I walked down to Columbus Circle today to shop at Borders for the last time; their going-out-of-business sale was in full swing. This is the second chain bookstore to close in my neighborhood this year, following the Lincoln Center Barnes and Noble in January. I went to that liquidation sale, too.
But I didn't buy much at either sale. These days if I'm going to read a book I buy an electronic copy, because I always have it with me and it doesn't take up any space. I saw a hardcover copy of A Dance with Dragons at Borders and almost laughed. Why carry around such an inconveniently huge tome? I imagined struggling to hold it in one hand on a rush hour subway while hanging on to a pole. (I'll probably see someone doing this before the summer is over, but still...) If I buy physical books it's because they have diagrams or maps that won't render well on a Kindle, or because I'll want to page through them quickly. At Borders today I bought a travel guide for an upcoming vacation, and a kanji dictionary.
I suspect that e-reader adoption isn't widespread enough nationwide to account for the collapse of the chain bookstores. (The Upper West Side may be a different story--I see a lot of Kindles on the 1 train.) There's the fact that books have a lot more competition for attention in the age of DVR, Netflix Instant, MMORPGs, and endless other digital diversions. And when people do buy physical books, they can still go to Amazon and save the sales tax.
I have fond memories of the Borders I used to frequent in Connecticut growing up. When I was young "the bookstore" often just meant the crappy Waldenbooks at the mall, so the huge, well-stocked Borders was a definite improvement. It wasn't until I got to Berkeley that I gained an appreciation for the kind of expertly-curated specialty bookstore whose loss people lamented with the arrival of the chains. The Barnes and Noble in Berkeley closed while I was there; I'd like to say it was because of the vibrant independent bookstore culture, but several of the indie shops were closing too. (Anyone know if The Other Change of Hobbit is still open?)
Meanwhile, here on the Upper West Side we still have the 82nd St Barnes and Noble. If it closes too, I'll definitely miss it, but that's mostly nostalgia. I still shop there on occasion, but even if I find something I might want to read, I usually won't take it to the checkout line. Instead I just pull up the title in the Kindle Store using my phone and send myself the sample chapter. The big bookstores might be going away, but I feel like I've already left them behind.Tags: Books