Sunday, January 27, 2013

Borders in memoriam

Say what one will about the shortcomings that led to its eventual downfall, to me Borders Books will always be a fond memory in my life as a young reader. I know that a lot of bibliophiles avoid "big chain bookstores" such as Borders and Barnes and Noble, preferring instead to patronize a favorite small bookstore-cafe. But for me, Borders was My Store. And now it is gone.

A lot of my personal purchases were not, what could normally be assumed, the great literature that most book collectors seek while on a shopping spree. Rather, I tended to collect the "coffee table" books that were set out on tables in front of the cashier counter--no doubt strategically tempting impulse buys. Yet I am no impulse buyer when it comes to books, and would go to these tables first in search of my intended quarry: ancient history and mythology books with full-page color photographs. 

Don't worry: I got plenty of fiction books from Borders, too. I would request specific titles (and specific illustrators and cover art...a persnicketyness that hasn't faded with age, obviously) for gifts.  It's a family tradition to receive one beautiful hardcover copy of a classic or otherwise much-loved book for birthdays or Christmas. In the case of acquiring series of books (The Chronicles of Narnia, for instance) it was possible to know what one was getting for the next four years' worth of holidays. And most of these books were purchased from Borders Books. 

For my family, an outing to a bookstore is like a trip to a theme park: a big deal. So it was a MONUMENTAL deal when we heard the tragic news of Borders' closing. It was like going to a wake shopping there one last time. We went well before all the merchandise (and furniture and light fixtures) was sold off, but even at that early stage of liquidation the store was in a sad state of disarray, with the unsettling atmosphere of a carcass being picked over. 

Shopping at a favorite store for the last time is a strange sensation of frenzy mixed with nostalgia, mourning mingled with sweeter memories of better times. One knows that whatever the purchase, that item will forevermore be a souvenir and therefore must be selected with the utmost care and deliberation.

For Borders Books, that last purchase was Jack London: Tales of the North, a collection of his complete novels (including White Fang, Call of the Wild, and my personal favorite The Sea Wolf) and 15 short stories, all with the original illustrations (naturally!). I also bought some Cavallini & Co. Typewriter Ex Libris Bookplates, which I immediately placed in the following books I'd acquired at Borders:

  • The Odyssey (Homer)
  • The Aeneid (Virgil)
  • Beowulf (Anon.)
  • The Killer Angels (Michael Shaara)
  • The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and the Silmarillion (J.R.R. Tolkien)
  • The Little House Books (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
  • The Time Traveller Series (Linda Buckley-Archer)
  • The Squire's Tales (by Gerald Morris)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
  • The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (Anne Bronte)
  • Shirley (Charlotte Bronte)
  • Barnaby Rudge (Charles Dickens)
  • Nickolas Nickelby (Charles Dickens)
  • Wallace Stevens: Collected Poetry and Prose (Wallace Stevens)
  • The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson (Guess.)
  • T.S. Eliot: The Complete Poems and Plays 1909-50 (The Best Poet Ever.)
  • An Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary (E.A. Wallis Budge)
  • The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Mythology (Cottrell and Storia)
  • Ancient Civilizations (edited by Professor Gregory Woolf)
  • Mythology (edited by C. Scott Littleton)
  • The Encyclopedia of Ancient Myths and Culture
  • Ancient Egypt (Oakes and Gahlin)
  • The Chronicles of Narnia (the first four, by C.S. Lewis)
  • Calvin and Hobbes (eight of the books, by Bill Watterson)
  • Freckles (Gene Stratton Porter)
  • The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
  • Peter Pan (J.M. Barrie)
  • Tales of the North (Jack London.)

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