Borders Nostalgia

What Chad says makes perfect sense, though it seems utterly absurd to be “nostalgic” for an era that essentially lasted 20 years at the very most and only truly began in the mid-’90s. In other words, the fact that a book empire that causes even anti-corporate haters like Chad Post to shed a tear can rise and fall all in a couple of decades should give us pause and make us wonder about what precisely is going in in the capitalistic world.

Given the fact that Borders never bought any of our books (they’ve been on credit hold since the formation of Open Letter), this won’t impact us much at all. That said, I’m torn between being gleeful in my typical anti-corporate, anti-culture homogenization, anti-box store way, and feeling bad that we’re losing hundreds of spaces where readers of all ages could find out about books. I know that books aren’t going away, and that the internet and ebooks and edevices will be filling in some of this, but that’s something a bit different. Not better or worse per se, just different. All of this is what makes this a pretty interesting moment for publishing . . . and provides a chance to wax nostalgic about recent eras in bookselling.

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Despite its many flaws, Borders will be missed. I’m as anti-corporate, anti big box as anyone, but for many people supporting independent book stores really isn’t an option. Where I live there’s only one independent anywhere in the vicinity, and it’s thirty miles away. Borders often didn’t stock a lot of the fiction I like to read, but it did provide a space where people could meet surrounded by books, a place where you could grab some coffee or tea and do some reading. Within Borders one could carve out some non-commercial space if you wanted to. There were comfortable chairs and stacks of books and if you wanted to read without buying something, you had that option. I never saw the staff bother anyone for reading the merchandise without buying it. With Borders demise, that will simply go away, and there will be no replacement, particularly for people who don’t live in a city or a college town. The mainstream culture seems determined to force the digitalization of everything and I’m sure the end of Borders will be promoted heavily as the end of bookstores. I don’t think that will happen, and I don’t think books will be completely trampled by the Kindles of the world either (as the mainstream culture would seem to prefer), but the space for books will continue to shrink, and the disappearance of Borders adds to the problem . I’m not optimistic that something will arise to fill the gap, but then it’s hard to be optimistic about anything in American life these days.

“but it did provide a space where people could meet surrounded by books, a place where you could grab some coffee or tea and do some reading.”

But this is kind of the point – Borders created this desire in the first place. It’s not like large bookstores with abundant coffee and tea supplies were some eternal pleasure Borders tapped into – they manufactured this culture, just like any good corporate brand, and the nostalgia is just evidence that there culture brand was successful.

Pre-90s, bookstores were like record shops: you went in, put your head down, dug around for 45 minutes, foolishly spent money you didn’t have, and then went home to enjoy what you bought.


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