Death of A Bookseller
“The place of the cure of the soul”
~ fabled inscription in the Library at Alexandria
When Borders Books announced last Monday that they would be closing ALL of their stores this year, due to ongoing financial troubles, my jaw almost literally fell into my lap.
I happen to love shopping at Borders, and just a few weeks ago made a trip to my local store for a copy of Cat Fancy magazine (for business research!).
Even though the Garden Groh shopping center was virtually empty by 9:30PM, on a Saturday… with the exception of the Walmart Supercenter located at the opposite end (which remains crowded even in the wee hours)… Borders was still hopping with cafe patrons reading newspapers and drinking coffee; customers browsed the aisles of books, asking salesclerks for help finding obscure titles.
Four people were standing in the check-out line.
On the surface, they didn’t seem to be experiencing a recession.
Particularly not a Great Recession.
And they certainly didn’t appear to be in the death throes of bankruptcy.
But if there is one thing I’ve learned from years of retail… it’s that no matter how busy your own store may be, making millions of dollars in sales each year, your hard-earned profits are worth less than a fistful of pennies in the pockets of the Corporate Execs.
Bad business decisions will be made, billions of dollars will be wasted, and the company spokesperson will point out matter-of-factly that our economy is unviable.
While some people may be hesitantly optimistic that the demise of this Big-Bad-Box retailer might result in independent booksellers regaining their footing in the local communities… I sit here worrying that traditionally printed books may be on the verge of extinction.
Like the art of writing a letter with pen and paper…
I’m not too young to remember a world without e-mail, and I learned to type on my grandmother’s manual typewriter – using that annoying carriage return lever and her fancy red & black striped, bookkeeping ribbon.
I enjoy the atmosphere of bookstores, and the inquisitive, hungry minds of the customers who frequent them.
I love standing in an aisle filled floor to ceiling with colorful jackets and intriguing titles, discovering new authors and occasionally new topics, and flipping through pages to ‘get a feel’ for a writer’s unique voice.
Apparently, I’m the only person on planet Earth who doesn’t own an eReader device… according to brick & mortar shops, who blame lackluster sales on Amazon’s Kindle service, and the availability of newspapers and free novel text online.
Is that really how we are ingesting our reading material these days?
I’d be willing to bet, everyone agrees we spend entirely too much time staring at our computer monitors throughout the day.
How can we possibly relax during those priceless recreational hours, when our eyes are glued to yet another screen??
There is something to be savored in stolen moments of solitude, when I can stretch out across my bed with a favorite novel lying open in front of me…
Physically turning each page between my fingers… eliciting a thrill from “accidentally” skipping a few pages ahead, to catch a glimpse of a few tantalizing sentences… causing me to reconsider my resolution to stop at the end of this chapter, because my curiosity is now piqued, and I absolutely must find out how these events came to pass.
For these reasons and many more, I’ve also been reluctant to jump on the audiobook bandwagon… although the temptation to multi-task is strong, when I catch myself reaching for a book rather than doing something productive in my “down time”.
[Just like dual-purpose furniture, hobbies can't be purely decorative anymore]
I’m just not sure I could bear hearing another person’s voice in my head.
It would certainly require appropriate casting… a voice that compliments the piece, rather than distracts from it.
British actress Juliette Stevenson has a delightful 19th century flavor, in my opinion, from having sampled her readings of Jane Austen and George Eliot.
And actress Amanda Root (my favorite Anne Elliot) also seems a comfortable fit for Jane Eyre.
However, you can’t simply throw actors and books together at random, lacking all reason and sense.
One particular horror cannot be easily purged from my mind…
I had the misfortune, while casually browsing the selection of Naxos Audiobook titles, to chance upon a novel by Georgette Heyer, an author I’d never heard about until recently.
Her Regency romances, written in an Austen-esque style, have been suggested to me several times, so I had reminded myself to look her up at the next opportunity.
I was slightly shocked to discover the publishers had hired a male actor to read the novel… but I made a gracious attempt at open-mindedness by clicking on the audio sample.
I now seriously regret that decision.
And I will confess, somewhat sheepishly, I didn’t even manage to sit through the ENTIRE few minutes of audio… once it became unbearably disturbing, my mouse stumbled over the pause button in my haste to back-pedal away from that page.
I only wish I could exorcise the lingering remnants of his voice in my head:
his imitation of one lady’s gasp of surprise… the descriptions of their arched brows, hair curls, and melting eyes… the rustling of petticoats…. and the feminine banter about eligible batchelors of large fortune…
For the love of all that is Holy, please do not hire male actors to read corset-ripping romance novels. Ever.
It’s just plain… wrong.
Let them flex their acting muscles on “Great Expectations” or “Beowulf”… “Dracula”…. “Les Miserables”….
Any novel with a predominantly male cast or a male narrator, and plenty of testosterone-fueled action scenes.
Just leave the chest-heaving, eye-lash fluttering, swooning bits to the ladies, pleeeease?
It is a sad acknowledgement that the world will continue to carry around their battery powered electronic readers, and listen to the “warm and delicious” (?!?) voices of audiobook actors while dressing and showering for work…
The memories of cracking open a newly printed book, or discovering a worn classic in a second hand shop, will continue to fade into an intangible yet familiar feeling.
A feeling that can never be replicated by pixels on a screen…
A feeling our great-grandchildren will never experience as they stare blankly into our foolish faces, as we reminisce over handed-down textbooks…
Private libraries will slowly morph into mausoleums, tended reverently by those whose dearest relations lie buried upon their dusty shelves.
And the iconic institutions which once housed billions of books, having served the populace for over 2,300 years, will have been repurposed into Best Buys and Dick’s Sporting Goods… a catastrophe which Julius Caesar himself could not have achieved through warfare or fire.
Ray Bradbury might have terrified a generation with his predictions of book burnings… but books are now being sacrificed on the altar every day, by our families and neighbors, with great enthusiasm over their newfound religion: technology and digital immortality.
Because these computer files and internet databases will live forever, right??
A few unbelievers like myself will gather up as many books as we can for safekeeping… filling every available corner with rescues from Border’s Going-Out-Of-Business sale.
One day, you might chance upon my cabin in the woods, and find me surrounded by fifty cats, a mountain of hoarded hardcovers, and stacks of leaning paperbacks; the odd collector of stories bound together with paper, cloth, and glue…
The last of our kind.