Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Eek! Bookless Borders!

Last Friday, Matt and I decided to do a little window shopping along Michigan Ave. to kill some time after we'd arrived about half an hour early for our reservation at the Rosebud restaurant on Rush. Strolling down Chicago Ave., then turning north toward the Godiva store, I stopped dead in my tracks. I guess I hadn't been over that way in awhile, because I experienced a sudden wrenching in my heart as I saw the full display of empty bookshelves through the windows of what used to be Borders. I gasped audibly. (Apparently, I'm completely behind the times, because news reports in 2009 announced that Borders would be closing its "flagship Michigan Ave. store" in 2010 because it was not meeting its profit goals.)

It's not that I'm particularly attached to that Borders (although I do have an affinity for Borders, in general). In fact, there's one conveniently located just up the street from my office, and it appears to be firmly in tact, at least for awhile. But that empty store was a stark reminder that the world is going digital, and that, well, bibliophiles like myself are growing fewer and farther between. I expressed to Matt that I'd been clinging to the hope that the physical book--the smell, the pages, the writing in the margins--would hold its own in the battle against digital, despite the fact that we've seen print newspapers and magazines hanging by threads (if not disintigrating altogether) for many years now. Come to think of it, I now see far fewer books in the hands of commuters each morning than I did when I first moved to Chicago a little over two years ago.

Is it my age that has me clinging to the feel of paper, the scent of fresh pages, creased spines, and margins full of notes from the first, second, fifth read-through? Am I hesitant about the digital revolution because I am a creature of habit, resisting the way my grandparents resist the cell phone my concerned uncle bought for them? Honestly, how could an e-reader chock full of digital books ever trump the satisfaction of stuffed bookshelves? I think I'm becoming even more stubborn about my books because I know, deep down, that I, too, will eventually shed my stacks of paper in favor of the ebook revolution. Someday soon, it will be as passe and ridiculous to carry a stack of books as it was for Ron Weasely to wear his hand-me-down robes at Hogwarts in Harry Potter.

Practically speaking, digital books do make sense. To think that I could have gone to grad school without the horrendous neck and shoulder pain from carrying all those books around in my bookbag! Yet, I can't imagine writing a thesis without all the books strewn across my living room floor, flung open to all of the "important pages" whose exerpts would wind their way into one of my chapters.

Practically speaking, though, I start to wonder if maybe I shouldn't really sell all those lit and theory books I've been hesitant to part with (just in case I should ever decide to return for the PhD). You know, while they'll still catch a few bucks on Amazon...

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Packing Snow

It was quite a squeeze today on the El. A bit of a rude awakening, as well as a reminder of why I don’t ride the El anymore. It snowed all day today, which doubled the number of public transportation riders, as commuters traded driving on treacherous roads for an easy swipe of their CTA cards. It wasn’t really that bothersome to me to hang out in the tunnel on the crowded platform watching the mêlée of man vs. train. I couldn’t believe the risking of limbs and cramming of briefcases I saw as commuters literally smashed themselves in to the “ding-dong” of the warning bell, and the swooshing of doors closing shut. I determined that I wasn’t in that big of a hurry.

Three packed trains stopped by before I and the cluster of bodies around me could squoosh ourselves into a car. I was experiencing that empty-stomach/end-of-workday/zombie state of mind(less) that usually hits me around 5:30 or 6 pm. So I just kind of zoned out and tried to keep my balance. I was conscious of profuse apologies as the doors swung open at Grand, and Chicago, and Clark/Division. It seemed that at every stop, some Chicagoan was apologizing for the state of the CTA to some unnamed non-Chicagoan.

“I’m sorry. I hope you don’t have any place you have to be in the next hour.”

“You’re not from Chicago, are you? I’m sorry this sucks.”

Anyway, like I said, I was in a bit of a fog, so I didn’t really see what the big fuss was about. All I could think about was dinner, and that maybe those visitors to Chicago should come back in June.

When we got to my stop, I slushed my way home, noticing how warm it actually felt outside, and how the fresh air had awakened me. Once again, I found myself enjoying my winter walk. I wasn’t wearing proper boots, and could feel the moisture of the slush sneaking up against my toes. But I didn’t really mind, because home wasn’t too far away.

And as I walked I got to thinking that we’re almost halfway through January already. Which means that we’re that much closer to springtime/summertime in Chicago. And I admit that on many of these brisk but sunny days, I’ve been gazing out the window imagining it were summer. Looking down over the city, I’ve been recalling what the view will look like when brick, stone, and steel aren’t the only colors on the horizon, when the lake will shine bluer, and the green of vegetation will snake its way between the buildings…

Then, of course, I tried to be practical and remind myself not to ignore the pleasures of winter. And so I continued sloshing home in the snow.