Borders and the New Age of Books

Borders declared bankruptcy this past week, and it’s closing a number of stores in the Bay Area. I was running errands yesterday and was near the San Mateo store, so I decided to drop by and prowl about for deals.

It was an absolute madhouse. Parking was just about impossible, and the purchasing line snaked around the entire store. It was nice in a way to see that so many people still valued books.

Which is a good thing, because even at 20-40 percent discounts throughout the store, I couldn’t find a single good deal. I found a bunch of books that I wanted to read, scanned their barcodes on my phone, and saw that was selling all of them for cheaper, even with the Borders discount.

Frankly, that’s old news. The real game changer is’s distribution model and the Kindle.

I love traditional books — the feel, the smell, the timelessness. I remember visiting the Lincoln Museum years ago and staring in wonderment at his Bible, the actual, physical book that he had lovingly thumbed through as a child. I have a huge collection of my own books, and the thought of getting rid of any of them pains me.

That said, my parents got me a Kindle for Christmas last year, and I am absolutely in love with it. As much as my sentiment lies with traditional books, the reality is that the Kindle has got me reading books again. The screen is a marvel, it’s lighter and more comfortable to read than most of my real books, and I can carry a whole slew of books on it. The companion case is worth the extra price for the built-in book light alone.

Here’s how dramatically has changed the book industry. While scanning for books on my phone, I could easily have purchased one immediately with one click and had it sent to my Kindle automatically. Much easier than waiting in that monstrous line, and much more portable.

If I had wanted to, I could even have read the book on my phone. This sounds painful to me, but I’ve heard from others that they often read books this way, and that — as with my experience with the Kindle — they’re reading more as a result.

Barnes and Nobles might be late to the game, but it’s adapted, and it has a chance. Borders is done. It has not proven an ability to adapt with the times.

The real question continues to be, what’s the future of the local, independent book store?

I don’t think the death knell is a sure thing. I viewed the Borders discounts with scorn, but the reality is, I often pay more for books at Green Apple Books, even though I know I can get them cheaper at It may be irrational, but I’m not alone. I like going there, even if books are more expensive. The opportunity is for local bookstores to leverage what’s magical and important about them — namely, the customer experience — and adapt it to the times.

Goodbye, St. Louis

Did the Anheuser Busch tour this morning, then went to the Soulard district for exploration and lunch. Spent most of the afternoon visiting the antique shops on Cherokee Street, following some spicy Cajun food at the Hard Shell Cafe.    (1YY)

If there’s been a theme to this trip, it’s been the reawakening of my sense of touch. The design of last week’s workshop emphasized kinesthetic learning. The night before the workshop, I was helping Holly Meyers cut out signs that we were posting throughout the room. The scissors felt completely foreign in my hands. It was as if I had almost totally forgotten how to cut anything more complicated than a straight line.    (1YZ)

When I visited Abraham Lincoln‘s birthplace a few days earlier, I saw the Lincoln family Bible. I spent what seemed like forever staring at it, thinking about how Honest Abe himself used to flip through that very Bible when he was a kid living in a tiny Kentucky log cabin.    (1Z0)

Walking in and out of shops on Cherokee Street was like another trip on the time machine. I held kitschy tchotchkes, ran my hands over century-old furniture, and thought about where they had been before, who their owners were, what these items meant to them. On occasion, I chatted with store owners, marveling at their passion for old things.    (1Z1)

Ended the day at Busch Stadium watching the Cardinals play the Giants. The evening was dry, warm, and breezy, thanks to the rain the night before. From our seats along the right field line, we could see the Arch outside the stadium. Towards the end of the game, we watched the riverfront fireworks (along with the fireworks inside the stadium provided by Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols).    (1Z2)

After the game, Scott Foehner, his friend Eric, and I had beers at Dressel’s in the Central Western End. Had a few Boulevard’s, which is a Kansas City brew. Perfect way to end my Midwest adventures — gorgeous weather, a night at the ballpark, good company.    (1Z3)

Honest Abe, Monk Cheese, and Kentucky Bourbon

Spent the day with Sujean Kim and Isaac Watras touring Kentucky. Our first stop was the Abbey of Gethsemani, home of Thomas Merton and homemade cheese, bourbon fudge, and fruitcake. The abbey itself is beautiful, nestled in the heart of Kentucky and surrounded by acres of fields and forest.    (1YF)

We attended a prayer service, where the monks chanted their prayers, and afterwards, we lunched in silence with the brothers. Lunch was disappointing. I expected monks to eat earthy, natural foods. Nope. Frozen fish sticks, frozen fries, frozen vegetables, and canned fruit. Not exactly God’s food.    (1YG)

Afterwards, we drove to Hodgenville to visit Abraham Lincoln‘s birthplace. We stopped off at the Lincoln Museum, where I was stunned to see that they sold Confederate flags. I’ve heard all those arguments for Southern pride, but at the Lincoln Museum?! Strange place, the south. Not sure that Honest Abe would have approved.    (1YH)

We ended our day in Bardstown, a great little nearby town that happens to lie smack in the middle of Kentucky’s bourbon trail. Had dinner and drinks at the historical Old Talbott Tavern, where I tried Four Roses bourbon for the first time. (I also tasted Booker, a Jim Beam varietal. All I have to say is, Kentuckyians like their whiskey strong.)    (1YI)

I enjoyed Four Roses so much, we went around the corner to buy a few bottles at the neighborhood liquor store. The clerk was Frederick Noe‘s (“Booker”) nephew, and he told us some good stories about the Beam household.    (1YJ)

Lots of local folks hung out at the store, buying beer and opening it there. While I was deciding how many bottles of bourbon I could haul home, my brother-in-law overheard the following conversation between a portly man and his companions:    (1YK)

“Had an accident at my house the other day. Fell off a ladder.”    (1YL)

“How far’d you fall?”    (1YM)

“Ten feet.”    (1YN)

“That’s not so far.”    (1YO)

“Ten feet’s a long way for a fat man.”    (1YP)