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.

To Burn or Not to Burn: That Is NOT the Question

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We have no idea if the newly notorious pastor in Florida is going to burn the Koran on Saturday. He apparently hasn’t decided, but no matter. Having successfully reaped his 15 minutes of fame, and now apparently inspiring others to burn, as well, when tomorrow dawns, the situation has escalated into an international firestorm. Yet the actual burning is not at all the issue.

I personally find book burning abhorrent, whether the tinder be the Bible, the Koran, Mein Kampf, Harry Potter or Huckleberry Finn. I frankly regard this pastor’s showboating as either a publicity stunt or a death wish (perhaps both), evident in his announcing his intent long before 9/11 to ensure maximum media attention. But my country has taught me that it is within the rights of all Americans to burn a book or a flag, to behave stupidly and recklessly, or to speak out against our government — rights foreign to most other countries, particularly those currently criticizing our handling of our own internal issues, such as illegal immigration and the building of a mosque at Ground Zero.

What disgusts me most about this incident is not that a man of the cloth would protest Islam by burning its book, but rather the strident response of, among others, our own media outlets, elected officials, and President to the man’s threats to do so.

I think back to moments in our history — to the celebrated desecration of the Virgin Mary and the Star of David, to modern-day Nazis marching through a town occupied by Holocaust survivors, to a crucifix submerged in a glass of urine heralded as fine art, to the former President routinely burned in effigy — and I wonder, where were the protests from all those exalted authorities and institutions then? Where were the calls for restraint? We all know the answer to that one.

Which brings us to the fundamental difference between these documented incidents in our recent past, and the current threat of a torched Koran. Fear. That’s the difference. The authorities and institutions squawking in unison to stop Saturday’s burning don’t fear the Christians, the Jews or we the people. They know that those so inclined to desecrate and disgrace the symbols of these faiths, and of America herself, can do so freely and graphically without threat of repercussion. But these same authorities and institutions are terrified to the bone of those who follow Islam. Their resulting reactions, their policies, their censorship and their scoldings, are fueled by that fear.

This chronic hypocrisy is in turn fueling the palpable rage brewing in America right now: a rage at the tyranny spewing from our nation’s capitol, a rage at politically correct appeasement of those who wish to destroy us (whether or not a Koran is burned), a rage at punishing policies and taxes that cripple our childrens’ futures. This rage now boils over at a most symbolic moment in our nation’s history – the anniversary of a day we the people will not forget, despite the left’s attempt to rewrite history. It’s going to be a rocky ride.

No Obama at the Bookstore: A Sign of the Times?

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I witnessed a miracle today, I think. I sauntered into the bookstore, one of my favorite places on the planet, and much to my shock and awe, I did not see single monument of books dedicated to Barack Obama anywhere in the store. Not at the front entrance. Not in the Special Events section. Not in the Children’s section. Nowhere. Even more shocking was the table full of volumes front and center in the store that featured presidential books on Presidents past and present — Reagan, Clinton, Jefferson, Lincoln, even Carter — but not a one about Barack Obama.

On its face this may not seem all that earthshattering. But consider, if you will, that every time I have visited a bookstore in the past two years — since long before the 2008  election — I have been assaulted upon entrance with literary monuments erected to the greatness and grandeur that is Barack Obama. Books by him (his many autobiographies detailing his illustrious life), books lauding him, and gorgeously illustrated children’s books painting him as a godlike child destined one day to take over the greatest, though most misguided, nation on the earth.

I have tried valiently to ignore these monuments, but today I didn’t have to. The monuments were nowhere to be found. The only hint of his former omnipotence was the cover of Mad Magazine, in which a grinning Alfred E. Newman sported a shirt suggesting that he once “hearted” Obama, but that time has passed. If Alfred is any indication, maybe the absence of this overexposed President from the bookstore today was indeed a sign of the times. I hope so. Perhaps the minions who once “hearted” Obama for such wild and unknown reasons, have now, like Alfred E. Newman, seen the light. We can surely hope.

Harry’s Back

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July 16, 2009 | Comments

Last night my son and I attended an opening-night screening of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the sixth installment of the legendary series much beloved by our family and just about every other family we know. We wanted to see it before all those other families started talking about it.

Now from the perspective of the morning after, I can’t stop thinking about what I saw last night – the true sign that a film has gotten under my skin. I’m sorry to say I didn’t feel this way after the previous installment — Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix — (the film, not the book, of course). That time around the film makers sacrificed worthy in-depth attention to the fascinating new adult characters brought into the fold for an increased focus on the kids’ silly crushes and flirtations. How lovely that this time around they have acknowledged my disappointment and gotten everyone back on track.

With Half-Blood Prince, the film makers knew just where and how to focus the lens, capturing the perfect tenor of dark beauty and foreboding in preparation for the devastating events that we who love this story know are waiting up ahead in installment seven. The actors do all they can to take us there, as well. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) remain perfectly focused throughout, isolating themselves somewhat from their fellow students, as they take the swords that have been thrust into their hands for the singular, diametrically opposed, missions they must undertake. Even our beloved Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), his hand mysteriously burned and damaged, sheds his customary levity, when he warns the students he welcomes back for the new school year that “every day, every hour, this very minute, perhaps, dark forces attempt to penetrate this castle’s walls.”

Because I am how I am, I can’t help but make the connections and reflexively assume that somehow Dumbledore is also speaking to us beyond the darkness of that theater. I can’t help but imagine that Harry’s singular purpose mirrors the challenges that are facing those of us who happen to believe that in our own magical time, every day, every hour, dark forces are attempting to penetrate the walls of our castle, as well.

Back when the fifth Harry Potter book – Order of the Phoenix – was released, my idealistic young son was one of the millions of kids who grabbed the book still warm from the presses and devoured every word. As he neared the end he suddenly slammed it shut and threw it on the kitchen table, proclaiming he hated Harry Potter, he hated this book, he hated all the books, and he would never read them again. As Harry fans have no doubt guessed, he had reached the sad and shocking moment in that book when we lost someone near and dear, and he was not going to stand for it.

Recognizing the need for immediate intervention to ensure my son would not indeed abandon Harry, whose destiny was still two books away, I asked my own near and dear what he thought these fictional events and his very genuine reaction to them might mean. Think about what this story is, I said. Fundamentally what is it about? As each book was becoming progressively darker, more dangerous and complex, together we determined that when all was said and done, it would culminate in the ultimate battle between good and evil. And, unfortunately, I told him, I think we have to assume that these characters, these people we have grown to love so much…well, not all of them are going to survive the battle. But they would be fighting the good fight, so they would not die in vain. My son understood. He picked up the book, and he kept reading. So did I. And when I read it, I can readily think of my country’s own good fights and her own good people who have never hesitated to answer her call.

Whether found in personal musings on citizens and country, or within the pages of a well-loved book, the message of good and evil resonates, because yes, both do exist in our world, and there is no shame in acknowledging that. In fact, there is safety and security in acknowledging it.  Those of us who love Harry’s story view it as a series meant to be read, re-read and read again. I am now plowing through the books again, this time with my young daughter, knowing that very soon we will be arriving at that same shocking moment of devastating loss in book five.  We will soon thus be having that same talk I had with her brother not all that long ago, that same exploration of good and evil, courage and sacrifice, pain and loss. And she will understand just as her brother did, for it is in our DNA to understand. And it is in our DNA to be forever grateful to those who keep us safe from the dark forces we hear at this very minute rumbling outside our castle walls.

Betsy Siino | Comments