Yesterday my 17 year old son wanted to try a new dare devil thrill; he got up early and headed out to shop on Black Friday. Alex had asked me what I wanted for Christmas, which translates into “what books do you want”? I printed out a list of books that I thought would be in stock (new titles or new in paperback) as well as books by well known authors. I usually want hard to find books, but because Alex took the time to ask, and because I knew he had to shop at Borders, I tried to keep my list simple. What was I thinking? Instead of coming home with an arm full of books, he walked in the door empty handed. “You should have asked for a vampire book” he grumbled. Borders did not have even one of the books on my list! Not one! I should not have been surprised as our local Borders has slowly turned into a place to have coffee and read the latest vampire book, not a place where one finds quality literature. (Not that there is anything wrong with a vampire book, but not everyone reads this genre).
I have always had a love hate relationship with my local Borders. It started the week I moved to Carson City. The first place I shopped was Borders; I was going on an Alaskan cruise and wanted a few books to take along. It just so happened that the store manager waited on me. We talked about books and in the course of the conversation I found out the store was looking for an inventory manager. Right then and there I had a job interview and was told so far I was the best candidate. She asked me to come back in a couple of days for a round table interview with two other managers. I told her I was going away for a week, would she wait until I got back? To my surprise she said no, she wanted the position full by Saturday. Having owned a business I was a little taken aback that she would opt to hire someone based on availability. What if the inventory manager of the local Barns and Noble told her he/she would love the job, but would want to give 2 weeks’ notice? Would she have said no? I did not hold this against her or the store, but being human it did hurt a little; after all isn’t the dream of every reader to work among books?
For a long time there was a retired English teacher named Liz who worked at Borders. Liz loved books, especially science books. I loved going in and chatting with her about the latest science books. We would get all geeky-nerdy and talk string theory. A lot of times I did not walk out with a book, but enjoyed my visits with Liz so much I really did not care that I could not find what I was looking for. There were a couple of other retired people working as clerks who would go out of their way to find a book for me, and always had great recommendations. As much as I disliked living in Carson City I was happy with my lone bookstore.
Flash-forward a couple of years; starting around 2007 everything started to change. Gone were the knowledgeable clerks, Liz disappeared as did the variety of books. In their place were young people who seemed to be lost among the growing stacks of best sellers, hot titles and paperbacks. My god, the paperbacks! Half the store was over-run with paperbacks, so many that the clerks started to stack them on tables. When I first saw this change I felt sadness as the store no longer reminded me of a warm library, rather it reminded me of a garage sale on steroids. The thing that shocked me the most was how uninformed the new young clerks turned out to be. I asked one young man where I would find a Sherlock Holmes book (mystery or literature section) . To my utter dismay he just stared,blinked, and asked “who?”
Who? Who is Sherlock Holmes? Are you kidding me?? Holmes may be old school, but ever clerk should know his name.
Another time I was in the store looking for Christine by Stephen King; my son wanted to try a classic King and thought he would like this one. As I searched for the book a clerk was there stocking more vampire books. She asked me if I needed help. “Yes “I replied, “do you have more King books in the back”? She giggled and said “no, we don’t carry a lot his books”. She then went on to explain he is no longer popular and confessed she had never read any of his books but did love vampire books and would I be interested in of these titles? I asked if she read Ann Rice. Again she giggled; “no but I heard she wrote a book about vampires a long time ago”. I had to get out of there before I drove a hardback through her heart using Interview with a Vampire as a hammer (oh the irony of that fantasy).
Earlier this year after getting out of the hospital I went to Borders hoping to find a book to take my mind of my medical problems. I walked in the door and let out a silent scream. The store was wall to wall Vampire mania! There were posters, cutouts, stand-ups and row after row of Stephanie Meyer books! I had never heard of Stephanie Meyer so I asked a young clerk what was going on. Oh, Eclipse is out so we are having a celebration as everyone is really into her books”. I wanted to ask if the store had anything not written by Meyer but I knew that would just get me another blank stare so I picked up Twilight and went home. The vampires got to me at last!
The next time I went into the store was to pick up my son’s copy of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. I had to order it even though the local high school called the store asking that they stock this book, the manger only ordered 9. He must have been too busy ordering millions of Twilight books and forgot about the demand for the other.
When I read the news that the UK side of the Borders Company was looking for a buyer I was not surprised. Today I read this article http://www.thebookseller.com/news/104804-administrators-comb-though-borders-stock.html.rss and was not surprised. After all, how can the chain survive if they only sell a limited selection of books? If all Borders are run like my local store is, I cannot fathom them staying in business. I know there are other reasons for the chain losing money, but having a limited selection of books is a really bad business model is my opinion.
In case you are wondering, here is my wish list I gave my son yesterday;
The Book of Genesis by R. Crumb
Charles Darwin’s on the Origin of Species: A Graphic Adaptation
The Invention of Air by Stephen Johnson
Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett
Sesame Street Old School (DVD)
Am I asking too much? I don’t think so. I visited Barnes and Nobel online this morning; the closest store to me has all of these titles in stock and at deep discounts. Wonder if they will have vampire books on display?