Sunday, February 20, 2011

Ode to Borders

The news came this week that they are closing the Borders bookstore in Saratoga soon.  It is ironic that this news upsets me, because several years ago when the Borders and Barnes & Noble chain bookstores were settling in our area, I worried that our small local bookstores would disappear in the wake of this big business competition.  However, over the years I made peace with the "giants" and now feel sadness at their demise.

It wasn't too long ago that the Borders on Wolf Road in Albany closed, leaving a smaller store in a local mall.  The Barnes & Noble on Wolf Road moved to the mall across the street at about the same time.  I miss the freestanding stores.  I have many wonderful memories of browsing in the peaceful Barnes & Noble store -- a haven of sorts whenever life became too much for me.  Its new location in the mall is loud and busy, and not at all conducive to quiet introspection.  The Wolf Road Borders holds memories of hot chocolate and warm conversation in its peaceful cafe, which is non-existent in its smaller mall location.

The reasons given for the closing of the Saratoga Borders is the huge popularity of E-books and online bookstores, as well as the death of the music CD market.  How sad!!!  As a sensual person, I cannot imagine how an E-book can possibly compete with a hard copy.  I love the process of reading as much as I love the knowledge or entertainment found in a book.  I enjoy the weight of the book in my hands, the cover illustration, the font styles, the scent of a fresh new book or a dear old friend with pages worn and a musty scent.  Often as I read late in the evening, I begin to drowse, and must turn back a page or two to find my place.  I keep a quotation journal, and often page back through a book after I finish it, jotting down memorable quotes.  How cold it must be to read a book from a computer. 

I realize that technology has brought significant positive changes to our culture.  However, I truly believe we have sacrificed some measure of pleasure and humanity as we move into this high-tech world.  While texts and Emails are convenient, nothing can compare to sitting quietly with a friend and watching his eyes as he talks.  Words viewed on a screen cannot convey the inflections behind conversations.  How easy to misread the actual intent of a sentence when viewing it in abbreviated form on a screen.

I remember the days when business phones were answered by receptionists who listened to your needs and referred you to the proper person to handle your issues.  Today's phone menus are frustrating and completely impersonal.  I have become enraged several times when asked to speak to the computer, only to be told that the computer does not "recognize" my voice.  In fact, my Ford Escape has this "wonderful" Sync System that allows me to press a button and make a phone call.  For some reason, though, the car does not "recongize" my voice.  My husband's voice works like a charm, but for some reason my "voice" is unrecognizable in Sync's repertoire.  After a few futile attempts, I do not try anymore.  I take out my trusty old cellphone and dial the number -- at least my "dialing" is recognizable.

With our busy lives, much of the food we consume is "take out", or processed foods from the grocery store, picked up on the way home and heated up quickly before we head out to our next meeting.  Gone are the days when soup simmers on the stove all day, filling the house with its tantalizing aroma, and cake batter is stirred in a big old mixing bowl, baked in layers and frosted with buttercream icing made from scratch.  We sacrifice process for convenience, and everyone loses --

Of course, I realize that our technological world is constantly reinventing itself, and I try to keep abreast of the changes.  I certainly do not want to become an old lady who cannot communicate with her grandchildren or search the internet for important information.  I realize that our children must be educated to compete in the world as it exists and changes.  I do try, though, to make certain that my grandchildren have the chance to enjoy the sensuality of this world, too.  We read real books together, snuggled in a comfy chair; we make cookies and taste the dough, smell the vanilla, and enjoy the process of creation.  They sniff the flowers in the garden and feel their soft petals; they experiment with writing and drawing on different paper with all types of pens and crayons.  We take time to enjoy the "process" of what we do as much as we enjoy the final product.

And, as usual, I have digressed.  Obviously, the closing of one Borders store in a lovely little city in upstate New York is not the end of life as we know it.  However, it is the end of one more little pleasure in the lives of its patrons who gathered there to browse and read and enjoy coffee and face-to-face conversations with others who love books.  Good-bye Borders!!

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