Both Sad and Not Surprised at Borders Filing Chapter 11

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About a week ago the CEO of Borders bookstores sent a mass email announcing that the company has filed Chapter 11, and will thus be closing those stores that are “underperforming.” I found this news very sad, but not all that surprising.

One of my greatest joys in this life is to enter the great double doors of a Borders or Barnes and Noble, catch that rich warm aroma of bound pages and brewing coffee, then wander the aisles for books either familiar or newly discovered (the most recent for me of this latter category being Black Potatoes, a kids’ book on the potato famine of Ireland that kept me transfixed for more than an hour).

The Borders closest to my home seems safe at the moment from closure, which I must say almost surprises me, given their failure at times to remember their reason for being. A few years ago I went to this store to purchase a book by conservative political commentator Ann Coulter, which at the time sat perched high atop the New York Times Bestseller List. I couldn’t find it anywhere, including within the display at the front of the store allegedly boasting the nation’s current bestsellers. So I asked a guy who worked there.

“Oh, that’s back here,” he said, and he led me to the most secluded shelf of the most secluded corner at the very back of the store, where we found the book, practically wrapped in a plain brown wrapper.

“Isn’t the goal here to sell books?” I asked the guy. He just shrugged. “You know this is a bestseller right now,” I said.  He just shrugged again. I decided to forego such concepts as censorship, political agendas, and supply-and-demand business practices. Chalk it up, I decided, to some left-wing genius at this Borders, perhaps every Borders, who hatched a brilliant plan: Hide the Coulter books, and the customer will have no choice but to purchase instead an Obama autobiography, anything by Michael Moore, or perhaps the film made and released during the presidency of George W. Bush, allegedly fictionalizing his assassination — all of which, may I say, were prominently featured in this Borders, and perhaps every Borders.

This was, unfortunately, not my only brush with the Chapter-11-to-be practices I witnessed at this store. Recall, if you will, the July 21, 2008, issue of The New Yorker that featured a cartoon of a radical militant then-democratic-presidential-nominee Barack Obama and his wife on the cover. When this cover was revealed to its predictable outcry, I wanted one, so again I traipsed into my trusty local Borders. “Oh, we’re not carrying that one,” a guy – a different guy — told me. So I traipsed off to my local Barnes and Noble, which was apparently unaware of the Borders brilliant plan and did have the issue available to customers who wished to shell out the cash to purchase one.

So for the time being, it appears the victor in the battle of the bookstores is Barnes and Noble, its decision makers even willing to feature a giant cover of Atlas Shrugs on the wall, a design element I spotted during visits to several California Barnes and Nobles last week. Also featured were displays devoted to Ronald Reagan’s centennial (standard right now to every Barnes and Noble, east and west, I have frequented of late), the only evidence of books devoted to our current president being a couple of children’s paperbacks slipped in among books celebrating President’s Day. A bookstore selling books on both sides of the political spectrum: You don’t have to be a CEO to hatch that brilliant plan.