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A book closed for forever
Around 10:30 PM on July 21st, 2011, Mike Edwards, the CEO of Borders®, sent a sincere email to the 1.8 million Borders savings-program members. In a matter of four paragraphs, Edwards delivered that after forty years of “igniting the passion of reading” among the American public, Borders, the second largest U.S. book chain-store will be shutting down by the end of this season. In order to compensate for the immense debt growing through the past few years, Borders must undergo the liquidation process to acquire maximum revenue. As the remaining 399 Borders stores became crowded by last minute customers, readers of all ages lament for the loss of this amiable book retailer. Accompanied by the loss of ten thousand jobs, the collapse of Borders is a great devastation to the American economy, and perhaps subliminally, a blow to our international image.
Edwards attributed the downfall of his corporation to “a turbulent economy, an evolving book industry, and the e-book revolution.” In other words, Borders did not collapse due to inadequate business management, but uncontrollable “external forces”.
And that is what bothers me. Looking around one of the largest shopping centers in my metropolitan area, all of those toy stores, clothing shops, and restaurants remained untouched by the economic downturn. Children continue to drag their parents to purchase Spiderman models, teenagers still frequent ROSS® while gossiping incessantly with their friends, and gentlemanen in tuxedoes never hesitate to hit a bar on Friday nights. Only Borders® became the victim of the recession, for it was the only store out of the sixteen shops in the center to shut down after 2008.
Ever since the winter of that unfortunate year, fewer and fewer people paid visits to this once bustling store. Sometime before then at least ten kids lingered along the crescent-shaped steps at the children’s section every time I wandered across the colossal bookshelves, but nowadays, I became the only guest of the entire corridor. In the old times, my father, who often indulged in hours of historical studies, must compete with other gentlemanen for an available couch. But since that October, he never had to wait for the chair except for a few times when a fatigued truck-driver dozed off involuntarily. As for my mother, although not a native English speaker, she always appreciated western literature and spent elongated periods trying to decipher words of G.B. Shaw. While scrutinizing novels line by line, my mother always acquainted others strolling towards the section with the same passion. Yet, soon she found herself the solitary audience of the classical works. Only once did she spot a young boy standing in front of a Sherlock Holmes collection reading and texting simultaneously.
Except for the periodical stands where some teenagers glanced around the Japanese comic magazines and hidden copies of Playboy, orders of novels just stood there forlornly, safe and sound from the hands of visitors. My father used to joke that now we had the entire palace of books to ourselves, but those words gave me chills. Anyone could imagine what happens when a store stops attracting customers. One Friday afternoon, I took the metro to my second home, and as soon as I glided around the book displays outside I was taken aback by a conspicuous banner:
“STORE CLOSING. EVERYTHING MUST GO.”
The American public would rather pass their leisure time checking out fancy garments and hitting up bars then to devote sometime in a bookstore. This pattern should alarm Americans to some extend; for have we lost our desire for knowledge and intellectual advancement? Obviously, shopping and dining can be somewhat less laborious then exploring science literatures, but the temporary satisfaction of those activities are far less valuable than the timeless messages from a book. One can oftentimes find inspiration for their careers through enlightening poems and speeches, yet the majority still resorts to the ephemeral joy of trying on an inexpensive piece of clothing. Furthermore, Borders provide a tranquil environment desirable for all sorts of learning that is extremely difficult to find in urban areas. Yet, with the exception of some college students, few take privilege of the available resource. On the other hand, bookstores in China, where the economy grows steadily year after year, are crowded by readers of all ages investigating the world around them.
Perhaps, teenagers nowadays determined that reading is forbidden among the “popular” cliques. Adolescents here and there dismiss those who devote time exploring classical literatures as “dorky nerds.” Many complacently label their peers who investigate environmental science issues as “he/she who doesn’t have a life.” So all in all, reading and studying has become a shameful pastime among our generation. As a result, some teenagers refuse to take the slightest advantage of the precious resources that not all youths around the world could acquire; and instead resort to partying all night long, where they are prone to multiple negative influences. With almost not a single second dedicated to learning outside of class, our generation is not adequately preparing for our future. As we will become America’s chief workforce in the next couple of decades, it is skeptical whether we can retain our nation’s global dominance. The collapse of Borders can be a manifestation that the thirst for knowledge has dried up among youths.
For decades, American’s worldwide dominance depended upon its superior technology. Because of our advancement in biology and physics, the American public reached greater life expectancy, evaded most foreign attacks, and benefited from higher living quality. The origin of all discoveries leading up to technological advances rests within knowledge. Needless to say, most knowledge is required through books. Borders have continuously provided the most up-to-date literatures on all fields of study. It is not uncommon to see a group of historians or biologists examining and discussing new books in Borders with a cup of cappuccino in hand. On the other hand, people adapting to the technological world also come to Borders for manuscripts like “Dummies for Java.” So in some way, the liquidation of Borders could be interpreted as a technological relapse, as if updated science journal no longer held charms to the public; and the pool of knowledge became tedious to many.
I was fortunate to have acquainted an elderly gentlemanan sometime after Borders announced its closing. While this gentlemanan was in his younger years, he served as a newspaper editorialist for one of my area’s best-known periodicals. Our family just moved to a new town, and I thought I could hit a run on a nearby Borders before it steps out of history. Unfortunately, that Borders already liquidated before my family’s arrival, and it was while I peeked inside the glass panes that this gentlemanan walked by to recount the misfortune.
“This is the saddest tragedy in the entire world,” he said when I solicited his opinions on this matter. “I used to come here two or three times a week. They were nice people there. It is just a tragedy.”
“If I were still an editorialist, you bet what I’d say. The damned government spends millions upon millions of dollars a day fighting those wars in Iraq but wouldn’t appropriate a single cent to preserve our Borders.”
Indeed, the demise of our nation’s second largest book store triggered no response from our fellow politicians. Whether it’s the Congress, the white house, or the obfuscated system of bureaucracy, no single official has stepped up to advocate for Border’s survival or prolong its life until a bidder presented a “formal proposal.” As with the case of Chrysler and other car industries under General motors, the American government is perfectly capable of upholding a corporation until the turbulence eases out. The debt Borders agglomerated over the past few years totaled right around three billion dollars, while everyday around 720 million dollars are fired up in the Iraq war. Regardless of the capitalist nature of borders, it is still inarguably a great source of knowledge for scholars as it is a positive aspect of American culture. All in all, our representatives do not see the existence of a bridge to knowledge as pivotal to the public general welfare as much as a distant war or other costly items on their agenda. As Borders functions like a night-school for many young scholars, the government decided to be a bystander and watch it tearing down. This is also to take account of the ten thousand people left unemployed by this economic catastrophe; for their future also produced no alarm.
“I just hope people are seeing what a great mockery we’ve bought upon ourselves,” says the gentlemanan, “that we’d let a BOOKSTORE go down the toilet.”