Bye Bye Borders

Those remembering Father George Hunt wrote movingly of his literary interests, and former Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent's story of Father Hunt scouring used bookstores for that hidden book gem brought a smile to my face and I'm sure to many other readers as well. I'm certain that a shared characteristic of readers of America Magazine is a love of books. (Yes, there's even a long-time Catholic book club affiliated with the magazine.) Appearing in the midst of news on Egypt, Libya, Pirates on the High Seas, or Protests in Madison, Wisconsin was the story that Borders, the large bookstore chain, was going bankrupt. Although some stores would remain open, the newspapers stated, many more would be closing. As I've spent hundreds of hours in Borders stores, and those of another retailer like it, sadness hit my heart before my eyes could even stumble to the story's first sentence. Bookstores have been closing aplenty for two decades, winking out like fireflies at dawn, and too-frequently going unnoticed.

When I moved to New York three decades ago, the realization that I lived a train ride away from a great city was almost secondary to being bedazzled by being able to commute to a city of great bookstores. The Strand quickly became a favorite--if you couldn't carry everything back they would pack the books in sturdy boxes and have them shipped to you, saving you the back-breaking work of dragging them through Grand Central Terminal. The perfect Saturday or weekly day off was a walk up Fifth Avenue and into the wrought-iron sanctuary of Scribners, or up to the second floor at Doubleday where one could peruse the paperbacks and look down on Fifth Avenue at the same time, wondering if Jacqueline Onassis might pass by, absorbed in her editorial duties. If there was time, a hop on the subway and down to Union Square--up an elevator to the fourth floor (what a weird place for a bookstore), and there was Bruner/Mazel with a trove of first-rate professional books on psychology. In sports terms--the perfect trifecta, hat trick, or even home run with runners on first and second.


At a young age I became one of those lucky persons to have a manuscript accepted over-the-transom--literary lingo for an unsolicited manuscript proposal. While working at an inner-city day treatment center, I sent an idea for a book on how to do crisis counseling with these children. Against all odds the proposal ended up in the hands of Michael Leach, formerly the director of a center for similarly troubled children. Mike not only liked this book but signed me up for three other books as well, and for over six years I served under his mentorship as a General Editor for a 25-volume series on counseling, attending conferences and working with authors who crafted their individual volumes in line with the overall goals of a coherent series. Soon, Mike's story of his singular career in publishing will be out for all to read and enjoy.

Now many Borders stores will go the way of these other places I used to eagerly visit. After that brief surge of sadness passes, there should be time to assess the impact Borders and that other chain have had on book publishing; it has not been all for the best. In two decades many small neighborhood bookstores and small to medium publishers were forced to close because the rules of the publishing ballgame changed. Instead of skilled editors who loved their work selecting books of combined literary and commercial value (or sometimes a good book that wouldn't sell but was worth publishing on its literary merit alone), marketing directors at the bookstore chains would tell the publishers what kind of book they wanted to order, how it should be written, and how many pages it would be. Diversity in kinds of books you can buy in bookstores has suffered. Best-sellers are that way from the start because of money paid to display them at the front of the store--not from a groundswell of demand from reviewers to selective book buyers. Over-the-transom acceptances like mine just don't happen anymore--a great loss for unpublished young people who yearn to write.

At least one article I read suggested that perhaps small bookstores would rise again. I don't know--that seemed an overly hopeful, but readily welcomed sentiment. Small publishers have learned to eke out a place in the literary world, often by specialization and a large back list of books that is made possible by the on-demand publishing technology. Books coded in electronic format can be rapidly printed with laser technology printers; instead of a warehouse down by the docks to store thousands of books, all that is needed is a small server. One publisher who has changed with the times is my friend and colleague Gene Gollogly whose Lantern Books specialize in spirituality, nonviolence and psychology as well as issues related to nourishing food and cherishing of animal life. Lantern's website not only lists the books but has info on authors, upcoming events, and different blogs--even one that links to monasticism. Perhaps as one big player in publishing diminishes or disappears, more room will open up for Gene and other publishers like him.

Many lament the changes in the book industry, of which this Borders bankruptcy is just the latest, but with sadness there often come a choice: one can brood and resent that those good old days are gone forever or one can look forward to unexpected new discoveries and developments. Still, old friends who have left our lives or this Earth are hard to replace and sometimes can't be, even though our new connections would seem to offer similar nourishment and reward.

William Van Ornum


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we vnornm
7 years 10 months ago
Janice and Anne, thanks for your experiences. David, yours is an approach that I hope to emulate, your positive outlook is a motivator for book lovers everywhere. bill
Kayna Pfeiffer
7 years 10 months ago
It's really sad to see that Border's has declared bankruptcy, although this was most likely inevitable due to the emergence of the Kindle and the Ipad. Not to mention, I was browsing apps on my Itouch the other day and saw that they even have an e-book app for that. What apps don't they have these days?

