I was working with a a group of teachers in our county, talking about the kick-backs from Google's digital bookstore to local bookstores yesterday when I realized we don't have any independent booksellers around here. Two Barnes and Noble, three Books-a-Million, a couple of remainder outlets and secondhand places. Then, just this morning, I saw Susan's excellent post about Borders closing, and it started me thinking about the strange relationship I have with big bookstores.
I have never lived in a town with a Borders, except for the year we lived in Ann Arbor. We were not far from Borders Number One at Liberty street. I found the Paperchase things I had only ever bought in the U.K., and the Post Secret books, and more of the graphic novels I needed for the English department class I was taking second semester than I would at the comic book shop, the Vault of Midnight.
Prior to Michigan, I'd always been a used bookstore kind of girl. I worked at one during high school and college, and it really fit my eclectic and generalist ethos, but the used stores in Ann Arbor were dreadful. There was one shop where all the stock was mildewed, just walking by gave me an asthma attack, and while I scooped up an Agatha Christie or two from the Dawn Treader, it was a rather miserable experience. By contrast, Borders with their weekly 20% off Internet coupons, was a clean, neat, and well-organized nirvana. Plus it was incredibly central, across the street from friends of ours' downtown apartment, a place I met my husband when either of us would need a ride back from campus.
It was so cold that all I did was huddle under the covers, fully dressed, for about seven months. and I did get the bulk of my reading that year from the Ann Arbor District Library. I would go multiple times a week, and it was really rare that they didn't own something I wanted. You could place holds against items on the shelf, too, and I don't think I ever waited more than a couple of weeks for anything.
So while this begun as a paean to a bookstore I am finding is really iconic for a lot of people in my generation, it ended as a celebration of libraries. I somehow always get there in the end.