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