When I was very young, my parents did this thing parents sometimes do, and moved into the middle of bleeding nowhere. It was pretty. It was quiet. The librarians hated books.
Okay, they may not have hated them, but I have never gotten over the day I went to county municipal building where the library lived to find it had moved across the hallway. The move happened over a summer, which we generally spent by being somewhere more interesting. There were no signs indicating the library had moved, and it took us a moment to figure out what happened. When we finally found it, we stopped to chat with the librarian near the door. “We managed to get rid of over a third of the collection,” she said. She was so very proud of this. My tiny bibliophile’s heart broke. Libraries became a place of broken promises and shattered dreams. Sure, you can go to the library to look for books, but half the shelves are empty and the staff is going to stare at you.
A side effect of living in the middle of nowhere in the time before the world wide web is that you have to go really far in order to do your Christmas shopping. So we developed a tradition of piling into the car and driving to the Pentagon City mall in early December. Sometimes we’d visit the big box stores nearby, as well.
That was how, at the tender age of seven, I first discovered Borders.
My school library was the size of den in my current house. My local public library was larger, but its collection was functionally the same size. And then I just happened to wander into a store bigger than my house, crammed full of books. “This had better be what heaven looks like, or I’m not going,” said seven-year-old me.
Borders was a magical place I got to visit once a year. I’d carefully comb the shelves and make a list of the books I wanted, because if I didn’t get enough for Christmas, it’d be June before my birthday and my next chance at reading material. It was rare, and special, and I wanted very badly to live there.
A few years later a Borders opened up nearer and wasn’t so rare. Later still the internet came along, followed by Amazon. But it was still special. We never forget our first true love.
The Borders in Madison closed several months ago. I went in, looking for books, hoping that maybe the bookcases would be for sale as some of mine sag rather alarmingly. The shelves were fairly empty, many of the signs were missing. “We’ve only gotten rid of a third of the inventory,” one of the staff said when I asked. The sale wasn’t good enough yet – people were waiting.
It’s a little unsettling to watch heaven transform into a depressing library from the middle of nowhere.