I got the saddest letter a few weeks ago from Mike Edwards, the CEO of Borders, notifying me (and 1.8 million customers) that his mighty giant of a bookstore was going out of business.
Mr. Edwards wrote that Borders would be “closing its doors after more than 40 years of igniting the love of reading,” and that even though they had “fought valiantly to save the company,” they’d failed because of a “rapidly changing book industry, the eReader revolution, and a turbulent economy.” He ended by saying that he felt “privileged to have had the opportunity to lead Borders … in the true and noble cause of expanding access to books and promoting the joy of reading.”
The passion of his letter, and his use of language one would expect to find in The Waverly Novels by Sir Walter Scott, reminded me that people who love and sell books are no less courageous and often no more practical than Don Quixote mounting Rocinante to attack windmills.
There is a foolhardy loveliness to a bookseller’s bravado that deserves a twenty-one-gun salute.
Here is mine. Subtitled: Gone But Not Forgotten Book Stores That I Have Known And Loved.
The first was Dauber and Pine on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, an old-fashioned maze of shelves as tantalizing as they were orderly, wherein dwelt an atmosphere of reverence and a wonderfully eclectic collection of books. I still have two treasured volumes on The Birds of North America that I bought there, as well as my original receipt.
In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, a young wizard enters a small store on Diagon Alley to purchase a wand. As I watched the movie, I suddenly realized why Mr. Ollivander’s enchanting shop seemed so familiar to me. Except for the merchandize that it sold, it looked exactly like Dauber and Pine!
Sheila Heaney was proprietress of the second bookstore that comes to mind. Sheila is a charming, unsentimental, gray-haired widow who was born in England and engages in Scottish country dancing in her spare time. Continuing the Harry Potter analogy, Sheila, like Ron Weasley’s mother, is a sweetly eccentric and warm-hearted woman with a lot of children. Christine (blond), Ellen (redhead), and Jim (redhead) worked at the store. I plucked a third daughter, Mary (brunette), out of the store as if she were a best selling novel, and I brought her home to work for me.
A Novel Idea was the realization of Mrs. Heaney’s dream. A comfy place with Queen Anne chairs, throw rugs, end tables, and ceiling-high shelves, the store was as welcoming and soul satisfying as a hot cup of tea. Being an author, I had many happy book parties and book signing there. Being a friend, I prowled through advance review copies of books in its basement, and was invited to capture unspoken-for volumes at will.
Borders, last in my tribute, is the faltering behemoth that precipitated these reminiscences.
Borders was my Lady-in-Waiting galleria because, so often, I went there to wait. It didn’t matter which store I went to, because the style and sensibility of all were so alike. High ceilings. Big windows. Great gewgaws and gadgets (I once bought a sparkly see-through ball there that lit up like Tinker Bell when you bounced it.) And a coffee bar on the second floor.
I would go to Borders before interviews, after meetings, and for gossips with friends before continuing on to a cocktail party or the museum.
Maybe if, instead of coffee, I had bought books when I went there, Borders wouldn’t be going out of business now.
And maybe (oh, please let it be so), like the souls of ancient pharaohs reincarnated as Egyptian cats, the souls of beloved bookstores can come back to us again, too. Under different names, of course. But still warm and welcoming. And still dedicated, as were Mike Edwards, Sheila Heaney, and Messrs. Dauber and Pine, to giving our hearts a literary homeland, and to indulging us in our passion for books.
Shelly Reuben has been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. She is an author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit www.shellyreuben.com.
Copyright © 2011, Shelly Reuben