Anyways, as cool as these new e-book's are appearance wise, I'm just not a fan. I tested out my friend's Kindle and it just did not give me the same satisfaction as it does from reading a tangible book. Growing up, I always looked forward to my parent's taking me to the local book store to pick out a book of my choice, which at that time was the latest Goosebump book. I feel that I would not have as much of a well rounded education as I do if it was not for my interest and easy access to books. My worry with the reduction of bookstore's is that the next generation of children will lose interest in books since they won't be as readily available due to them only being available in electronic form. 

Furthermore, it is sad to see that so many employees are going to be displaced due to this bankruptcy. As exciting as all of these new technological inventions are, we have to keep in mind that there are so many of us that are going to be out of jobs if things like books and music continue to be phased out through electronic means. 

Ryan Mead
7 years 10 months ago
As a child I had the privledge of living two blocks away from a shopping mall which I would spend a good amount of time wondering during my teenage years. When I first became a daily visitor of the mall three of my favorite stops were the 3 self owned book stores. I would sit around, read comics and other nerdy sci-fi novels for hours and it was a pleasure of mine. As I got older I began to work at the mall arcade when I was the age 16 and during my breaks I would always make sure to stop by the book stores and talk to the managers and search for new books that could fit my liking. This unfortunatley didn't last long. All 3 book stores slowly closed down one by one and it was devestating. Every store I enjoyed in the mall was slowly becoming cloths stores with flashing lights and dj's, I wanted nothing to do with this.

While this might not be related to book stores, you mentioned that a passion of yours was traveling to book stores through out new york. When I began to work at an arcade in the mall, my passion became the world of arcades. I would work 5 days a week and on friday night my friends and I would drive from Suffolk County Long Island to China Town, New York. We would stay till 4 am and it's a feeling I have yet to recreate in my life. To my disliking when I was 18 the arcade I was working at closed down, the reasoning was because the mall wanted to become more professional and have less kids under 18 loitering throughout. It was probably one of the saddest days of my life. Arcades are slowly disapearing throughout America, earlier this week my favorite arcade China Town Fair arcade closed it's doors after 18 years of buisness. If I want to visit a well known arcade now I'll have to fly to California.

Small buisness is on the downfall and the times have changed and soon the things I grew up loving are becoming irrelvant due to our ever expanding technology. It's sad to see Borders begin to close thier doors but to me it's even sadder to see mom and pop stores not being able to compete in any market. How soon is it till we have all monopoloy companies? Time will tell, I just miss the flashing lights and atmostphere of what I loved most.
7 years 10 months ago
Like you, and other avid readers, I am a haunter of book stores.  Of all kinds.  One of the pleasures of travelling for me is to scout out the locale's bookstores.  Even those of languages I don't know are appealing.  It is always fun to see the other people who are also attracted to books.  A commonality among strangers. 

At home, the books have been overtaking us and the time came for either some of the books or for me to go.  I think that some of us book collectors could open up a used book store of our own!  As I've sorted through books, I found among the vintage books belonging to my mother and relatives long deceased, two old books of particular interest to me at one time:   over 60 year old copies of Erikson's "Childhood and Society" and Freud's, "The Interpretation of Dreams".  I'll keep those.

