After yesterday’s announcement that Borders bookstores will begin closing on Friday, I wrote my own farewell and planned to talk to my roommate about visiting our local store.
The store is not the Borders I grew up with, the one that showed me there was more to life than the books I was being forced to read in middle school and that I would later work for. I hardly knew this local Borders, as I’ve only been relocated for less than a year and times have been tough. Especially when there’s only one car between two people, trips to the bookstore “just because” have been few and far between.
Today, after we finished errands, I told my roommate that I needed one last look around Borders before the craze of the sales begin. Luckily, he knows how much Borders means to me and was there when I found out that my Borders was among the stores to close five months ago.
When we arrived, he saw a small rack of books outside with a red “SALE” sign on it. He joked, “It’s going to be a much bigger sale soon.”
Indeed, inside you might hardly know that Borders had been announced as closing. The employees still bustled about helping customers. Coffee smells lingered through the Paperchase and magazine sections, while a dozen patrons sat reading or typing on their laptops in the lounge. Maybe there were a few more customers than I was used to seeing at this store but that was about it.
My roommate grabbed a graphic novel–the last in a series he had read a while back–and let me have some time.
I wandered the store, trying to absorb every last detail that I would never get to know as intimately as I would have liked. I hung out in the gaming section and considered if I could afford one of the books if it was on sale on Friday.
I sat one last time in the comfy chairs. I people watched and eavesdropped and made up quick story lines for a few. Then came my last flip through YA and gaming books, and a cruise around the writing and new age sections, where I made mental notes of books I should look up reviews of. I hunted down the art and history sections, which I had remembered loving at my Borders in New Hampshire, but that I hadn’t had the time to dedicate in most of my visits at this store.
The best and worst part about my trip to Borders today was how familiar it was and how easy it was to fall back into old habits.
There was one soft-spoken mother with her two daughters in the mid-grade (“Independent Reader”) section. I felt my heart swell to hear the mother talking about a collection of Roald Dahl books that the youngest daughter could buy, and that the girl had liked ‘Matilda’ (I only have two of Mr. Dahl’s books and ‘Matilda’ is one of them. A little girl with an insatiable appetite for books and slight telekinetic powers, you say? Why yes, ten-year-old-me was all about that!)
When I overheard a mother saying that her daughter was looking for a few books that I knew, I wanted so badly to help her find it. One last time, you know? :) And, of all the things, one of the books she needed for school was my favorite book: A Separate Peace. “By Jim Knowles,” the mother said, and I laughed on the inside, going “Peter. Peter Knowles.”
The employee found the other book on one side of the book-island, and I casually picked up A Separate Peace from the other side to pass to the girl. The mother didn’t seem to care–I smiled gently–and she ignored me, asking the employee if there was a difference in the editions since this one had a new cover.
But the girl looked me in the eyes, then sort-of smiled back. It was a smile that says, “Thanks, I guess? But I’m really only doing this for school.”
I wanted to tell her so many things then, about what a great book it was, and how I hoped she would enjoy it, that it was my favorite quite literally, and Phineas and Gene are such a bounty of psychological problems so much more than her teacher might tell her about, and that there was a hilarious description of Brinker’s “buttocks” that started on page 78. This book was the reason I knew how to spell ‘separate’ at all!
Most importantly I wanted to tell her that the book had stuck with me. Forever. It has stayed among the books I love. It helped make me interested in writing for teens, as I had read it when I was one myself.
But I couldn’t be a creeper and gush all about a book to a thirteen-year-old like that. So maybe she understood when she saw my eyes, but probably not. Whatever happened or happens, I hope that book helps make or keep her a reader. Or that she at least laughs on page 79.
When I left the store, I knew it wouldn’t be forever: I want to go back this weekend once I get paid and get my “last book” while I can.
But what I’m taking away from Borders this week is so much more than a book or amusing anecdotes. No, I’m taking away one of the biggest ‘signs’ I’ve had in a long time.
Borders is closing. My dream of being on their shelves is over. But, just because I cannot be published and put on their shelf (though, I plan to snag a YA tag or two, and glue them to my own shelves…), it doesn’t mean I cannot make a difference in the lives of readers.
That girl I saw might not love A Separate Peace the way I do; she might even hate it. But she MIGHT love it. It might inspire her to be a writer, or to explore more books, or it might encourage her to work with youth affected by wars, or to be a teacher. Or maybe it will simply be a good book she enjoyed. It could do any number of things!
And if I’m going to be able to do the same, I need to get back to writing and editing seriously. There are readers I have been passing up, people whose lives I can touch through the written word in ways that few other things can.
I might not change anyone’s life with my stories, but that’s okay. After all, I’m the only one whose life has to change because of them. I’ll be happy simply to open and share conversation with strangers I might never meet.
What dreams do you have? What signs are you missing, both large and small? Stop worrying about the future of where you can go: you’re missing 100% of the chances you’re not taking! Get writing! I look forward to seeing what you have to share…