friday feast: looking for a home

via Channel One

Memory
by
James Tate

A little bookstore used to call to me.
Eagerly I would go to it
hungry for the news
and the sure friendship.
It never failed to provide me
with whatever I needed.
Bookstore with a donkey in its heart,
bookstore full of clouds and
sometimes lightning, showers.
Books just in from Australia,
books by madmen and giants.
Toucans would alight on my stovepipe hat
and solve mysteries with a few chosen words.
Picasso would appear in a kimono
requesting a discount, and then
laugh at his own joke.
Little bookstore with its belly
full of wisdom and confetti,
with eyebrows of wildflowers-
and customers from Denmark and Japan,
New York and California, psychics
and lawyers, clergymen and hitchhikers,
the wan, the strong, the crazy,
all needing books, needing directions,
needing a friend, or a place to sit down.
But then one day the shelves began to empty
and a hush fell over the store.
No new books arrived.
When the dying was done,
only a fragile, tattered thing remained,
and I haven’t the heart to name it.

~ from MEMOIR OF THE HAWK (Harper Collins, 2001)

***

I feel sad whenever I drive by the building that used to be Borders Books and Music. I still remember when it first opened about 18 years ago, the first café bookstore in our neighborhood where you could sit with a cup of tea and a cookie, read all the British kitchen design magazines, browse Writer’s Market for the next place to send your short story, scan the latest literary magazines for new poets, write character sketches of the people sitting at the next table.

No matter how many cups of tea you drank, how long you lounged in one of the cushy armchairs or listened to audio samples of Lucy Kaplansky’s latest CD, nobody rushed you or told you to go home. Because you were home.

Borders wasn’t my favorite bookstore of all time nor did it offer the personal service or eclectic selection of books you can only find at a good indie, but it was what we had. What we had after we had to say goodbye to Crown Books, Olsson’s Books and Music, Storybook Palace, The Book Nook, Purple Crayon, A Likely Story, Little Professor, Cheshire Cat, Books and Crannies.

I still buy a lot of books. But I can’t buy the savvy bookseller with the rumpled shirt and smudgy bifocals whose eyes lit up when I asked for a Georgette Heyer Regency romance, or the James Dean look alike with the red kerchief who surprised me by recommending the Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook (still one of my favorites). I cannot buy the thrill of stumbling upon a hot-off-the-press, beautifully designed art book (something you definitely have to see in person to fully appreciate), and then handing over my birthday gift card to make it mine, all mine, right that very second!

I can’t buy those moments with my tribe — browsers, buyers, coffee drinkers, gift seekers, writers, researchers, music lovers, teachers, students — all of us reading alone together, sometimes finding something we didn’t know we needed, oftentimes going there for no particular reason but always leaving feeling happier, nourished, inspired. I can’t buy that feeling of safe familiarity, of knowing there is at least one place in the world where I feel like I belong.

I avoid driving by the old Borders if at all possible. They’ve turned it into a golf store — a huge, gaping 19th hole.

***

The vibrant, uncommonly talented, wish-she-could-be-my-teacher poet Mary Lee is hosting the Roundup today at A Year of Reading. Join the tribe, read some good poems and reviews, reflect and appreciate. Enjoy your weekend!

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Copyright © 2012 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

44 thoughts on “friday feast: looking for a home

  1. Usually I especially like the end of poems, but this time I liked everything BUT the end.😉 It captured a thriving bookstore so nicely. Thank goodness you can still find your people at the library.

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    1. Tate likes to do that — give us something seemingly positive or comical to start, and then turn things around at the end.

      Yes, I’m grateful for our libraries, but of course they’re in trouble too. In our county there have been so many staff cuts, reduced hours, and the quantity of new books purchased is noticeably fewer.

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  2. I know exactly how you feel. Our Borders wasn’t much, not even as good as yours (F’burg gets the second class of chain stores), but it was better than nothing. Our building sits empty with rumors of a B&N going in. Across the highway Books a Million moved into our old Joseph Beth. I go in there to buy magazines, only. I hope B&N comes, but not too much. It may go the way of Borders and Waldenbooks and the indies that have shut down.

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    1. It’s always sad when an indie closes, but more shocking when a big chain goes down. Doubly sad for Borders, which actually started as an indie store. Haven’t stepped into a Books a Million yet.

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  3. how poignantly you describe the loss of yet another bookstore and what it represent for those of us who are part of the ‘tribe.’

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  4. We still have one independent bookstore (and a children’s bookstore, at that) and the local “tribe” does everything in our power to keep it alive!

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  5. What a lovely tribute to bookstores, but especially the independents. And I love that poem.

    I live far from Nashville’s only independent bookstore, which now exists thanks to Ann Patchett. But I’m glad to know it’s there.

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  6. This was heartbreaking. When I read about libraries and bookshops closing all over the place, I am filled with grief and worry. I am a bit lucky that in the Philippines the trend seems to be reverse.

