Borders, the bookstore, closed. It’s been nearly a year, but I still remember the punch to my stomach I felt when I first heard the news. What will we do with all these stores closing? Is this indeed the beginning of the end of the corner bookstore? I had these end times thoughts in mind, but also the loss of convenience and the effect on the local area. Where will I have a place to explore when I’m in need of a book? What else could possibly would move into this space? Yet, the stories found in this space were not coming to an end.
With the closing came the sale. At first I was reluctant to go. It was as if I was profiting from another’s loss. But I got over that quickly. On the first day of the sale, I was there. The close out signs were new and the shelves were still full and well kept. This was only the first foray. A week later the prices were a bit lower and I had more money in my checking account. Again I went through the shelves. This time they were a little messier. People had been going through them. I was intent on buying. So I looked for books I had always wanted to read or have copies of – Alice in Wonderland, Paradise Lost, The Jungle, The Aeneid. Modern novels and ancient philosophy. Soon my arms were laden with books. Like a kid in a candy store, I let myself go.
Two weeks later, I passed the store again and noticed yet another markdown – 30-60%. It was time to return. This time the books had been picked over and not always returned to their proper places. What had been empty shelves were now filled with other items the liquidator needed to sell – slippers, blankets, and many stuffed animals. I noticed one sign that read purchase at least 8 books would get you another 15% off. Well, that was that. I would find eight books. Over to the literature section, the religion, and history. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn to Plato’s Republic. All for the taking. I saw several books I had put off buying before, but at 40% off, who could resist. Not I.
My boundaries were down. It was time to consider filling life with more stories. It felt good to hold these books. I couldn’t wait to dig into them when it was time. Just having a stash on my bookcase gave me a feeling of wealth. I was nearly salivating with eagerness to crack open these books – not purchased because they are for work, but because I’ve wanted to read them. The books I bought were soon sitting on my shelves. Merely paper. But when I read them, when others read and we talked, they would come to life. The space between the covers is ripe for potential, though they seemed rather dead on the shelves of a closeout store.
Even as I was getting excited about the opportunities these books held out for me, I wondered what would happen with this space. No longer did it have even a pretension of being a third-place, a place in which community may form. It had become solely a place where people were consuming books, not taking time to really look at them. I longed for a place to create and cultivate – building on the ideas in the books. To mull over these written thoughts and talk with others.
It’s been less than a year later and last night I was again in that building, this time with a book group. For the past four months we’ve been meeting at the new bookstore in town – Joseph-Beth Booksellers. One month a close friend, Jana Riess, joined us to talk about her book Flunking Sainthood, a month later a graduate student from the University of Cincinnati’s Classics Department gave us greater insight into the life at Pompeii, and last night we pondered the often unheard history of the Native Americans after reading Dee Brown’s, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. What had been a potential loss, has turned into a new opportunity to draw people to read and create places that will invite in others. Now I’m not wondering about an empty space, but about the new stories that are generating from its re-created midst.