Monday, October 17, 2011

Bookstores Closing: a Li Miao Lovett Perspective

Recently I left a book on an airplane. A thin book, which slipped down, unseen, hiding with the safety instructions in that seat pocket in front of me. I didn't know it until the following day, a Saturday morning, when I searched my luggage like a blind woman and found nothing.

I had to replace the rare book immediately, since I was to write a critical essay on it for class that week. But my frantic calls to  almost a dozen local bookstores (independent, mainstream, university) were in vain. Even purchasing the e-book and printing it out proved impossible.

(You heard that right, printing it. On paper. I don't have any e-devices yet. I'm a Luddite who would still listen to cassettes in my car except it ate a tape. Now I surrender to the crackling static of my car radio instead. I just might invest in a CD player.)

Back to my frantic, panic-laden search. I knew all the Borders were closing, but I called as a last resort. I figured maybe they had some strange leftovers like this one in stock. Ordering it wasn't an option.

"This place is trashed," the clerk told me when I called. He sounded as desperate as I felt.

He said there was no way he could find it for me, to even know if it existed in the heaps of books on the floor. I could see them strewn about in haphazard fashion. It was as if I'd called him right after a tornado. Maybe because he was losing his much-loved job. Or maybe because he was mourning the demise of brick-n-mortar, which author Li Miao Lovett (whom I blogged about at aha!Chinese) calls "living communities" in her KQED Perspectives radio essay and podcast When Bookstores Close.

In the end, I was able to borrow a library copy of the book from a colleague a half hour's drive away. Thankfully, that exalted institution, though suffering, still remains.

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