So far, I've taken two crates of books, all classics, to the library of a new Catholic high school.  The librarian showed me the beautiful library with its row upon row of empty shelves.  It was awfully hard to give up these books and I do wonder:  do young people still read the classics?  I find as I get older that some books, like some friendships are irreplaceable.
Anne Chapman
7 years 10 months ago
It makes me very sad. I love books and I love bookstores, but in my suburban community, all of the small, old-fashioned bookstores are long gone. But, at least we had Borders and Barnes & Noble. Now we have only one bookstore, where we can sit and browse, discovering all of those wonderful titles that are never reviewed and unknown until discoverd through leisurely browsing, have a cup of coffee, buy magazines from foreign countries, listen to classical music. Local authors read their works, occasionally a celibrity author also. Bookstores have a community feel, a coziness that Amazon and other online sources obviously lack. If our B&N disappears, there will literally be not one bookstore left within a 30 minute drive to downtown (during non-rush hours), where there are still a few small, cozy old-fashioned bookstores - but for how long?  Will the disappearance of the big box bookstores pave the way for a resurgence in small, well-stocked bookstores?  Maybe that would be the silver lining.
Katrina Ferrer
7 years 10 months ago
The closing of borders is a great sign of the times. It indicates the economic downturn of the large consumer marketplace and, as the author points out, the rise of the small businesses in America. It also tells the story of our times as we move from entirely printed media for literary stimulus, to e-readers and online bookstores. The large chain is no longer the best source of the written word, but now the digital forms of those words, and Borders was just too far behind on the curve. This is not necessarily the downfall of the bookstore, or even the large-chain bookstore, but rather a change of direction for books.
7 years 10 months ago
I have just the place for you, but you'll have to visit us here in San Diego!  There is a wonderful book store-coffee shop called the Upstart Crow (after WM Shakespeare) on San Diego Bay.  It has 2 levels  with small tables and chairs interspersed throughout the store and the smell of coffee is intoxicating.  A good selection of books, too. And it has been in business for years.  So they have a good business model.  Maybe, with Border's closing stores , there will be an incentive for small businesses to try this concept on a large scale.  I read that the owners of the small, independent book stores here are a bit hopeful of keeping their businesses going, with the closure of some Border's stores.  It has been tough sledding for most and several have already closed.  With the increasing popularity of Kindles and Nooks would some kind of hybrid store of books and ebooks be possible?
Daniela Pereira
7 years 10 months ago
With increasing technologies, many people in my generation have grown away from books. They have replaced them with Kindles, Movies and Television shows. Some people even go to see a movie that was based on a book instead of reading the book entirely. I think that a large reason why my generation has moved away from books is due to the fact they it takes time and patience. We live in a fast past environment where we can collect and obtain information within seconds. They idea of having to sit down and enjoy a piece of literature is old news. However, I do believe that there are a group of people within my generation that do enjoy the feeling of a hardcover book and the smell of the pages when you flip them. I for one do not enjoy reading information off of a computer screen. My eyes start to hurt and I get a headache. A real book allows me to relax and provides relief from such a high pace society.
Ryan Mead
7 years 10 months ago
Also Please forgive my spelling errors. I didn't realize I could no edit on this website, I'll be sure to clean up my spelling before posting next time.

Sorry for the double post but I wrote that in the heat of the moment but I spelt business wrong and that is rather embarrasing.

Once agian, great article.
Christine Castellana
7 years 10 months ago
I personally am having a hard time accepting the fact that books are now becoming electronic or available on the Nook or the Kindle.  I have always enjoyed going to Barnes and Noble and reading through real books and buying a ridiculous amount of them!

I like having the ability to hold a real book in my hand, to write in the margins, to highlight.  I like the way a book feels, smells, tastes (ok, just kidding on that one!).  I CAN'T PART WITH BOOKS!!!

Technology is an amazing thing, but I just feel like books should still be honored and cherished.  Maybe I am acting old-fashioned, but it is how I feel.

And has anyone ever walked through The Strand in NYC? That bookstore is AMAZING.  It just has rows and rows and rows and rows of books and it is the most awesome site ever.  You can also meet great people there! The last time I went there, I was in the Spanish book section, and I met a gentleman who wanted to teach me Spanish. We talked for almost an hour and we exchanged e-mails and he sends me Spanish lessons.  I share this because, not only are we losing possessions, we are losing relationships if we give up books! The bookstore can be a social place to relax and meet new people.  You can also meet authors at book signings.

Speaking of book can you have your Kindle signed, HUH? Nothing is better than meeting your favorite author and having them pen their name in your favorite book. I am sorry, but a napkin isn't going to cut it.

I will be in bookstores and reading REAL books until the day they burn Barnes and Nobles down.  I will be the one lying on the floor refusing to move :)
Courtney Lynch
7 years 9 months ago
From an early age, I have always loved books! When I got money from a relative or made money from a lemonade stand, I would go to the local bookstore. I have accumulated hundreds (maybe even into thousands) of books thus far. In fact, up until sixth grade, I did not really watch television. I always had a book that I would read after finishing my homework and playing outside. In fact, my fifth grade teacher had us keep a reading log. She said that the person who read the most amount of books would win a gift certificate to Barnes and Noble. Needless to say, I wanted to win extremely badly. I accomplished my goal and was the best reader in the fifth grade.
Constantly turning the page to read more is no more. Technologies were developed such as the kindle, software to read a book on an Ipod and software to allow books to be accessible online. The value of tangibly being able to turn the page and have the book in my possession without a headache or sore eyes was so immense, that I was caught off guard with these technologies. Today, if you take a train or any form of public transportation, most people are listening to Ipods, playing games on their phone or watching a movie on some handheld device. The age of the book has passed and in its presence, technology remains. With greater variety in activities to do to pass the time and less emphasis placed on reading, it would unfortunately make sense that book stores would not be doing well in today’s economy. Also, with little value placed in reading, today’s education system will change. Students will no longer read books, but look answers up on sparknotes. Students will skim a book on kindle to study for a test or just never pick up a book. It is sad really when you think of it, the wealth of information and knowledge that could be at a student’s finger tips by reading a book. However, the age of the book has passed. In today’s society, technology has surpassed the tangible, paper gateways to knowledge. 
Lia DeGregorio
7 years 10 months ago
One thing I truly regret is not reading enough books on my own for leisure. I've always been more of a movie person. When the Blockbuster in my town closed last year I'm sure my feelings were similar to yours Bill upon hearing about the closing of many Borders bookstores. My difficulty with books is not my lack of attention span, but my lack of time. As a college student, I have nine textbooks I'm reading this semester, but this leaves me little time for leisurely reading. Fortunately, I've actually gained an interest in my textbooks since they discuss Psychology and Education; two topics I'm very much interested in.

