DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!

book stores

Aug 15 2011

Borders Memories

by Greg H

More and more information is seeping out about the demise of the Borders book chain and, from the sound of it, Borders’ failure was self-inflicted and expected by those in the know.  The Atlanta Booklovers Blog featured a link to a story in The Stranger that was especially enlightening. Written by a former employee at the Boston store, the piece touched on numerous corporate missteps and gaffes, not the least of which was the management’s attitude shift from very cool and high quality to very corporate and bottom line. I loved shopping at the Buckhead Borders and that blog post was like the autopsy report that explained why a friend died. Just desserts or not, losing any bookstore is like losing an acre of rain forest, so, in the spirit of speaking no ill of the dead, or the bankrupt as the case may be, I want to share my best Borders moment.

In the late spring of 2007 I visited my brother and future sister-in-law in Los Angeles. The trip within this trip was an excursion to the bay area that we’d planned so that we could visit the major league stadiums in Oakland and San Francisco. We stayed at a very nice hotel near Union Square on the fringe of the Tenderloin district and I was thrilled to find a big, beautiful Borders store only three steep blocks up Powell Street.

Our first full day included breakfast with one old friend, an afternoon Boston-Oakland baseball game, and dinner with two other friends. They had to get their little boy to bed so I had a couple hours of early evening light and a big city at my disposal. I took the train back to our hotel, fetched some postcards from my hotel room, and headed for the Borders. I got a tea and a snickerdoodle cookie, found a seat in the cafe, and began writing to friends.

And to each of those friends I couldn’t help but write ‘Guess where I am writing you from?”  I was in one of our most literary cities, surrounded by books, writing! Yes, only postcards…but writing in any case.  As I worked at my cards, the sunlight faded and the lights of the buildings outside grew brighter. Somewhere out past those lights were Coit Tower and Fishermen’s Wharf and Alcatraz and streetcars and the Pacific Ocean.  Suddenly I felt that I was in a very enviable place.  I would visit City Lights book store the next day but for that evening the second floor of a Borders felt like the best possible place to be.

For lovers of books and bookstores, be sure to our check out our blog links (on the right) from time to time.

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I recently paid a visit to a local bookstore.  I don’t visit them too often these days because I generally can be content with borrowing my reading material from the library (yeah, I know, go figure) but this was a huge sale and who can resist a bargain, right?  We made our selections, mostly things the junior member of the household—who holds an advanced degree in manipulation—begged for.  Her beautiful little face threatened to become tear streaked because we were talking about a copy of Llama Llama Misses Mama for her very own (oh, and a bunch of Disney Princess paperbacks she knew better than to mention)  and she actually said, “aren’t books the most  important thing in the world to buy?”  This is how I found myself buying more than I intended because truly, she can beg for a lot of things she’s not going to get (ponies, a BB gun, television in her room, a Mustang)  but she’ll get a book every time she asks.  The pain was lessened by the very pleasant woman at the cash register who chatted so knowledgeably about books.  Then she surprised me by saying that she was not looking forward to using the library once she was unemployed because library books “creeped” her out.  Turns out, she’s got a thing about handling books other people have used.  “You would not believe what people do to books and then try to return them to us,” she told me, shaking her head sadly.

Well, I would believe it because I’ve seen some strange things in books.  In every library system I have ever worked (six to date), I have kept a big envelope on my desk with all the stuff  found in returned books.  Let me tell you, it is staggering.  There are the usual things—money, postcards, fancy bookmarks, dried flora—and then there are the surprising things.  It’s astonishing how many people use their financial documents and family photos for bookmarks.  I once found a letter from the author (dead, highly collectible) tucked in between the flyleaf and the cover.  I’ve also found personal hygiene products, a bag of stuff I’m going to believe was parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, but that we flushed anyway, and one heartbreaking letter someone wrote to her mother, detailing the breakdown of her marriage. I’m not the only person in the world to do this.  Richard Davies has posted his own list.

Of course, along with finding interesting things in books I have handled items that are returned reeking of cigarette smoke, stained with what I will choose to believe is apple juice,  or are full of sand.  As the DCPL budget is now so tight the idea of starting an e-book collection is just a grand dream. I’m hoping everyone who shares the collection with everyone else in DeKalb County will remember that these are borrowed books, CDs, DVDs and magazines and will take a moment to shake out the sand,  clean off the spaghetti sauce and fan the pages to remove personal items before bringing the items back.  Maybe then we can lure in folks like the lady at the bookstore.

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Nov 29 2010

Nook for Crook Books Hooks Schnooks!

by Greg H

I’ve never seen an entrance that more snugly exemplified its store’s name.  I was walking down Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles with my cousin, George, and our patient driver and tour guide, my brother Thom. For some reason, only steps away from the door to our destination I looked up above my right shoulder and high on the wall was a sign for The Mystery Pier Bookstore…a sign, but no store front.  Hmmmmmm!

Upon closer inspection, the sign first directed me to enter a short, dingy hallway, the kind that on a rainy night might shelter a shadowy, trench-coated figure, nervously fingering the black jack and pistol in his coat pockets. After only a few steps I reached the hallway’s abrupt end and made a right turn that put me at the top of a long, dim staircase. The only way to go from there was down towards where the murky light gradually brightened.  Each step took me further from my friends and the sunlit street above.  I reached the bottom of the stairs and saw The Mystery Pier Bookstore.

And, just let me say, the store could not have been less noir! The Mystery Pier Bookstore is a quaint little bungalow fenced within a cozy courtyard. The hardwood floors and tastefully displayed books were typical of many good used book stores.  What really sets this bookstore apart, however, is that every book in the store is a first edition, many are signed, and all are quite collectible.  As owner Harvey Jason was quick to point out to me, “This isn’t really a browsing store.”  I quietly disagreed. For me this was only a browsing store since every book was priced at hundreds if not thousands of dollars. Still, Mr. Jason was gracious enough to show me, and later my friends, around.

The mystery and detective fiction that contributes to the store’s name is only a small part of the attractions found there. The crown jewel of Mr. Jason’s wares was a signed first edition of To Kill A Mockingbird, priced at $25,000.  After seeing that volume, carefully locked inside its book case, the severity of our sticker shock lessened and we could simply enjoy what we were seeing: all manners of rare books by writers like Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway and, most especially, Kurt Vonnegut.  We looked on reverently, like pilgrims admiring a saint’s finger bone in its reliquary.  Still, it was difficult, when seeing yet another treasure, not to engage in mental mathematics just in case there was some hitherto un-thought of way to make the buy. We could have nosed around the store for a lot longer but, having confessed to our status as looky-loos, we said our thanks and left after a reasonable interval.

If you are not due to visit West Hollywood soon, perhaps you can enter the world of rare books through these titles which can be found in the Library’s collection:  How to Identify and Collect American First Editions: A Guide by Jack Tannen; The Man who Loved Books Too Much: A True Story of a Thief, a Detective and a World of Literary Obsession by Allison Hoover Bartlett; and A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books by Nicholas Basbanes.

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