    Thanks for sharing this poem.🙂

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  7. There’s nothing like a bookstore. I’m doing all I can to buy lots of books at the store near me because I selfishly want it to remain in business. In fact, being able to see the bookstore across the road is one of the reasons we decided to move here.

    Thanks for sharing this poem.

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  8. I miss Borders, too. I lived in Ann Arbor near the first Borders so while for others it was a chain, for me it was a local store. I loved sitting in the aisles – I discovered so many books and writers there.

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  9. Oh, Jama, sadness is in these words to be sure, but a beautiful & low-key rant. We still have several indie bookstores hanging on in Denver and a terrific one in Boulder too, but I also remember the sweetest children’s bookstore that my own kids & I visited often, clearly a long while ago since my kids are now grown. Our nearest store was a Borders, near the theater we frequented, & we stopped there every movie time to get a drink of books & of the coffee. I miss it too. It still stands empty, unlike your 19th hole.

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    1. There were quite a few wonderful children’s bookstores around here in the 80’s/early 90’s. One of my fondest memories was browsing in one of them and sensing something was nudging my foot. When I looked down, I saw a black bunny looking up at me. Perhaps he wanted me to read a little Beatrix Potter to him? I later learned his name was “Books.” I’m sure he had a vast knowledge of children’s literature.

      Loved hearing about your happy experiences with your kids and Borders.🙂

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  10. Lovely lovely. To tell you the truth, I would give my eye teeth for ANY English-language bookstore. It is the only thing I miss from the US, but I miss it bad! Your post brings back all my nostalgic memories of The Strand in NYC and my hours/days at B&N in Union Square…

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  11. “Toucans would alight on my stovepipe hat.” Wonderful! And I feel really guilty for buying from Amazon. 😦

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    1. I feel guilty as well. There are very few book buyers who don’t buy at least some of their books online, and everyone goes for cost effectiveness and convenience.

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  12. We just lost our closest Borders….and it remains closed. Before that, we lost our indie book store…now it’s a CVS. Even our local Barnes looks a lot less thriving. So sad….what a great poem, Jama, to capture that sense of loss!

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  13. What a sweet post. We are lucky here to still have one wonderful independent bookseller, Carmichael’s (our larger local “chain” having been bought by Borders a while back and now, of course, gone). Thanks for reminding me how wonderful it is. I think I’ll go there tomorrow and buy all sorts of stuff.

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  14. sigh. We used to go to Borders too, such a delightful refuge. I had the privilege of taking my youngest son there to spend a birthday gift card, just before they closed. Glad he got that experience!

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    1. Yes, there’s nothing like having a gift card to spend and so many books to choose from. I’m glad your son got to experience that, too.🙂

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  15. Such a wistful post and beautifully written, Jama. Sigh. We have a couple of indies in town which offer mostly used books, and I’m thankful for them. But so many great bookstores in many towns are gone now. Glad to hear in Iphigene’s post that the trend is different in the Phillipines!

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  16. I remember not only the Borders that Philadelphia lost, but also the B. Dalton, the Encore, the Doubleday, and Waldenbooks. Most of our indies are specialty stores: antique books, mysteries, used books, or (out in the suburbs) children’s books.

    I once wrote a short story set in a bookstore. I hope it doesn’t end up becoming historical fiction!

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    1. I hope it doesn’t become historical fiction either. Wow, the way things are going, it *does* seem possible, though.

      Yes, I’d forgotten about B. Dalton and Waldenbooks in the malls. More casualties.

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  17. What a beautiful post, Jama. Thanks for sharing this heartbreaking poem, which I’d never seen. I love:

    Bookstore with a donkey in its heart,
    bookstore full of clouds and
    sometimes lightning, showers.
    Books just in from Australia,
    books by madmen and giants.
    Toucans would alight on my stovepipe hat
    and solve mysteries with a few chosen words.

    A bookstore is really all the magic of a whole world, right?

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  18. What a deeply moving tribute to thine tribe, Jama. Only in a bookstore can you find kindreds who lovingly flip the pages of a sweet-smelling brand new book, with whispered words tattooed in book spines. The demise of such a place deserves that momentary hushed air – a quiet that speaks volumes of the loss of an era.😦

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    1. “whispered words tattooed in book spines” = lovely!

      So many of us are mourning the losses of our local bookstores. I hear that the opposite is true in the Philippines, though — that brick-and-mortar bookstores are booming? That’s interesting and heartening, and I’m wondering what societal/cultural differences might account for this?

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      1. Wow, that is news to me too! I haven’t visited the Philippines for over a year now, but that sounds heartening indeed. In Singapore, though, most of the bookstores have likewise closed down, our own Barnes and Noble has closed down, Page One Bookstore as well as a few others. More indie bookstores have been cropping up though, which is a good thing.

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