Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Borders and book stores

Intertwined in my memories of reading are my visits to libraries and book stores. My first library, I believe, was the old Garden City Public Library, which was in a converted municipal building near the train station -- I believe it stood in what is now the parking lot for the new library, which went up in the 1970s. I remember it being yellow and somewhat odd-shaped. I went there with my mother, but I don't know how often we went. (I remember going to the new library a lot, particularly to check out books on plays.)

The first bookstore I remember was the Doubleday outlet, which was on Franklin Avenue (perhaps across from A&S), just a few blocks from the library. A Google search suggests that a Doubleday book store still stands on Franklin Avenue, but I have no idea what chain owns it. Doubleday used to have its plant in Garden City, so it was natural for a bookstore to be there. I remember buying the new Theatre Worlds there with birthday money during my teen years as well as the Definitive Biography of PDQ Bach (a very exciting purchase indeed). When I was older, my father took me to that great den of remaindered literature, the Barnes and Noble on lower Fifth Avenue, and to the Strand, with its miles of used and review books. After college, for one summer I worked in a bookstore -- Applause Theatre Books, which used to be on 71st Street and Broadway. Other than being robbed one Sunday afternoon, I had a lot of fun commingling among the plays and books on the stage before trotting off to journalism school in Missouri and the rest of my life.

I don't remember visiting independent bookstores at all during my formative years, but I did like one that was in the Westport section of Kansas City and another in Gainesville near the University of Florida. (I remember buying Hard Boiled Wonderland and The Remains of the Day at the Gainesville bookstore.) The old Tower Books in the Tower district of Sacramento had the feel of an independent bookstore although it was part of a chain. Now, an independent bookstore occupies the same building, I believe.

But I admit I have a fondness for over-the-top chains, particularly Media Play, where you could shop for CDs, videos and computer games along with books, and Borders, which had its fine display of new fiction and a lively range of titles throughout the store. I preferred Borders to Barnes and Noble, because the Borders I started going to (on Metcalf Avenue in Overland Park, Kansas) had a friendlier staff, and the layout seemed more open to browsing. Before and the Internet, I actually would discover new titles there I hadn't known about -- a book by someone I knew in college, or a professor at KU. (One such title was The Planets by James Boylan, someone I had gone to college with but had not known; I just saw it on the shelf, recognized the name, and bought it. I had had a similar experience in the 1980s when I was walking by the window of a Fifth Avenue bookstore--I think it was Simon and Schuster. I saw As Soon as it Rains by Kayle Jones (another person I knew of in college without actually knowing), and I went in and bought it on the spot.) We moved to Reno in 1996, and a year or two later, a Borders opened up, and I spent occasional weekends haunting the shelves. On one Saturday afternoon, I walked by the new titles shelf and saw John Lithgow browsing; he must have been staying up at Tahoe and had come down to buy something. I also liked going to the Borders in downtown Davis, when I used to take a long walk through the University of California, Davis campus and the downtown area. No Borders stores are in Alabama, but I've been visiting the ones around Atlanta with my dad when we visit him.

Anyway, it looks like Borders is one step away from closing, and that's too bad. I love Amazon, and I like independent bookstores (when I can find them), but I still remember the thrill of discovery when I came across a book I hadn't heard of, sitting on a shelf, waiting to be perused.

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