I stopped for a late lunch at a favorite spot with a dear friend today and afterward we wandered down to my local Borders bookstore. On Monday, news had hit the wires that they were closing all of their stores, causing my heart to briefly stutter in my chest for too many reasons. On Friday, they had begun their liquidation sale.
I paused just at the threshold of the store as a weight seemed to settle on my chest. The shopping plaza that housed the Borders store was relatively new but I had a lot of memories attached to the store. I shopped here regularly, wandering aimlessly down the aisles looking for new authors, new stories. It was the first place I saw my own book, Nightwalker, on the shelves. It was the place I did my first solo signing, terrified no one would come.
As I entered the store, I found it teaming with people. There was a low murmur buzzing around the large store as people hunted for good deals on books they had put off purchasing for one reason or another. At first, my reaction was to want to shout at the top of my lungs “Where have you been? Couldn’t you have come when the store was dying?” But then, I realized that most of them probably had come while the store was in decline. This Borders store had always been a busy one, and I couldn’t begrudge anyone the right to find a book at a good price. I was just happy to see anyone reading a book, regardless of its format.
I walked slowly down nearly every aisle of the store, trying to memorize it all. My fingers slid along the spines of the books, caressing the embossed titles and author names. A part of me wanted to take them all home. I needed to know these books were going to a good home, somewhere they would be loved and read.
More than once, my friend wrapped an arm around my shoulder, comforting me. I looked as if I had lost my best friend. I felt as if I was standing at the bedside of a dying friend, watching him struggling for each ragged breath, knowing he wouldn’t have the energy to take too many more.
Before leaving, I quietly signed the copies of my own books, leaving a special message for anyone who picked up those particular copies.
Over the past several years, I’ve watched dozens of independent stores close their doors permanently. And now a major chain has tumbled. In my own hometown, there are still several bookstores close by, but I’m scared. I don’t want to live in a world where there are no bookstores. I’ve found so many authors by wandering down the aisles, waiting for a cover or a title to catch my attention. I’ve found things that would never have been recommended to me based on my previous reading habits.
Yes, I’ve finally made the switch over to e-books and I do love my e-reader, but there is still something comforting in walking through a bookstore, your eyes dancing over millions of stories. In that moment, standing before giant shelves lined with books, I feel safe and happy because I can see all the stories that people have written; I can see the evidence of their dreams. I am disconnected from those dreams when browsing an electronic store.
I don’t know what the future is going to bring. I tell myself that people aren’t going to stop reading just because bookstores are gone. I tell myself that books will always be in print. But standing there, watching the store get picked apart, knowing that the shelves will never be refilled, my heart broke a little bit.
To the workers in the Borders stores, you have my heartfelt well wishes. Thank you for years of wonderful assistance and smiles.
To the world, I ask you to keep reading.
And keep dreaming.