I’ve seen the future and it looks like Ray Bradbury.
The books are gone.
It happened slowly I guess, but I wasn’t watching, at least not close enough. Then Saturday night, out for my usual romping good time in the bookstore after dark, I walked into a Borders. Signs were plastered all over the windows with big red letters yelling 90% Off, and 2 Days Left. I knew this was coming. I read about in the paper and talked about it with friends, and even used up all my gift cards. But nothing had really prepared me.
The place was barren. Empty bookshelves were scattered around like the ribs of old wooden animals picked over by vultures. The music was not some soothing obscure folk artist or classical orchestra or even the sweet silence one would expect. Instead it was loud electrified metal songs with angry lyrics. The patrons, myself included, looked lurid under the strong fluorescent light. We were a little zombie-like, our eyes wide and blank, our legs dragging us around slowly, our hands reaching out haphazardly to pick up a Rand McNally atlas of Alabama, a Joseph Heller biography, a Brand Name crock pot recipe book with a broken spine–on the cover, an unapitizing picture of stuffed cabbage drowning in Campbell’s Cream of Cheddar soup.
I did manage to buy a book my partner had heard about on NPR, that oddly she had looked for several times and never found. And there were a thousand copies of Lord of Misrule because they found boxes of them in the corner of their store-room that someone had never unpacked. I had to buy one. It was a hardcover. And it won the National Book Award for heaven’s sake. I almost wept in the checkout line.
I used to hate the big guys. The Borders and the Barnes and Nobel’s of the world. The Shop Around the Corner vs. Fox Booksellers in You’ve Got Mail. But when the big guys start to fold, when the books disappear to lands unknown, when everyone is tweeting about their Kindles and iPad readers and you are starting to stockpile books on the dining room table and in the basement and in your shower, it gets a little scary.
But the same man who brought us Fahrenheit 451, and had us shuddering at all those burning books, also wrote Zen in the Art of Writing. And in it he says that we must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy us.
So I’m here to keep the reality of that dying bookstore at bay. I’m here to rattle a few ghosts and stir up some sadness and keep howling at the moon. Then when I get up in the morning and hit the shower and shave my legs and accessorize and eat the obligatory bowl of oatmeal and head out to work in uncomfortable shoes at least I will know underneath it all I am really a warrior. I will do whatever it takes to keep what I love alive.