My History With Borders

The big news in publishing this week was that Borders Books & Music have officially filed for Chapter 11. There has been some pretty great commentary about what this means, and in addition to the general business coverage at PW and GalleyCat, I would recommend reading posts by Eric at Pimp My Novel and by Sarah at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. We all knew bankruptcy was coming for Borders. We’ve all watched the news, heard the reports, and yet when the list of just how many stores were going to close was released, it was no less shocking and sad.

The thing is, it is very hard for me to feel bad for a large corporation, and one of my first thoughts about Borders’ situation was that maybe my fake sequel You’ve Got Mail wasn’t as fictional or far into the future as I thought. I don’t like chains of any kind and avoid them whenever possible. I’m also guilty of not buying books from Borders in years because I live in a city where I have other options. I realize this is not always the case for people, so for that reason I am sad to see an outlet for buying books slowly disappear.

That said, Borders’ suffering still fills me with incredibly sympathy because, to me, Borders didn’t always represent “ah! chains! evil!” They were actually my first experience with really loving a bookstore. I grew up in central New York, which is a pretty economically depressed area of upstate NY. When I was younger, we had a Walden Books (before it was owned by Borders) in our local mall, followed by a B. Dalton, which no longer exists (but it’s where I bought pretty much all of my Babysitter’s Club books). There were a few indie stores that came and went, but other than that we were left with absolutely no bookstore. And I grew up in a city! It was horrifying, especially for a kid who liked to read. I remember visiting family in northern Virginia and we walked by a Barnes & Noble. My mom and I both practically shrieked with glee and demanded we go in to look around. The uncle we were visiting looked at us with equal parts confusion and pity before my mother explained that “we’ve been without a bookstore for years.” It was like we found an oasis in the desert. We could read again!

Borders existed forty-five minutes away in Syracuse, so we didn’t get to go there very often. It was, and still is (I hope), in Carousel Mall, which is the greatest mall ever if you are a teenager in upstate NY. Even though it was a short drive away, we used to treat going there as if it were a glamorous day trip, and we’d always park in the lot near Borders so that we entered and exited through the bookstore. Borders was the first place I encountered a Young Adult section, which makes me sound a lot older than I am, but YA didn’t really exist then to the extent it does now. As soon as we walked into the store, I rode the escalator upstairs and parked myself in front of books written for me until my parents were finished doing whatever it is they did.

My hometown got a Barnes & Noble at the tail end of my high school career, so I never got to fully experience the joys of having a bookstore so close to home. But then Borders came back into my life in college. I worked there as a barista and got all the free coffee and discounted books my heart could desire. (Borders, by the way, is also directly responsible for my current coffee snobbery and obsession, having gone through intensive training courtesy of the Starbucks Corporation, who own Seattle’s Best.) Even the management at Borders were full of book people. Intellectuals who hand sold books and engaged with customers and were genuinely happy to be surrounded by books. It wasn’t just some retail job for us. Granted, we were living in a very liberal college town, but this is still the mentality I associate with all Borders, which makes it very hard for me to write them off as just another greedy corporation. They’ve just always been there for me, even when I haven’t been there for them.

Even though Borders and I broke up due to my own morals, they still hold a place in my heart and I will always think of them fondly. I even return to them from time to time. This long personal history has made me wonder what bookstores you all have grown attached to, whether corporate or otherwise. Do you feel a personal attachment to a bookstore? If they’re still open for business, please share details so we can experience them too some time.

Have a lovely weekend, everyone 🙂

The Most Wonderful Time

Welcome back, everybody! I hope your Thanksgiving (or, if you’re not American, your Thursday) was full of family, friends, and lots of food. Now, it’s back to business. Like last year, I thought the best way to greet the “official” Christmas season was to remind everyone that books make the best gifts. Here are some of my top picks, all buzzworthy and published in 2010, that might inspire your shopping list:

Room by Emma Donoghue. The hype around this book was built all year, and when it was finally released this past fall, the book definitely lived up to it. In it, five-year-old, Jack, and his mother are confined to a tiny room, greeted only by the disturbing “Old Nick.” Their room is simultaneously thought of as Jack’s entire world and his mother’s torturous prison.

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. Another young narrator. Another fantastically told story. Pretty much anything by Jennifer Egan is guaranteed to be great.

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris. Fans of Sedaris’ nonfiction already own this, but if you have a short story lover on your shopping list, this is a nice gateway into Sedaris’ pitch perfect essays. Plus, it’s cute and quirky, and has that trademark cynicism we all know and love.

