Bookstar was the only affordable hang out I had when I was a kid just out of college with about twenty cents to my name. I also didn't have a car my first year in L.A.
I know. Who in the hell moves to L.A. without a car?
While, my transportation options were limited; the inner/delusional-entitled, upwardly mobile snob-adjacent part of me decided to rent the most expensive apartment on my short list of options. I'd catch the bus to my job on Sunset, but I drew the line at living in squalor. My roommates and I moved into Park LaBrea (pre-Grove). It was a great neighborhood and it walking distance to anything I might need.
All of my money went to rent and bills. On one of my first "dates" (it was actually a cruising situation, but I'll get into that in another post) in LA was to Golden Bird chicken. My date decided to eat there and since it was closing, we each took our "3-piece and a biscuit" meals to his car. I only had enough room in my belly for two wings, but knowing that all I had was ramen noodles at home, there was no way I was letting that last wing go.
I was too poor, to even realize that I should be slightly embarrassed about saving half of a biscuit and a wing on a first date, but I wasn't. Hell, I was so poor, that I didn't know to be embarrassed that I was having a date at Golden Bird. I write all of this to simply illustrate that I was broke.
On days when I had $5 burning a hole in my pocket; I'd take a stroll from my apartment, down 3rd Street, towards LaCienga to sit in Bookstar. I love reading. I always have. I grew up hanging out in libraries and in small bookstores that invited you to sit and stay a while. Even though I loved books, I'd always felt this weird feeling in huge chain stores. I didn't feel welcome to hang out. Bookstar felt different.
It had chairs everywhere and the staff all seemed to be aspiring actors, writers and directors. Nobody was on your back, trying to stop you reading entire issues of magazines. I could, and did spend hours there at a time. I'd read a ton of magazines and as a courtesy, I'd at least buy one periodical, or some book on the discount paperback.
I didn't have cell phone, or a laptop at the time. I didn't sit in Bookstar to work. I wasn't multi-tasking. I wasn't going for a latte. I simply went there to read, discover books and to think. I don't even really remember what it feels like to be able to that alone with your thoughts for a couple of hours.
Bookstar even helped me come "out." I'd circled E. Lynn Harris' Invisible Life for weeks, but was too afraid to actually pick it up. What if someone saw me? How would I explain that I was reading that book? Eventually, I picked it up and it changed my life.
I thought about Bookstar today as I walked into a soon to be closed Borders today. When I heard the news about Borders' closing, I was detached. It's business. But today, as I saw all of the "going out of business" signs I suppose I felt a little sad and guilty.
I am not going to wax poetic about the beauty of holding a physical book, though I will say I wrestled with notion of paying for a discounted copy of On the Road versus downloading it to my Kindle app. You see, I think ebooks are cool and I have long since stopped hanging in bookstores for hours at a time (unless I need a wifi connection, or a pumpkin spice muffin).
As I stood in the CD aisle of Borders, I realized that I hadn't purchased a CD in a long time. It finally hit me that Borders' closing may not be the end of physical books, but it may signal the beginning of them not being the primary way we read. I already don't require texts in many of my classes. I use material from the internet. Internet material is easier and often more current than textbooks. It's a slippery slope.
I drove 45 minutes to Virginia Beach back in June so that I could get a library card. Sure, there's a library six minutes from my home, but they don't have an eBook collection. It's kind of crazy to think about how I'd walk for about thirty minutes to Bookstar, to maybe buy one book; but now I won't drive six minutes for a free library book. Times have changed.
I still love the library, but I go there to write. I don't look through the stacks. I used to check out movies, but then Netflix streaming came along. It's not just books and movies. I get a grocery delivery every Sunday morning from a farm co-op. I'm getting everything downloaded, or streamed; even my carrots.
I feel some kind of loss, though as Borders shuts its doors. I've never really been a Borders kind of guy. I've been partial to Barnes & Noble. Sure there are plenty of bookstores and poor, recent college grads will have other places to spend their days when dollars are short. However, I think as the bookstores go and the publishing companies crumble, so will the quality of work we'll see.
Sure, there will be many great books and writers, but I think we are going to see the numbers of awful "published" writers multiply by the thousands. I like the idea of things being vetted. We've seen how communication has deteriorated since we can all say whatever we want and hit "send" without a second thought. I read things in letters and tweets that twenty years ago, no one would have written. The process of writing a letter, or memo was slow enough for you to be deliberate with words. That notion is history if I am to judge by the rambling, unprofessional emails I get from associates and students on a regular basis.
I am a champion of creative freedom and embrace the new tools available to writers. I'm just not looking forward to wading through a list of unending new titles on Amazon from people who may not have even given their work a second read before hitting the upload button. Bookstores at the very least gave the comfort of knowing that someone may have looked at, edited and approved something before I was asked to spend money. That's not to say that every book I've purchased in a store has been good.
I'm looking forward to seeing what reading looks like over the next ten years. I'm excited about the books I'll discover and about the opportunities technology will afford me as a writer. I've started, but not finished about ten books on my iPad. In that same time I've read three physical books (borrowed from the library, or advance copies). I suppose I haven't fully jumped into the digital age.
By the way...I went ahead and bought the copy of On the Road today at Borders. It was the least I could do.