Sunday, August 14, 2011

Random Acts Of Meaningless Violence

Like so much else in southeastern Michigan, Borders Books is closing. Bargain placards promise big savings. Half the shelves are empty. What's left has been reshuffled and scattered. People pick at the bones, smiling. The place has a Target/Walmart vibe. All this effort put into words seemingly wasted.

The books appear sad to me. Even writers I don't like get my sympathy. Borders was a chain which in headier times I deplored. But to see it collapse like this is depressing.

Borders began in Ann Arbor, so it's fitting that it end here. Just after we moved here, I gave a reading for American Fan at the downtown store. Fan garnered good reviews, a nice mention from Robert Lipsyte in the New York Times, and a stirring endorsement from a local critic. My mixed feelings about Fan didn't matter. My publisher's indifference to Fan did, but I was able to squeeze out a couple of readings and radio interviews before the Murdoch hammer fell.

The Borders reading was sparsely attended. No one knew who I was nor cared. A few people strolled in as I performed the better passages. One guy identified himself as a Cubs fan. He took issue with something I said about Wrigley Field rituals (yes, I got heckled at a book reading). He was a living example of what I wrote about. I don't think he saw himself that way. He seemed too earnest. That was over a decade ago, and the Cubs still haven't won or gone to a World Series. Hope he's holding up.

Standing in the spot where I read. It's nearly empty. They're selling the bookcases too. Hell, you could rip up pieces of carpet and haggle a decent price for them. I walk back to my apartment. Cross the main campus. More and more kids. The old, ivy-covered buildings are as lost in time as me. Their presence makes you think of leather-bound books. Hushed reading rooms. Dusty sunlight on long oak tables. Some of that remains, but it's increasingly archaic.

Soon everything will be stored on discs, apps, blitts and blurds. Like on Star Trek. Not so bad, I suppose. Once holodeck technology is perfected, books will be finished. Who'll want to read when you can be a book's character?

I'd try Gore Vidal's Lincoln. Surely a man so revered and cited had numerous flaws and blind spots. What better way to learn this than by playing Vidal's revisionist Abe? I might change the program near the end. Have Lincoln fight John Wilkes Booth. He'd still die, but my version at least gives Lincoln a chance. Plus it's more exciting. The quick bullet to the head is so Sopranos.