I am a Collector of Words: words in books, words in magazines, words from countless on-line articles which I print, stack, stuff, climb over, lose, and sometimes organize in hanging files.
With Border’s Books closing its last Michigan store today, I thought I should say something special—offer some sort of fitting tribute to the printed word.
Actually, I’ve been feeling pretty glum about words lately.
In the past few weeks, I’ve shopped at the now-defunct Border’s shops three times, each time buying more words in more books for deeper and deeper discounts. And I’ve fallen into a deeper and deeper funk, for a couple of reasons: nostalgia, discouragement, disappointment, maybe even despair.
Nostalgia. When our children were young, I made a high priority of staying at home with them—so with some serious self-imposed budget constraints, I took advantage of every “free” opportunity I could find. Those were the days of walks in the woods, excursions to the big city, picnics in the park, and the Summer Reading Club at the local library. Whenever we could, we took advantage of author nights at Border’s. The Border’s store was a bit of a drive—but I remember taking three enthusiastic children to Border’s for a night of donuts and apple cider and stories. The store was laid out on two levels; and I have a wonderful memory of our youngest, still a toddler, holding the railing, his chubby legs climbing the steps to sit spellbound on the floor and hear a story from someone who wasn’t Mommy or Daddy. It was a magic moment.
So I caught my breath when I walked into that same store and saw the carnage: railing removed, shelves emptied, furniture and shelving sold or askew, stacked one atop the other. Somehow the blazing yellow “Going Out of Business” signs had seemed not nearly as final, as irreversible as this. I was forced to admit that my old bookstore (and that chubby toddler) are gone forever.
Discouragement. Then, with so few books left on Borders’ shelves for 50%, 70% and finally 90% off, I took time to leaf through their pages. Yikes! This is what people are reading nowadays?! Maybe I should take comfort in the fact that the titles that were left on the shelves were so seedy, so stupid, so focused on secular values. The good stuff had found its way to bedside tables and bookcases, where the words and ideas therein will take up residence in the hearts of the townspeople. At least one can hope!
Disappointment and Despair. Why did this have to happen? Has America forsaken reading, abandoned words, in favor of quick soundbytes on screens and monitors? I think, in part, that’s our problem: At least among a majority of Americans, there is a waning interest in the classics, a preference for long evenings in front of the television set rather than reading by the fire.
The loss to our culture is profound. Television is urgent, glitzy, noisy, compelling. The themes of screen “stories” (aka sitcoms) are frequently trivial. In contrast, with the slow and leisurely unveiling of events in a book, we have more time to ponder the possibilities, to create our own endings, to appreciate life’s quiet unveilings of meaning.
There is no mistaking a real book when one meets it. It is like falling in love.
A room without books is like a body without a soul.
My personal hobbies are reading, listening to music, and silence.