Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Book Browsing and the end of Borders

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Borders plans to shut its remaining 399 stores. Above, the exterior of a closed store in San Rafael, Calif.

Come next Monday, the Borders bookstores that I love will be no more; their shelves emptied and their contents carted off. Borders Inc, will be closing its 399 stores and quietly go out of business. No more will I be able to walk in and browse in a store with the name Borders behind the counter with a group of energetic young people shelving, arranging books and answering queries. Online book services without borders have finally done Borders in.

Book browsing in bookstores is one of my many favorite hobbies. I remember fondly my times of browsing in the bookstores of Edinburgh, London, Kirkcaldy, Boston, Sydney, Melbourne, San Francisco, Chicago, Honolulu, Kuala Lumpur and of course, Singapore. I still make a monthly trip to Singapore to indulge in book browsing and my other hobby, book buying.

There is always the sense of anticipation as I walk into a bookstore. What will I discover today? What new books await me, waiting to be read? What wonders within these pages are waiting to unfold? As I browse in the shelves I meet old friends and new. Being there is like being in a quiet party with good friends and amiable acquaintances. It is a serene and peaceful place which is as comfortable as a pair of old shoes or a well worn sofa. A place of escape from the world which locks you in bondage.

I meet some old friends: books that I have read or books that I am familiar with. I marvel at their new covers and new bindings. I open them and read a passage. The familiar arrangement of words sprang up at me, invoking memories of when and where I have read those words and my emotional state at that time. It brings forth old memories of events in my life when I read this book. This old friend was what I read in joy at the birth of my daughter, this one when I was in deep despair in Edinburgh and this, ah, was read in a hotel in Rome.

I also meet new friends. As I browse, I sense the siren call of brave new worlds, new life and new civilizations. My heart leaps from discovering new books from favorite authors that I cannot wait to read. Finding books that hint at offering deeper joy while other pander to my sense of wonder. Yet another promise to expand my knowledge core or break new grounds in my knowing.

The musty smell of old books and overcrowded arching bookshelves are another thing I miss in the modern bookstores. In London are found these wonderful bookstores with its deep warrens and endless passages. Lost first editions stand side by side with trade paperbacks in an endless parade. We can feel Sophia, the wisdom of the ages peering over our shoulder as we browse through these ancient tomes. These bookstores are disappearing and have become an endangered institution. Now even the modern bookstores are in danger.




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