Borders Employees Say A Bitter Goodbye
The country is now littered with the skeletons of Borders bookstores, since the chain started shutting down their remaining 399 outlets this summer. But the less visible victims are the 10,700 booksellers now left unemployed. Booksellers aren't always the easiest characters to please, a fact writ large in one Borders, reports Entertainment Weekly, where a few employees scrawled a manifesto on an easel pad: "Things we never told you: Ode to a bookstore death."
Everything you expected was simmering behind the bespectacled eyes of your helpful local bookseller is there in black and red Sharpie -- the snobbery and quiet judgment:
"We hate when a book becomes popular simply because it was turned into a movie."
"It's called summer reading, not 'three days before school starts' reading."
"Nicholas Sparks is not a good writer ... if you like him, fine, but facts are facts."
This is combined, of course, with a dose of liberal intellect:
"It's true that we lean to the left and think Glenn Beck is an idiot."
There also are many standard employee gripes:
"We greatly dislike the phrase 'quick question." It's never true. And everyone seems to have one."
" 'I was just here last week and saw this book there' means nothing to us. The store changed once a week."
"It never bothered us when you threatened to shop at Barnes & Noble. We'd rather you do if you're putting up a stink."
Peppered among these grievances lie hints to the bookstore giant's demise. One of the causes, for example, of Borders' bankruptcy was that people didn't buy stuff. Visitors would spend lazy afternoons trolling the magazine racks and vintage sci-fi, and then leave. They were Borders devotees, perhaps, but not loyal customers.
"Most of the time when you returned books you read them already -- and we were onto you."
"When you returned your SAT books, we knew you used them. We thought it wasn't fair -- seeing that we are not a library."
But perhaps most tragically, the grievances reveal some of the magic lost by the decline of the bookstore, even if that magic was really annoying to the people who work there.
One day, on a walk home from a lousy day at work, there might not be any way to step through a pair of doors and say to a dude, "I'm looking for a book," and have that dude find you one. Unless, that is, there's a public library on your commute.
"When you walked in and immediately said 'I'm looking for a book,' what you really meant to say is 'I would like YOU to find me a book.' You never looked. It's fine, that's our job -- but let's be correct about what's really happening here."
Bookstores, unlike Amazon, pop all over your periphery. Your eyes are drawn to a display, skate over the glossy covers, get distracted by a New Release, a Recommended, a Bestseller, a New in Paperback, a Banned Book for Banned Books Week. We may find our new favorite book based on the color of the cover. That era is coming to a close.
"If you don't know the author, title or genre, but you do know the color of the cover, we don't either. How is it our fault if we couldn't find it. We'll never understand."
One day we may tell our children, or grandchildren, about the time we ran free among giving trees, tenacious Little Engines, and anthropomorphized bunny rabbits. One day we tell them that there was once a bookstore called Borders. And their response may very well be: What's a book?
"We were never a day care. Letting your children run free and destroy our kids section destroyed a piece of our souls."
But the bookseller him-or-herself may be one of the more wrenching goodbyes. The world is losing a stock character: the cynical, pretentious eccentric, who's in love with words.
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Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.
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