Christine (#11) I agree with your take regarding physically being able to hold books. When I do get a chance to read books for leisure I would definitely choose a hard copy or paperback book over an electronic source. Something about the physical object of a book has always appealed to me. I've always been fascinated by how a complete story can fit between the front and back covers of a book and that I could hold this story in my handS. For me, electronic sources take much of this aspect away, since all the stories and books are put onto one device. I can see how many people would see this as a convenience, but for me I would much rather prefer to read books in their original form.
Alexandra Burgess
7 years 10 months ago
Like you and the many bloggers here, I too am at a dismay over the closing of such a wonderful bookstore! I can remember those hot summer days trudging through the streets of New York City to get inside where the assortment of books were calling my name! To this day, I still remember how refreshing it felt to turn that first crisp page in a new book—something about settling in for a good read at the bookstore was especially appealing!
As the minutes turned into hours, I would plow through a variety of books giving me a satisfaction like no other. I would continue to marvel at the fact that I was what my uncle called a “speedy reader” meaning I was able to get  through almost twice the number of books as the “kids” sitting next to me! Oh what a joy and how I wish this was still the case today!
As Christina and Lia mentioned in a previous post, I too am concerned about this new wave of technology wiping out bookstores completely! After trying out the new Kindle, it just doesn’t measure up to having that physical book in hand. For me, having an electronic print takes away from the book’s individuality.  Therefore,, you can count on me to continue the trend for I will never stop going to the bookstore!!!!
Erica Rascati
7 years 10 months ago
I have always had a love for the tangible, physical book. Growing up, my friends rooms didn’t have a book in sight while mine had a book shelf stocked with different novels, stories, etc. I enjoy taking trips to the local book stores just to look around although I usually don’t leave the store without making a purchase. My generation has grown up in a digital age where most everything is computerized now … even books! This surge in technology has also impacted my peers desire, or lack thereof, to read. Many of my peers have the attitude that they don’t like to read, they prefer to watch television or go on the internet. When I first heard about the Kindle I thought it seemed interesting, but it wasn’t something I desired to own. Why would I want to read on a digital screen and click a button to flip pages when I can have a physical book in my hands? I believe that book stores, like Borders, are going under because of this new attitude and development of technology. People prefer to have cleaner and organized lives and if they can condense all of their books into a handheld book reader, why not? I understand that attitudes and hobbies are changing as does the technology but I still believe that tangible books should never become extinct.
maria martin
7 years 9 months ago
It is sad that such a large powerful business such as borders is going bankrupt and closing down. Not being able to sit in the Borders café and read a book will be a change. I think that the closing of this large corporate company is due to the use of electronic books for example the kindle. The fact that tangible hard copy books are going out of style is a scary thought. As technology advances, traditions disappear and having book stores and paper copies books is no exception. Sadly, i think that malls and towns will be affected by the closing of this large book provider.
Patrick O'connor
7 years 9 months ago
Borders was the local bookstore for me as a kid. Whenever I wanted to pick up a book for pleasure or buy my summer reading books, I would venture to Borders. I will certainly miss the environment, but there are alternatives for me. I need a quiet environment to read, so I could never really get any reading done in the store. I have never hung out in the café and spent time reading a book. I will miss Borders, not because it was where I read most of my books, but because it was so familiar to me.
People are becoming more reliant on internet resources, which is a big factor in why stores like Borders and Circuit City close down. People can now download books and music to portable devices. I get the image in my head that one day in the near future, libraries will be in the form of computer hard drives. 
Amna Mahmood
7 years 9 months ago
In regards to “Bye Bye Borders,” it is sad to sometimes see these stores go out of business. It seems as though printed works are falling out of favor and replaced with their digital counterparts on laptops or tablets such as the iPad, Kindle or Nook. As you said, it is sad how books are published now based more on a marketing scheme then on their content. The only good thing is that these books that may not be published by large publishers can still be put up and accessed online. The internet has really opened up a whole world to people that want to write but did not have the ability to have their work published before.
Although the internet has opened up this whole new world for these writers, that can not replace that printed book that you can hold in your hand that never goes away. Digital copies may be more convenient, but they can also be lost and overlooked, as there is nothing really tangible about them. I do however, believe that these small bookstores will rise again and begin printing again since there is no need for expensive equipment to get quality prints. As the technology becomes more available, I believe that these small bookstores will steadily increase and print media will become more important again.


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