I remember when Borders was the bad guy.
In its healthy years, lots of people hated the chain of book superstores. Independent booksellers did because they couldn't compete with the low prices and vast stocks. Publishers did, especially smaller ones, because Borders was able to demand very favorable terms from them.
And snooty book-buyers did because going to Borders felt like going to Walmart. All hail our funky neighborhood bookstores, they said, with their prickly but knowledgeable clerks. But those book-buyers went to Borders anyway - love those low prices - and after a while, there weren't many more funky neighborhood bookstores.
Now Borders has declared bankruptcy and announced that it will close 200 stores, including the one at 3750 University Ave. And how does this snooty book-buyer feel about the news?
Apart from practical concerns - especially, employees will lose jobs - I cringe at the symbolism of another defunct bookstore, even polarizing Borders. By the end of April, the west-side store will join other shuttered Madison bookshops (Canterbury, Star) in oblivion.
Like any bookstore, Borders is dedicated to literacy. People buy and talk books there. They hear authors speak. They read. Whatever else there is to say about Borders stores, they remind me that there are a lot of readers, and that we all help support the life of the mind and the vast commercial enterprise that is the book trade.
Except that the book trade is changing. I buy a lot of books on Amazon. People tote Kindles everywhere. And although bookstore proponents tout the browsing, the browsing on the Internet is also good, not least because Amazon and other sites let you preview books before you buy them.
And even well-stocked bookstores like Borders often don't have what I want. In recent years I've found them to be most useful when I get a half-guilty impulse to read something lowbrow, something everyone stocks: I need to read Stephen King's Firestarter RIGHT NOW. (True story.) Otherwise, it seems fine to order on Amazon and wait a couple of days.
So why do I mourn Borders? I worry it relates to why I mourn handwritten letters and televisions that got four channels. They have been superseded by newer technologies. But I used them when I was younger, so they retain the pull of nostalgia.
Bookstores also will retain the pull of nostalgia if, one day, perhaps many, many years from now, they're - ulp - gone. I hope that day doesn't come, and that locally owned booksellers A Room of One's Own and Rainbow Cooperative Bookstore, which recently issued pleas for support, survive their troubles.
But, readers, it is you who will determine the future of book retail. One purchase - one click - at a time.
Editor's note: This article originally said Shakespeare's Books had closed. It now operates at 668 State St. under the name Browzers Books.