Fill your bomb shelters with hardbacks.
Posted on February 18th, 2013    , , ,

stack of books


If You’ve Got Mail had a sequel, it would be all about Meg Ryan comforting Tom Hanks while his chain of superstores went bankrupt.

I wish I knew what she would say — I could use some comforting. This has been a tough week for people who love books.

Not for people who love reading. Reading is alive and well …

But if you love books — real, touchable, smellable, page-turnable books — it was a painful blow to hear that Borders would be closing all of its book supercenters, including three popular Omaha-area stores.

I thought immediately of the small bookstores Borders helped crush a decade ago.

Those deaths seemed so inevitable at the time. Remember Hanks’ character in the big-box romantic comedy, You’ve Got Mail?

“We are going to seduce them. We’re going to seduce them with our square footage, and our discounts, and our deep armchairs … We’re going to sell them cheap books and legal addictive stimulants.”

How could the Little Professor compete with that?

Ironically, Borders’s demise now feels just as inevitable. …

How could Borders compete with the deep discounts, deep armchairs and stimulants of all kinds that you can find in your own home? It was death by wearing pajamas/drinking Baileys/shopping for books at 3 a.m.

Conventional wisdom says that Borders died because it couldn’t get the Internet right. Borders doesn’t have a great online shop or its own e-reader. . . A brick-and-mortar bookstore can’t stay alive these days just by selling ink-and-paper books.

Back when the independents died (not all of them — never surrender, Bookworm!), it didn’t feel like a threat to books themselves.

Book lovers could still surround themselves with books — more books than ever — at the nearest Barnes & Noble. (Which was also the first Omaha Starbucks. So alluring. When Barnes & Noble opened, it was like having a dangerous new boyfriend.)

But the death of Borders feels like a mortal wound to books themselves. If a bookstore can’t stay alive by selling lots of cheap books, what does that say about books?

“I haven’t been in a bookstore since I got my Kindle for Christmas.”

My editor said that Wednesday when I was pitching this column, and it sent a chill up my spine.

I wasn’t going to argue with her — there’s no fighting awesome technology. I have a Kindle, too, and it’s fantastic. I wish I could find my charger, but it’s still fantastic, especially when I’m traveling or when I desperately want to buy a sequel in the middle of the night.

But I would still rather read a book.

I’ve had too many laptops and memory cards and mobile phones fail over the years to trust e-books . . . I like the convenience of digital, but I want the permanence of real books. I want to know that my books are there for me absolutely, always, barring fire or water damage.

Even when I buy an e-book, if I end up loving it, I buy the hard copy, too. So I can have it. So it can be a part of my life from now on. This is also why I still print all my photos; the digital world is lovely, but I want the red pill, not the blue one.

I hate to think of a world where I don’t have that option.

Do you remember that Twilight Zone episode where the book lover lives through the H-bomb and then breaks his glasses in the library? “Time Enough at Last,” it was called.

That show is the reason I want to have laser eye surgery.

Whenever I think about my life falling apart, I think (really, I think this), “Well, at least I’ll be able to read. I might be an unemployed shut-in, but at least I’ll have books.”

My fallback plan depends on the existence and survival of books.

Not e-books. If that Twilight Zone episode were to be made today, the protagonist would have a Kindle and nowhere to plug it in.

Here’s what I’m really hoping now …

I’m not glad that Borders failed; I’m especially sad for all the wonderful people who worked there.

But I’m hoping that we really miss it. I’m hoping that it reminds us how much we like bookstores — and how much we really, really appreciate booksellers.

In my You’ve Got Mail sequel, Meg Ryan lovingly comforts Tom Hanks — then decides to reopen The Shop Around the Corner.

Because the one thing Amazon can’t beat a brick-and-mortar store on is humanity.

There is still nothing like standing in a room full of books, talking to another human being who loves them as much as you do.


This piece was originally printed in The Omaha World-Herald on July 23, 2011.