Also, obligatory shout-out to J. Franz’s Freedom. I know we’re all sick of it and him, but it really is quite good. It’ll make a perfect gift for the literary snob or MFA student in your family.

You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto by Jaron Lanier. I bought this book earlier this year because I am one of those people who have embraced technology, yet slightly fear that we’re headed toward a science fiction dystopia because of it. This book helps to create a balance and teaches you not to fear or criticize technology because you’ll only get left behind. But, don’t let technology control you either. Moral: remain human.

The Autobiography of Mark Twain: Vol. 1. We’ve waited 100 years for this. It’s certainly on my Christmas list, and if you have anyone to buy for who also loves satire, literary icons, cultural relevance, and general curmudgeon-ry, this is the perfect gift for them too.

Life by Keith Richards and Just Kids by Patti Smith are also top nonfiction picks for the music fan on your list.

Sci-Fi and/or Fantasy:
The Fall by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan. This is Book 2 of The Strain trilogy. I’m currently reading it and it is just as scary and exciting as the first. The Strain is a lot like the other major grown-up vampire novel this year, The Passage, but to me, The Passage just couldn’t hold my attention enough for this type of novel. Del Toro and Hogan have similar “viral” vampires and a diverse cast of characters, but, to me, they just get the genre in a way that makes their series work better.

Mockingjay and/or a Hunger Games boxed set by Suzanne Collins. That’s right. I took this out of the YA recommendations. 

Faithful Place by Tana French. I know I recommended her other two books last year, but she came out with a new one in 2010, so I must continue my personal mission of making everyone in the world a Tana French fan. She is simply fantastic and takes the mystery genre to a place that reaches far beyond that aisle in the supermarket.

** Curtis Brown promo alert ** Rock Paper Tiger by Lisa Brackman, who was formerly repped by our dearly departed Nathan Bransford, but still a proud member of the CB family. Rock Paper Tiger has a kickass heroine, an exotic setting, and a pace that’s head-spinningly fast (in a good way).

Young Adult:
The Duff by Kody Keplinger. Kody is a friend-o’-blog, but even if she wasn’t, The Duff is still one of the most refreshing pieces of realistic YA to come out in a while. Bianca, the main character, is the “duff” of her friends (designated ugly fat friend) and through that label, she becomes one of the strongest female characters to hit the YA shelves this year.

And for the fan of the paranormal:
Matched by Ally Condie. Get ready, this book comes out tomorrow! Much-hyped and even featured in Entertainment Weekly, who always give YA the respect it deserves, Matched is being compared to 1984, The Giver, and Never Let Me Go. Set in a “perfect” society, Cassia begins to think for herself and questions the nature of her world.

** Curtis Brown promo alert ** Shade by Jeri Smith-Ready. I recommended her two adult novels last year, but Jeri published her first YA this year and it is just plain fantastic. Aura is a teenager who can see and speak to ghosts, which isn’t exactly weird since everyone else her age and younger can too. When her boyfriend, Logan, dies, and she meets the hot! new boy, Zach, she’s trapped in a love triangle with the ghost she loves and the living boy who can help her unlock the secret of her generation’s abilities.

Picture Book:
OK, you got me. I’m not a fan of picture books. Or rather, I don’t have the appropriate expertise in knowing good vs. bad picture books. But, buying Of Thee I Sing, Barack Obama’s picture book for his daughters, just might stimulate the economy.

There were a ton of great books published this year and it’s impossible for me to list them all. Hopefully these remind you of what’s been celebrated (with good reason!) this year and lead you in the right direction.

Happy shopping season! And – your annual reminder – books make great gifts, but they make even better gifts when they’re bought at your local indie bookstore. Or at a Borders, which is basically an indie at this point. Sigh.

Hello My Name is Sarah and…

… I’m a compulsive book buyer. (Hi, Sarah.)

This is something I’ve suspected about myself for a while, mostly because I can’t walk by a bookstore without going inside. Or, if I really do have somewhere to be and don’t have time to go inside, I’ll slow down my pace so I can least linger in its aura.

This week, however, is when the label “addict” first entered my brain. You see, I was walking by the Strand and well, one thing led to another… I ended up finding Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles on their $1 rack and got VERY EXCITED. The cover was pretty awesome looking and it had that “old book” smell. I knew it had to be mine. So I bought it (along with a book that was more than $1…) and brought it home. Only, when I went over to the sci-fi section of my bookshelf, I found, exactly where Bradbury was supposed to go, a copy of that very same book.

