He couldn’t have planned it this way, since his book already was finished when the news broke, but author Sven Birkerts’ latest offering includes a chapter that seems to comment perfectly on recent headlines.
“The Other Walk,” a collection of Birkerts’ essays published this month, includes an extended homage to Borders bookstore, the national chain that recently announced it’s going out of business.
Birkerts, an essayist and memoirist whose books frequently turn to the subject of reading, recalls the rich education in literature he received first as a customer, then as a clerk, in a Borders bookstore in Ann Arbor, Mich.
As a bookstore clerk, Birkerts often would buy stock from the store, taking books home, devouring them, jotting notes about what he’d read. “Those jottings and what they represent, over years and years of working in bookstores, and later just prowling — are my education,” Birkerts writes. “And the path that leads to me typing here right now really did start there, that year after college, in those aisles and at those display tables.”
As creatures of commerce, bookstores have to answer the realities of the marketplace. When they can’t, no amount of wishful thinking will keep them in business.
Even so, we were reminded, in reading Birkerts’ recollections, that bookstores can be not only businesses, but sources of learning, too. That’s why it’s doubly sad to see any bookstore close for good.