Thursday, February 17, 2011

An End to Borders

It always seemed busy when we went there, which was weekly. Sometimes more often. Usually we go on Tuesdays because that's when they put out the new books that have just been published. My child's school had an early dismissal yesterday so we went then. I got a copy of the Fagles translation of The Iliad.

I read the Fitzgerald translation in highschool, then the Lattimore version in college. That one was something else. Recently I became re-interested in classical Greek literature and philosophy and I plan on reading Homer again, so I wanted a new translation.

The story of the Trojan War is amazingly relevant. It was fought over the most specious argument. Nobody really gave a flying fuck about Helen and Menelaus. He was a crappy leader. They thought the war would be a cakewalk. It wasn't. It consumed too many resources and probably was the beginning of the end of Mycenaean Greek culture. (Sounds familiar?)

Being of a tender age my child presently prefers age-appropriate fiction, but they also have recent books on the Romanovs, ocean waves, Lucy, and other items of non-fiction. Yesterday they got Angelire by Courtney Allison Moulton.

Last week they got I Am Number Four, which they read in a day.

I do not know where we will go to buy new books now. All of the Borders in Phoenix proper are closing. I am familiar with all the local used bookstores but they have far less to offer. And the local Barnes and Noble outlet on Camelback road also closed a few months ago.

I do not blame this on Al Gore for inventing the Intertubules. Of course technology has changed the way a lot of us read. It has augmented the media of written words. I am thankful for that. My kid has an iPad and occasionally downloads books but they mostly read pages on paper. I read an awful lot of stuff on this laptop. But it's not the same.

I love books. So does my child. And my spouse is a writer.

The problem, I am quite sure, is not changing technology. It is rather a general lack of interest in reading, period.

From Orange Crate Art, who got it second-hand from links which he denotes:

Only 32% of the U.S. population has ever been in a bookstore.

42% of U.S. college graduates never read another book.

58% of the U.S. adult population never reads another book after high school.

70% of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.

80% of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.

And on an ironic note:
81% of the U.S. population feels "they have a book inside them."

Mr. S. is a Borders employee. He is a writer himself and he is also widely-read; has been all his life. He recommended "The Outsiders" to my kid. He is a stroke survivor. The doctors initially told him that he would never recover, but now you'd never know he'd had one. He was brilliant in his little under-emplyed niche at Borders.

Where will he work? 140 local jobs will be lost when these Borders stores are closed.

Hypatia. A great and widely-known teacher, philosopher, mathematician, and astronomer of ancient Alexandria. She was associated with the great library there. An estmated 600,000 scrolls were housed in it, along with another 40,000 at a smaller branch.

Julius Caesar was the first fucker to really have at go at destroying the great library in 47 B.C.E. The next major blow to all the world's accumulated knowledge came at the hand of the Christians under Theophilus in 391. That's when Hypatia lived. The branch library at Serapis was destroyed then.

Later in 415 C.E. Saint Cyrille's deranged army of five-hundred monks/enforcers killed Hypatia by flaying her alive with clamshells. Then the tore her limb from limb and burned the remains. All because she was an uppity woman who knew more than they did.

I will *never* forgive Christianity for killing Hypatia.


Rachel Weisz. You must see this.

All of Hypatia's works are now lost, as are many many others, having at last been destroyed by that dumbass motherfucking Caliph Omar during his invasion of Egypt in 645 C.E. Tradition has it that he said "If the books agree with the Koran, they are not necessary. If they disagree, they are not desired. Therefore, destroy them," though this is probably a legend created much later.

We may not be destroying books, databases, and computer files in their entirety now. But we are certainly somehow ensuring that the wide distribution of knowledge is relegated to lower rungs of importance. There's virtually no science in daily newspapers anymore. Television news does extremely little to cover science. Literature itself has all but disappeared from the public sphere.

Without that local Borders, where will we buy new books? Where will I buy copies of The Progressive, The Nation, and Acoustic Guitar magazines? At the drugstore? No.

It will all be washed into the tawdry and undiscerning sea of the internet. And the internet can be turned off. Instantly. Capriciously. Maliciously.


wunelle said...

I have the Rachel Weisz film but have not yet watched. I love her, tho.

I find myself rather seeping into the new electronic age. I'm still carrying / reading paper books, of course, but I read more and more stuff on my computer and phone, and I've held off from buying a whole list of books while I await the next gen. iPad. Time will tell whether I approve of this new method of reading, but I think I'm effectively sucked into the world of electronic media.

I haven't really thought much about the ability to censor our media by government shutting off the switch, which is my naivety, I guess. If it came to that, I suppose gov't could stand in the way of standard publishing, for that matter, and word would get out via underground. And so it may still be.

One of the things lamented was that with all publishing coming through a couple big houses, what got published would become a function of what the big houses felt they could make money off of; I wonder if that really held true? And the difficulty with the internet (one of them) is how to find the quality stuff from obscure places.

I think it's actually a cool time to be an information junkie!

dbackdad said...

I hope those statistics are not accurate. Scary stuff. My wife and kid read a book about every two days. I'm a little slower but admittedly read a little drier stuff.

"80% of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year ..." -- If true, that one sentence alone explains the state of our nation.

As for Rachel Weisz, I'd pay money to watch her read the phone book. So, yes, please sign me up for checking out this movie.

been there said...

Maybe the Christians will pray for you and make it all better. But of course, that is another way of saying *fuck you*. An interesting parallel is the current leadership which does not seem to take into account the people's concerns and desires. There too is another *fuck you*. I hope to see more demonstrations. More outpouring of mass concerns regarding people and their legitimate right to live in a viable economy that supports education and does not idealize stupidity.

Anonymous said...

I saw Agora when it first came out in NYC and loved Weisz' performance as Hypatia. I thought the film was beautifully shot, a bit uneven, but a wonderful exploration of modern themes in a historical context. However, this is a fictionalized version of Hypatia's life. Many folks forget that this is the artist's way of making a point and believe it's all true. The director actually softens Hypatia's gruesome end.

Since you're into buying books, I'd recommend a very readable biography Hypatia of Alexandria by Maria Dzielska (Harvard University Press, 1995) and/or Hypatia of Alexandria: Mathematician and Martyr by Michael A. B. Deakin (Prometheus Books, 2007.) I also have a series of posts on the historical events and characters in the film at my blog - not a movie review, just a "reel vs. real" discussion.

Anonymous said...

i knew Mr S at the Borders near the 101. when we lived in N phoenix we went there a lot. The PV Borders was nearby, but had so-so content. It was amazing how the stores could vary so much.
I think that 80% never in a bookstore was heavily weighted by the 90% here in Phoenix who never went into a bookstore.