The one I already owned also looked pretty beat up, but it had a different cover that wasn’t nearly as fun. Still, I imagine I once found it at a thrift store and had much of the same reaction go through my head. So, now I have two copies of The Martian Chronicles. This is not the first time this has happened to me.

My first accidental duplicate was Coming Up For Air by George Orwell. I bought a new copy at a Barnes and Noble about two years ago because I hadn’t read it yet (at the time), but then when I brought it home I found a small, ripped up, identically titled copy (the cover was literally hanging off of it) that I immediately liked 100 times more than my character-less new copy.

As far as compulsions go, buying books is hardly debilitating. It can get expensive, but that’s my problem, right? I’m not hurting anyone but me. I can quit any time I want. You’re not the boss of me!


Have “accidental duplicates” happened to anyone else? I can’t be the only bibliophile out there who buys so many books that I don’t even know what I have anymore. Please share with me.

We don’t have to go through this alone.

Simple Joys, or Why I Go to The Strand So Much

The Guardian’s book blog has once again given me reason to pause and reflect. Last week they made me consider the most unreliable narrators in literary history (seriously, how was Tristram Shandey not on that list!?), but today they’ve caused me to marvel at the joy I get in life when I browse my favorite bookstore. I’m not ashamed to admit that I went to The Strand, one of my Top 5 NYC bookshops, three days in a row last week, and I managed to buy a book, either off their $1 rack or elsewhere, on all three days.

Part of the reason I love The Strand so much is because it’s incredibly convenient to get to in terms of both my home and my job. I also love that for an independent bookstore, it’s always crazy and hectic and all of the employees are unnecessarily surly. New York charm, I guess. 
But other reasons why I spend so much time in bookstores boil down to simply: it is an escape (not unlike my coffeehouse escape). Much like reading a book itself, browsing an old-fashioned, tangible bookshop is nothing short of therapeutic. (OK, so last week, during a particularly stressful momentary freak-out, I bought a cute little dress at the Gap – on sale! – and called it “therapy,” but usually my impulse buys, stress buys, and happy buys are books!)
The Guardian article discusses another joy of browsing a store: judging a book by its cover. I don’t usually do this; I’m more of a title person myself, which is a prejudice that has yet to fail me so far. It’s how I discovered David Sedaris back in the day after spotting Me Talk Pretty One Day at a Barnes & Noble, and it’s how, more recently, I bought, without hesitation, There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill her Neighbor’s Baby: Scary Fairy Tales by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya at another favorite NYC local shop, The Corner Bookstore. But on one of my recent Strand outings, I did pick up The Secret Life of Words based on the cover alone. (I mean, look at it! It’s so fun and about WORDS!)
The joys that come from entering a bookstore are endless, really. Being literally surrounded by books, the reassurance that stores that sell physical books are still needed, seeing others around you get excited over certain titles… and so on and so on.

So, I’ve shared some of my favorite local shops and favorite reasons for going to said shops… what (and where!) are yours?

You’ve Got Mail

Last night, instead of being a functional human being, I watched You’ve Got Mail on cable and over-analyzed it. I’ve seen this post-Sleepless in Seattle gem several times and I usually think to myself how underrated it is. I haven’t seen it in a few years, so perhaps my newly acquired publishing world knowledge has clouded my judgment. But let me just say – what the hell is up with the ending?

But first, a digression. I think it’s funny (though so much in a ha-ha sense) that a movie about meeting people in a new, digital age is already completely dated. If you’re still using AOL, you should probably re-think your life decisions, and if you’re still going into chat rooms, then chances are they are not ones you’d want your spouse or children knowing about. Still, this outdated comment on technology is twenty times better than the slightly modernized take on internet dating, Must Love Dogs, which is just plain terrible.

Moving on.

Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks are supposed to represent polar opposites. Big business gentrification vs. the local, independent underdog. However, the locally owned Meg gets her morning coffee at Starbucks while her typewriter-bound boyfriend chastises her for being dependent on modern technology. At the end of the movie [SPOILER ALERT], her beloved family-inherited, neighborhood favorite bookstore ends up closing. Barnes & Noble – er, I mean, “Fox Books” – wins again. But she finds love, so hey, everybody wins.

You see why I’m upset. Evil, impersonal chain stores still beat out the little guy and it’s a happy ending. Now, I know why Ms. Ephron did it and it actually does make sense. But, if this movie was made now, still using and promoting modern technology the way it does, I think Meg Ryan would have a fightin’ chance. That’s right, you heard me, cynical literary world of the late ’00s, I think the indie could win… or at least co-exist.

