END OF AN ERA?
by Bruce Jones
No, I’m not talking about the Harry Potter franchise, though I’m sure a lot more people are concerned (or at least aware) of that ephemeral phe-nom than the far more reaching one at hand.
And I’m not talking about (Christ, I hope I’m not!) the Aug 3rd deadline the President and Congress have given themselves–and the economy of the world-to prevent the entire planet from falling apart financially, although I suppose that takes precedence over just about everything else.
As I write this (Sunday 11:52 PT) we shall all know by 5. p.m. today whether the country’s 2nd largest bookseller is still a viable entity or, like one of its most famous products, gone with the wind.
The company, Borders Books, which has been with us and a big part of my life since 1971, was close to approval on an agreed upon deal with Najafi Cos. for $215 million and an assumption of $220 million in debt in bankruptcy proceedings for some time now. But the deal seems to have gone south. The Ann Arbor based bookseller faced objection to the agreed upon Najafi as creditors, siting that Najafi could merely buy assets and liquidate Border Books. Creditors warmed to another bid from liquidators Hilco Merchant Resources and Gordon Brothers, feeling it was a stronger move; apparently it involved more cash than the offer from Najafi. Creditors had banked on Najafi submitting a higher counter bid, but none has been forthcoming; Najafi is standing tough. And as a result, Borders could be through for good. Not just the cutting back of another 200 stores as it did earlier this year when filing for bankruptcy, but throughâ€¦gone, zip, nada. Borders claims it will accept bids until 5p.m. today but there is a strong general feeling that in the end”of a true era”it will close its remaining 400 doors next week.
So what do you care, Bruce? you’re saying–you’ve been flogging your own digital books on this blog for months now. Well, a few of you are saying that; most of you surely have seen the writing on the wall for some time now: hardcover book sales are falling, digital books and ereaders are climbing, and with even Barnes and Noble searching around for a buyer, it’s pretty obvious the brick and mortar stores, with the possible exception of the big boxers like Walmart, etc., are a thing of the past. At least book-wise.
I suppose it was inevitable.
Like the price of gas and global warming and a fun little thing called the San Diego Comic Con, which went from a one room operation in the 70s for comic book sellers and buyers, to a leviathan of mostly movie-related commerce and elbow-pushing greed by the beginning of this century. Like the death of the LP, the eight track, the CD (and mostly) the DVDs in favor of the Great God Streaming.
It makes sense, even if”perhaps in a nostalgic sort of way”it depresses some of us. Netflix may have pissed off a lot of customers when it raised its prices recently, but you really can’t blame them from trying to get out from under the smothering postal system and join the streaming future. It’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times. Technology is an ever-changing marvel that keeps us communicating in ways never dreamed of, adds tons to our convenience even while purchasing prices of its myriad gadgets drop. Technology in in. It even saves lives. It’s what will get us to Mars. Technology is soaring! Even if we all are out of work. And broke. And scared. Some of us homeless and really scared.
But we tighten our belts and soldier on, right? Yeah, that’s why as soon as our old cell phone or computer or MP3 player breaks we throw it away and buy the new more expensive one. Always got money for that! Why? Because we are mad. Even while inching toward the real Depression our penny-pinching, tight-ass, frugal ole parents and grandparents all warned us about.
But all good things come to an end, as someone very wise or very obvious once observed. Strange I’ve never heard the counterphrase: All Bad Things Come to an End. And I suppose I can (like I have a choice!) live with the ever-changing gotta-have-the- newest-tech-toy mentality. Apple doesn’t make us buy this shit, you know.
But I, for one, shall miss bookstores.
I’ve haunted them all my life, grew up with them, saw them go from grubby little strange-smelling mom and pop operations to the glory of mammoth, unending cyclopean football fields of real, tangible books”all shapes, all sizes– where you could virtually browse away an entire afternoon and have some pretty decent coffee in the interim. Hell, you were even encouraged to sit down and read for free, despite the clear eventuality of some coffee being spilt on some pages. And let’s not even get into the lavish art books! All in one place. I remember my first Waldenbooks: it was like: they finally got it right! Book lovers heaven! Oh sure, for the more esoteric stuff you still had to haunt the dingy privately owned outlets or drop into a Half Price store now and again, but all in all it was manna from heaven. And”for me”Borders was the manniest.
Something stuffy and off-putting about Barnes and Noble, I could never put my finger on it. The layout, the snotty escalators, the stern-looking staff, the completely lame-ass magazine section, the feeling that, okay the chairs are there, but we’d really prefer you bought the damn thing and moved on, this ain’t a friggin’ library yâ’ know! Barnes and Noble was your English teacher; Borders was the kid you lit cherry bombs with. Their CEO, unfortunately, was wayyy out to lunch. No Kindle-like ereader? C’mon, you’re not even trying to move ahead!
But I shall miss it. More than most things.
But then, I miss the San Diego of the 1980s before The Gas Lamp Quarter closed down all the tattoo parlors and you could drive anywhere at any time of day with little traffic– and even if housing was overpriced you could certainly rent nearly anywhere, except maybe La Jolla. I miss Christmas. Let’s don’t get into that one. I miss having fewer TV channel choices for free. I miss summer movies for grownups before JAWS turned the season into blockbuster time – though in comparison to current offerings, JAWS now looks like a work of popcorn genius. I miss having a global enemy that could blow your own country off the face of the Earth but was at least reasonably sane! I miss driving. Just about everywhere.
But that hardcover book, that I will miss most. The way it felt in my hands, the heft, the smell of the fresh cracked page, like that new car smell only farrrr cheaper. The dust jackets, oh, yeah, the dust jackets will miss them a lot! The knowledge that even though clearly mass produced, your personal copy was somehow just an nth distinct from all others. The way they looked lined up on a shelf. A warm look. An intelligent look. A friendly, stroll over and grab one down look. Maybe there was that mustard stain on page 38, but it was your mustard stain. And lend them? Not on your life. These weren’t pieces of disposable property to bandy about, these were old friends. In many ways more dependable than the live ones. Yes, we had to box them, yes, we had to haul them, mile after mile, state after state. But no matter how strangely unlived-in each new house or apartment felt at first, the old familiar books helped make them quickly and reassuringly comfortable.
Perhaps most of all, especially if you didn’t take care of them, books aged, just like you did. Yet there was something comforting in the knowledge they’d outlive you, preserving your invisible fingerprints, invisible aura long after you’d departed. Even the paperbacks. They weren’t merely a commodity, they were, or could be when done well, an art form.
And now, like much of my hair and most of my jawline, they’re disappearing.
Okay, this is getting maudlin. It’s just paper, right? Quit sounding so goddamn acquisitive, Jones. Take a walk. On the beach. Soon as the 405 reopens.
Because the IMPORTANT thing is the writing itself! Not the silly-ass delivery system? Right? Right?
“that Borders Iced Chai”
Bruce Jones is a novelist, screenwriter, comic book writer, artist and packager who is best known for his stint as packager of TWISTED TALES and ALIEN WORLDS at Pacific Comics and his work on Marvel’s THE HULK.
His recently published novels include Shimmer, The Deadenders, and The Tarn, all of which are available on Amazon.com. Altogether he has published twelve novels as well as hundreds of comics and a score of graphic novels, short story collections, and criticisms.
He is married to writer April Campbell Jones. They have three children and two dogs.