenue, went out of business, it was very sad. The building is still empty and I still feel nostalgic and regretful when I go by it.

  • Ironically, the last time I visited a Borders was their flagship store in Ann Arbor, just last month. (And I went there with Betsy Lerner.) Wonderful memory. Sad ending.

    Funny–I once thought of Borders as the enemy. I was loyal to my local indie store, where my mother worked part-time. I was certain that when my first book was published, I would do a reading and book-signing there. It closed a few years ago.

    With our local Borders now shutting its doors, I’m holding out hope that I’ll someday do that reading and signing at my nearby Barnes and Noble.

    Because that B&N is now my treasured friend.

    Ah, ink and paper. Long may you run.

    • Downith says:

      I love the way you can casually say “I went there with Betsy L Lerner”. Love it and of course hate it in an insanely jealous way.

  • Downith says:

    Great title Laura.
    There were two Borders within driving distance of my little town over here but I rarely made the trek so they had gone bust way before I became aware of it.

    We have one indie bookstore in our little town and I try to support it, but amazon has a way of calling me…

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