In a few short weeks, the M-men and I will be heading to New York for our much anticipated, annual autumn visit. On the agenda is everything from university tours (they are never too young) to Trick or Treating (they are never too old.) And, of course, as any American expat returning ‘home’ will appreciate – shopping, shopping and more shopping – visits to stores that seem to say ‘welcome back to the USA - land of so many, many things.’
But sadly, this year will not be quite the same. I’m not talking about the depressing economy: we will do our part, as always, to give it a boost. (It’s amazing what you can justify when you compress several months’ worth of shopping into ten days.) But as I said, it won’t be the same. This year we might well find the land of so many, many things but books.
When I told my sons that the last Borders bookstore closed this past Sunday, there was a collective ‘NO-OH’ in full three-part harmony. A visit to Borders was special – even if later it entailed lugging back immensely heavy suitcases filled with latest edition hardcovers (waiting for paperbacks is not an expat luxury.) It was a price we gladly paid.
Borders did not go bankrupt for lack of M-support. When the boys were still little, back in the Magic Tree House/Berenstain Bear days, a store manager approached me. She saw us racking up piles upon piles of books and asked if I would like to open a corporate membership. When I replied I didn’t have a corporation, she said a family of readers was ‘close enough.’
We treasure our books. It runs in the family - my mother still has the books she brought to America when she emigrated from Greece some sixty years ago. She passed on her love to me and luckily I’ve passed it to my boys. Maybe partly it is because living in a foreign country; the boys realized English books were not always easy to come by. Sure there are libraries, but book lovers want to own the books they love, want to be able to pick them up and re-read them at any time.
I also know the availability issue has since been solved with instant downloads on kindles, ipads, laptops – even phones. But it isn’t the same – you can tell me what you like. They are nice supplements, not the real thing – in many ways better, in many others worse. For example, when you see your kid with a book in hand, you have a pretty certain idea of what he or she is doing. See a kid mesmerized by an ipad, well, the possibilities for various activities are infinite and not all likely to improve SAT scores.
Still, I fear the book lovers will soon have little choice. Borders is not the only bookstore chain, but its closing might well be indicative of others to come. Schools all over the world are trialing ipads to supplement (and eventually replace?) textbooks. It makes sense. But since when has loving meant being rational?
I will miss wandering through a bookstore – touching and feeling and opening the glossy covers, smelling the new book smell. I will miss the well-read salespeople who came up to my kids, saw what they were reading and said, ‘I see you like this series, have you tried this one?’ Their suggestions opened new worlds for my boys with books I might never have known to recommend. I will miss the carpeted kids’ corner, its reading nooks, beanbag chairs, the soft and wonderful colors. And I will miss seeing my kids sitting there, unable to wait to start reading one of the latest treasures they selected.
The books we have bought back to Monaco over the years take up a lot of space. They are well worn and dog-eared. I always thought I would someday donate them to our school’s library. But I just might have to keep them. I want to know that my boys will have these treasures to share with their children someday. It is no longer something I take for granted.