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My bookstore is on death row

By Jeff Pearlman, Special to CNN
  • Jeff Pearlman says his local Borders bookstore is preparing to close and he regrets this
  • He says he worked on his own book there, got to know regulars, browsed, hung out
  • He says Borders was behind curve, destined to go; E-readers popular, books on way out
  • Pearlman: E-readers cool, but books bring great pleasure. At end of the day, he wants one

Editor's note: Jeff Pearlman is a columnist for He blogs at

(CNN) -- I have just returned from the morgue.

My morgue.

It is dark inside. Smells stale. The walls are decayed, the echo resounding. There's a creepiness, naturally, almost as if the ghosts who call this place home are watching, waiting, itching to reach out and grab you; to scream, "Don't leave! Please, don't leave!"

And yet, I must.

The morgue is, oddly, dying. It says so outside -- an enormous yellow sign that reads CLOSING in capitalized black block lettering. Within weeks, maybe even days, the door will be locked; the keys tossed away.

The morgue is my local Borders bookstore. It's in Scarsdale, New York, adjacent to a Starbucks and a gym and a couple of overpriced clothing shops. From outside, it doesn't look like much -- generally speaking, a Borders is a Borders is a Borders. Yet for the past seven years, this place has served as one of my homes away from home.

My third book, "Boys Will Be Boys," was written at a rickety wood table inside the store's small café. I used to waste hours standing at the magazine rack, pawing through Rolling Stone and GQ and, ahem, Us Weekly.

When nobody was looking, I'd do the ol' author two-step and relocate my books from the bottom of the sports shelves to the "Must Read" sections. (If you think I'm the only writer who does this, you're on crack.)

At Borders, there was always a comfortably familiar cast of characters -- the clerk with tattoos running down his arm who, one day, left to join the army and fight in Iraq; the triple-chinned loud talker in the tattered Seattle Mariners cap; Julia, the cafe clerk who kicked out anyone who dare enter with a Starbucks cup (I once tried explaining to her that Seattle's Best Coffee, Borders' official brand, was actually a subsidiary of Starbucks. She wasn't having it); the crazy lady who, literally, sat in the same chair for 10 straight hours, offering up social commentary on Bob Barker and lemonade and men named Stuart.

Borders was cozy; safe; easy ...

Now, the shop is next up on death row.

This week everything is 40-60% off. Next week, that'll surely increase to 50-70%. Deeply discounted. Yellow signs trumpet this, and people pick at the remains like vultures atop a rotting calf. Where the café once buzzed, there are now lifeless piles of old tables and chairs, selling for $150 but, in all likelihood, doomed for the dumpster.

Admittedly, this is not a surprise. America's second-largest bookstore chain is liquidating 200 locations in a deal that may bring in $175 million to creditors.

Borders, most customers will tell you, has always been somewhat second rate. The shelves tend to be messy; the stock thin and antiquated. A couple of years ago Borders decided to focus on CDs at the same time CDs were turning obsolete. They made a similar decision on DVDs, thereby resulting in stock rooms filled with copies of "The A-Team: Season One." At the same time Barnes & Noble was busting loose with its e-reader, Borders was, well, daydreaming.

As one who makes his living writing books, word has it I am supposed to willingly accept the decline of Borders and the seemingly inevitable extinction of print. Actual books, after all, are old news. Hell, just ride a train and glance around. Everyone -- everyone -- is holding a Kindle. Or a Nook. Or an iPad.

The world has gone digital, and we authors are supposed to giddily come along for the ride. "Look on the bright side," my sister-in-law recently said. "More people will read. The Kindle books are cheaper, so they're going to be more widely embraced. This will work in your favor."

I just don't know. ...

At the risk of sounding like my great aunt, I love books. I love holding books. I love thumbing through books. I love marking up pages, I love perusing bookshelves, I love feeling the paper between my fingers.

As a boy growing up in Mahopac, New York, I used to rush to Waldenbooks at the nearby Jefferson Valley Mall for the start of every sports season. My mission was to pick up "Zander Hollander's The Complete Handbook of (fill in the league)" annuals. Upon making the $6 purchase, I'd rush home, lie on my bed, stare at the mug shots of Magic Johnson and Joe Montana and Steve Kemp, read the bios, imagine myself one day joining their ranks. Those books -- all 27 of them -- remain inside my home, yellowed and tattered and beautiful. I turn to them often. For nostalgia. For joy.

E-readers, I suppose, are nice. They're shiny and modern and remind me of "Star Trek." But no matter what society says, they're not the ideal way to read.

Come day's end, I'm tired of staring at a screen. I do it all day, I do it through much of the night.

I want a book.

But do books want me?

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jeff Pearlman.