Monday, August 8, 2011

Day 21

Little by little this store becomes something wholly new as it absorbs product and reshapes itself. The grotesque cracking and reshifting of it's bones is a noise so common it's become white. It seems like its flailing tendrils are reaching out to the dark underbelly of container ship purchases and bringing back heinous randomness that it assimilates into it's body. Resistance is futile, your biological and technological distinctiveness will be added to our own, we will assimilate your dollar store.

There is so much about this process that is counter-emotional. We are doing well, so we get the ridiculous crap that some person from season 2 of the wire smuggled past the longshoreman? It seems to me if we're doing well we should be spared this indignation. Why punish us for doing well? Why not make some store where nobody buys books even at 25 to 50% off have to contend with this ... Stuff. I mean I've sold some weird things at borders over the years, rubber chickens that crap out weird eggs come to mind. But the fact that this stuff isn't some effort to keep us from imploding under our own ideas, just makes it so...unseemly.

Let me explain why this to me seems like punnishment. There is, what i think is, an unfair sterotype about booksellers. That we are snobby. I've heard a thousand stories about "oh i went in here and they looked at me with the hairy eyeball because i was buying Twilight" or "So my friend blahblahblah is a bookseller and she gets so worked up whenever people buy the Oprah Books..." I'm bout to lay this shit down for ya, so you listening?

We give a shit! I know, awful, right. I know if i went into a hardware store and i went to buy some drywall anchors and i grabbed the pretty blue package because...well everyone else seems to be buying the pretty blue package, i want someone with some level of expertise to say- "you should probably get the ugly orange package, you get more and they last longer, and they have a metal spring back mechanism instead of a plastic one so fewer will screw up (pardon the pun)!" I want that out of a professional. Remember that, professionalism? Now just because you like stories about sparkling unattainable sex weirdoes and the nerdy girls who try to kill themselves for their attention, doesn't mean that what you like and what is GOOD are the same thing. Just because Oprah likes a books, doesn't mean you will, don't read it because she tells you to, read it because it intrigues you! what goes on in the mind of many a bookseller when you ask for directions to certain books or worse, scorn us when they aren't in the precise spot YOU think they should be.

That bookseller, is also the minority. By a lot. Most of us like reading just as much ridiculous nonsense as you do. Most of us think Oprah has pretty good taste. If you walk into a Borders and can't find a bookseller who nerded out during midnight releases of Breaking Dawn, then you aren't looking very hard. Books are many things to many people, but my job as a bookseller is to take you from Twilight over to ... i don't know...Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier or Wuthering Heights. Its to sell you the candy but to introduce how delicious vegetables can be as well. I was hired because i know a thing or two about a book or two. You see most of us care about the written word enough to make it our livelihood. Just like, one hopes, a person who works at a lumber yard cares enough about good quality construction to make it theirs. You aren't being judged, you're being welcomed into a whole new world that you just haven't been told about yet by your friends. It's not that we're snobby, its that we care about the art of writing (or music, or coffee...for that matter)

I bring this up, because it's not that i think selling knock off perfume and pillow pets is especially beneath me, i don't want it to come off that way, it's just that i don't care about it. What i do care about is being ingested by the ridiculous flotsam of a culture consumed by consumption. So you see these weird barnacles, this viney growth thats clung to my beloved books and music is strangling the life out of it. That bothers me in a profound way. Hello wound, meet salt.

I should actually take this second to say that i think selling knock-off perfume and pillow pets is beneath pretty much everybody its just not especially beneath me. I don't understand why this is something we can sell and Oil! by Upton Sinclair isn't. I can't for a second comprehend why our society sees merits in neck pillows shaped like creatures whose form is so vague and nightmarish as to not be entirely discernible, but doesn't see the merits in Getting Things Done by David Allen. I don't like the fact that "Bamberry, our impression of Burberry" is more worth 12.99 than a copy Oryx and Crake was. I loathe the fact that we live in a culture where people are going to spend more money on a ceramic pig that looks like it has some bizzarre form of measles than they would at Target, but heaven forefend they should ever do that for The Hunger Games or The Help. I detest the idea that a place where you can explore, create, learn, listen, and enjoy all without ever getting up from your table and stack of books in the cafe has less value than a garishly signed temporary edifice to cheap crap and bogus scents that just happens to be on a progressive discount program. It infuriates me that this is where we are. I care so much about this stuff that watching it corrode and mutate is infecting me.

I know one day not too far from now, I'll be sitting in the center of our store, a single unbought library cart, a pack of staples, a lonely copy of Antigone sitting with me. I know the next day, i will turn the lock forever and look into an empty building that once help entertainment, knowledge, wisdom, and foolishness, sympathy and hate, music and silence. I know on that day the last thing I'll be thinking about is the social ramifications of all of this. I'll just be thinking about the people i will miss. But today, i am truly asking myself is commerce like democracy? Do we get the kind that we deserve?

Do we deserve overpriced spotty pigs and fake fragrances?
I hope not.


  1. I'm sure the loss of Borders' "identity" helps fuel the sense of WTF among the customers, since the store no longer feels like the store.

    On the other hand, so many of the liquidation customers have never been to the store before, so they wouldn't have noticed the change anyway...

  2. I still can't bring myself to walk through the doors of our local "Border's". I miss the people who always welcomed me, whether it had been a few days or a few weeks since I was in. Cory, you have given me the opportunity to think about thanking the people who made it a home away from home for me. I need to find an elegant way of letting them know. Thinking food and a sincere letter.

  3. I think at this point, what you're getting are The Rejects. The warehouse of misfit Borders products has to be sold just as quickly as the books - and I imagine the latter are going faster than the rubber chickens that release cloudy rubber egg matter from their backsides. So, since you've got so much foot traffic, the rejects come to you in a last ditch effort to make a dime off the long forgotten stacks of cardboard boxes filled with everything no one ever wanted to buy at a book store. At least, that's what I hope it is. I don't know if that makes it better, but it certainly made me feel less insulted. In fact, I was glad to think how horribly those "branching out" ideas failed in the face of actual literature. While saddened that our leadership team didn't see the trend, I could at least be glad that our true customers didn't buy into that shit.