I remember the first time I ever entered a Borders bookstore. It was in suburban Kansas City. I was amazed at the size of this store and the breadth of its coverage. Now this wasn’t the biggest bookstore I’d ever entered. I had spent time at Powell’s in Portland, which is the biggest store I’d ever entered, and still is among the largest in the country. So, it wasn’t the size so much as the reality that here was a store where I could indulge my interests without having to fly to Portland.
Being a theology professor, and knowing that most Christian bookstores had ceased selling anything but the narrowest of lines (and what we not so lovingly call “Jesus Junk”), it was nice to be able to see what was new, not only among Christian writers, but Jewish and Muslim and even secular writers.
Now we watch as this giant of chains is near its demise. We mourn its loss as symbolic of the loss of presence of brick and mortar stores, even as we (I) obtain more and more of our goods online at places like Amazon. It is somewhat ironic that the very store that helped push independent bookstores out of existence has now suffered much the same fate due to Amazon’s power.
Of course it didn’t help that Borders failed to capitalize on the e-reader phenomenon like its rival — Barnes and Noble – which has created an e-reader that competes fairly effectively with the Kindle (Amazon).
The demise of Borders raises important questions about the future of reading; especially as many local libraries face diminishment and even closure (my local library faces closure if the citizenry doesn’t vote to extend the property tax rate by 7 cents per 1,000 of value). Yes, we can (and we do) order online and even download books, but there’s something about going to the store and browsing.
When I go into a Borders or a Barnes and Noble (or when I’m in Portland – Powell’s), it’s a nice feeling to pick up and examine a newly published book. I can peruse its pages and consider whether it is worth my investment in time and money. Of course, like many, I must confess, I have made that discernment in the bookstore and then headed home and ordered online. I realize that I have contributed to the demise of this chain, but I must mourn our loss nonetheless.
My hope is that even as Borders dies, new shops will emerge, perhaps more specialized ones, where we can have that opportunity to hold in our hands the printed word. Oh, and about the e-book phenomenon. I have a Kindle and find it useful, but it’s still not the same as the printed page. And to give some context, Captain Kirk decided that he too needed to hold and read a real book – Dr. McCoy even fashioned reading glasses for him. So maybe even the future holds the prospect of our being able to hold real paper in our hands so that we might continue reading as we have for generations!
For now, however, may Border’s rest in peace (as of September 30).