The Rare Bookseller
How did I work at Borders for so long and never know this was a thing? Also, I would kill to be able to have access to TLU today.
Oh man. We had pallets upon pallets of these boxes. We signed agreements to not open boxes before 12:01 under any circumstances, we counted and counted and counted, making sure we had enough copies, and I spent hours setting up a system for pre-order pickups. And when the book came out? I was in Paris. Alone.
I couldn’t handle missing out on the biggest bookselling night imaginable, so I went to the nearest store and volunteered my services as an English-speaking bookseller. Best decision ever. I got to run the costume contest, help almost everyone who came into the store, and award prizes for all of the games.
More than anything, though, it was great to see how universal bookselling is. I slipped into this store’s routines so easily - it was like knowing where the beats are in my favorite standup routines.
They gave me a copy of the book for free and I stayed to help them clean up. When I left around 2am, I started walking home, and I noticed that everywhere - on every bench, in every open cafe, at every taxi stand - were people sitting and reading the book. The metro was closed, we all had to either walk or wait for a cab, and so everyone had just found a spot and started reading. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
In my errands today, I had occasion to drive past my old store, which still sits empty. The absence of the Borders sign is almost clearer than the old sign itself was. Fragments of bookcases and lighting fixtures still sit inside, scavenged long ago for any useful parts. I drove past the back of the building and saw that the dumpsters were gone, but a bookcase we had long ago tried to get rid of by throwing behind our dumpster was, in fact, still there. I parked and opened the gate and walked over to the case. It was beyond warped - the shelves all 3 inches thick and flaky, the finish all worn off. But the labels were still there. It was a case from kids - Independent Reader, award winners. I lost it.
I had to get in my car and drive to the far side of the lot to park, where I sat for well over 20 minutes, crying. It’s been almost a year since our store closed - since all of my stores closed. I did not expect it to still hit me so hard, and yet I’m hardly surprised. I loved that job, those people, that place. I loved what I did - so, so much that it can still make me cry 11 months after the fact. I wish I still saw my regulars, that I could still help students get ready for tests, families plan vacations, couples plan weddings or get ready for a child. I wish I could help the person who is looking for books on recovery or dealing with death, I miss talking to the high school kids who love Twilight and the college kids who are just discovering Rilke. That and so much more were more than a part of my life, they were what made my life great, and I miss it (and them) more than I could ever put into words. I always will.
Perhaps the greatest gift that Borders gave me, even more than the experiences and memories, was the knowledge of what it is to truly be passionate about your work. Once you’ve known a life where you get paid to do the one thing you love more than anything else, it’s impossible to go back. It’s hard to do and more often than not you have to sacrifice a lot to do it, whether it be through hard work off-hours or shitty pay or lack of benefits, but my god is it worth it. Every time, without fail, it’s worth it. They say that if you do what you love you’ll never work another day in your life. I don’t know if that’s true, but once you’ve found what you love you’ll certainly work every day of your life to have the chance to do it again.
Forgive my ramblings, and if it’s poorly worded, I apologize - just something I had to get out.
I’m amazed it took this long for them to start bouncing.
But we were there. I am Proud to have been a bookseller. I am proud to have worked for a once generous and supportive company that elevated me professionally and personally. I am proud to have helped endless people, no doubt suffering, find books on dealing with depression and anxiety or the death of a loved one. I’m proud to have put baby books and wedding books and college guides into peoples hands and to have been some small part of their lives for a bit. I’m proud to have given Phillip Pullman a leg up, and Octavia Butler and Muriel Barbery, Craig Thompson, and Malcom Gladwell. I am so proud to have learned so much over the years simply by being surrounded by books and having instant access to so much information and ideas. We were there. We got it.
To those who say this is a market correction, that this is overdue, that conventional publishing is dying: I think back to my Borders family, to all the people who have been a part of my life, even if just for a moment as I helped them shop, I say…You are probably right, but I kindly and respectfully add Fuck You.
Now more than ever, we believe that what we do is crucial. We believe that intelligent discourse and unfettered questioning are the foundations for any hope for an engaged citizenry, crucial for democracy and for the health of us all.
—Elaine Katzenberger, Executive Director and Publisher, City Lights Books, San Francisco.
’Atta girl! PREACH IT!
This news makes me sad for obvious reasons, but I have to get this out. Borders is where I learned how to be an adult. Where I learned what it really meant to do a job well, rather than just how to get by. It was where I learned to be responsible for myself and how to lead a team. It’s where I cemented my belief in the importance of a joyful workplace. I’m not saying the corporation taught me this, it was and is a corporation like any other, but my store and my team were exceptional.
If this happens, and it inevitably will, thousands of talented booksellers will never work in the business again. Countless towns will lose another (or their only) bookstore. So many new authors won’t get the boost up of a handselling bookseller who loved their ARC. I’m starting to understand how Obi-wan felt when he said ”It’s as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly slienced.” Booksources closing, be they big box, indie or library, is bad news for everyone.
Support the literary arts every chance you get. Start by buying a book for a kid, any kid - even one you don’t know. It could change a life. I learned to love books so much as a kid that when I grew up, I wanted to be a bookseller. My life has been infinitely richer because of that. To those of you still in the field, I commend you for your backbreaking work and passion and wish you all the luck in the world. Please do not ever hesitate to let me know if there is anything I can do to help you. I may not be in the stacks every day anymore, but they’ll never leave me. Hopefully someday I’ll get to come home.
Wednesday: All books are 99 cents. The walls are ripped apart, crusted with glue where shelves once stood.
There are 10 copies ofFist Pump . Fifteen of Sarah Palin’sAmerica by Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith, and Flag . Sixteen ofObama’s Wars by Bob Woodward.
There is one copy ofThe Chaos Scenario by Bob Garfield. Amid the ruins of mass media, it says, the choice for business is stark. Listen or perish.
Tammy Zazeckie, 50, buys several large bookshelves and carts of plastic placards. She home schools six kids in Palm Harbor, and when a bookstore closes, they come.
“We have a library upstairs. Thousands of books.” The employees look tired. One has worn his maroon mortarboard and gown, as he is graduating from Borders.
“Today is our final day of business,” the loudspeaker says. “Thank you for shopping with Borders.” The store closes at 4 p.m., but guests loiter. Workers stack leftover books and CDs and magazines in the center, along with some maps of Kansas and Japan and Pasco County. They take down the signs that say one day left.
Outside, a woman peers through the window. It’s too late.