This is why I’m proposing (Nora Ephron, you out there?), You’ve Got Re-Tweeted, the inevitable sequel that is apparently only inevitable in my brain. Tom & Meg are still happily together, maybe even married, and are still fully embracing technology. Tom’s publishing diva ex now owns an e-book company and Meg’s anti-tech ex’s head has exploded. Meanwhile, Meg, who’s proven she’s fine with selling out (see Starbucks comment above), re-opens her Shop Around the Corner, cancels AOL, and uses her Twitter account/blog/Facebook fan page to gain more publicity for her store than that stupid Fox Books ever dreamed of. Independents win in the end! (Winning means “not technically losing,” right?)

If this gets made, I demand royalties. Or a chance to play the token sassy, brunette friend.

Black Monday

Now that Thanksgiving is over, it is time to think about Christmas shopping. I know some blogs (like Moonrat’s) have already started their gift-giving guides, but I just couldn’t bring myself to think about such things pre-Thanksgiving. Obviously, the best gifts you can give someone are not those from fancy department stores or even those you make yourself out of the kindness of your hearts. They are BOOKS!

In case you are at a loss of what to buy, here are some suggestions by genre that I hope will help/influence:

Nonfiction: Eating the Dinosaur by Chuck Klosterman. Klosterman is best known for his spot-on commentary on pop culture. Last year he ventured into fiction territory with Downtown Owl, but now he’s back with a new collection of essays that makes me very excited. If you like debating whether Barack Obama is the best spokesperson this country has ever seen, or how ABBA and AC/DC really aren’t all that different, then this book might make you excited too.

Literary Fiction: Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby. In true Hornby style, this book has musical obsessions, mid-life crises, and emotionally stunted characters. I admit I wasn’t a huge fan of Hornby’s past couple novels, but this book is definitely back in the same league as High Fidelity and About a Boy. I also want to give a shout out to Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead, which has been on my “I know I will love this!” list all year.

Sci-Fi/Fantasy: Wicked Game and Bad to the Bone by Jeri Smith-Ready (for your vampire needs, and for your VAMPIRE DEEJAY needs!) OK, I know. We’re all vamped out. But these vamps are not sparkly, nor do these books feature a mousy damsel just waiting for a purpose when suddenly a brooding, sexy vampire walks into her life. Smith-Ready’s heroine is a con artist who runs a radio station and her deejays are vampires who only play music that was popular when they “turned.” Let’s face it: vampires are, and always will be, awesome. And these books are a welcome change in the my-boyfriend-is-a-high-school-[insert something supernatural here] trend that won’t go away.

Mystery/Thriller: In the Woods and The Likeness by Tana French, and The Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries (yes, more vampires) by Charlaine Harris. French and Harris write mysteries in that their books open with crimes and end with culprits. But what happens in between isn’t just a set of clues routinely found by some down-and-out cop or young, handsome detective. They create wonderfully complex and interesting characters, strong female leads, and plots that keep you hooked.

Children/YA: Lips Touch Three Times by Laini Taylor. This book for young teens features three fairy tale novellas, each dealing with the simultaneous excitement, pain, beauty, and consequences of a first kiss. For those less fantasy-inclined, Love, Aubrey by Suzanne LaFleur is heartbreakingly real. In it, eleven-year-old, Aubrey, copes with the deaths of her father and sister, and the absence of her mentally unstable mother, in this novel written in a series of letters.

Cookbook: The Pleasures of Cooking for One by Judith Jones. This book was written for people like me who, when left to my own devices, think nothing of microwaving some popcorn or licking a spoon clean of peanut butter and calling it dinner. I love the title and its subtle empowerment for single people. It could also be a great gift for couples. What’s sexier than competing over who prepares their single serving first? Loser does the dishes.

Comics: OK, I’ll admit I’m not that into comics or graphic novels (I only support those written by or associated with Joss Whedon), so I may not be the best person to take gift suggestions from. However, one webcomic that I read daily is Dinosaur Comics, which to me is what greatness looks like. Lo and behold, its creator, Ryan North, put out a tangible “best of” collection, appropriately titled, The Best of Dinosaur Comics: 2003-2005 A.D. Amazon’s author bio simply reads: “Ryan North is awesome, all the time.” So true.

If I’ve missed any genres, it means I probably don’t read them enough to have real suggestions, and therefore don’t want to mislead you. However, Publisher’s Weekly has a pretty comprehensive list if you’re so inclined.

So Happy Shopping everyone! And remember – buying books says you love, but buying books from your local independent bookstore says you care.