Sam van Zweden




Picking The Pockets of a Dying Business

Yesterday I received an email from Borders, finally admitting that they’re closing. Up until now it’s all been very carefully-worded “We’re in administration, which means nothing!” emails. Yesterday’s email said I’d better hurry, because they’re selling everything for 40-50% off RRP. This seems the right point for me to hit the sales – the prices are significantly reduced, but it’s new enough that there’ll probably still be some decent stuff left.

A dying store is a weird place to be. As I wandered through the Carlton Borders, I noticed stickers on everything. It was like being in Ikea, but a really sad, distorted Ikea with a different mood to the frenzy. In Ikea, there’s stickers on everything – “Look at this bathroom sink! You want it? Look up at the thing that’s lighting it – THAT is for sale TOO!” Likewise in Borders today – I was looking through the hundred or so biographies left in the store (displayed cover-forward, making them look even lonelier), and I realised that if I had the inclination and the money, I could buy the shelf. I could also buy the chair next the shelf. I could buy the stand-up racks they fold wrapping paper over, or I could buy a card stand – all I had to do was “Talk to the shop fitting mgr.”

And the frenzy! In Ikea, there’s a frenzy. It’s students hauling around flat-packs and mothers discovering that you can freeze ice in the shape of space invaders. It’s a weird over-consuming hum in Ikea – in Borders today it was that, but melancholy. You could hear the reverberation getting deeper as things flew off the shelves. One poor sales assistant kept getting requests for books that she just couldn’t fill. All that’s left in that store is the obscure, the non-fiction and the pulpable.

The non-fiction thing’s a bit weird – by no means a revelation, but the fact that the average readers doesn’t seem to read non-fiction in anywhere near the quantities of fiction is sad. There’s so much great stuff out there! I do though, and the four books I bought myself from this Borders’ closing-down sale are:

  • The Ticking Is The Bomb, by Nick Flynn
  • Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers
  • A Dull Roar, by Henry Rollins
  • From Hipsters to Gonzo: How New Journalism Rewrote the World, by Marc Weingarten

The sadness in Borders today was really weird and empty. People were there to buy up big, to CONSUME! …but only because time was running out. Only because of the death of one of the book stores who really encourage people to read, who otherwise wouldn’t. I’m not particularly sad that Borders is going or gone – I never really shopped there anyway, I’m just glad I got some cheap books out of their demise. I am sad, however, that those people who were in such a panic today to get their books before time ran out, may not bother to track down their local independent book-seller to seek out what was easy to get at Borders. They might just give up.

…But enough of that. As far as I know the sale’s going until they run out of books. So go pick the pockets of this dying business while you can.

Paper Radio Is Here, As City Basement Books Leaves

Two unrelated things in one post. Why not?

Paper Radio – it’s finally here. It’s been a long time in the making, and the excited chatter around the place has been deafening, so the fact that it launched today is something of a relief. In a great way. It’s all I expected and more!

Paper Radio is an online literary journal of sorts. There’s a FM channel which features fictional writing, and an AM channel which showcases non-fictional work. There are a few familiar names on the list of people behind this literary love-fest – Dion Kagan is familiar to me as the editor of last year’s EWF publication “The Reader”. He’s also hosting a few events for the EWF this year, I believe. Estelle Tang is also on the Editorial Advisory Committee, and she’s the amazing brain behind the utterly bottomless book blog “3000 Books”. So the team behind Paper Radio are strong, assuming those names I’m familiar with are anything to go by.

The website is really sleek, nicely designed with bold colours and collage-like graphics. And it’s not just the visuals that are nicely designed. It’s easy to get around the site, and while the FM channel is the only active thing on there at the moment, with one episode up of a story by Chris Somerville, the player isn’t complicated and the quality of the content is awesome. The reading on the episode that’s up is done by Jon Tjhia (executive producer of Paper Radio), who has an utterly enchanting voice, and the sound design behind the reading isn’t intrusive at all.

Really looking forward to future episodes from Paper Radio!

I’m afraid this post also contains some news that makes me incredibly sad…

City Basement Books, that amazing floor-to-ceiling booklover’s heaven (downstairs, 28 Elizabeth St, CBD), is shutting its doors. At least, at this location. I’ve tried searching for quite a while about what the deal is, but all I can find is that the store is “moving on” – whether this means the store is closing, or just moving premises I’m not sure. Either way this books shop has been one of my favourite places in Melbourne for years now. It’s always been so reliable, to not only have the book you’re looking for, but to have it from different publishers, different editions, with any different covers it may have had… And alwas for a reasonable price, in great condition.

Before they do close their doors or move, (whichever it may be) they are having a massive sale. All books $1 until this Friday, so get down there and pay your respects to the sacred ground at 28 Elizabeth St, Melbourne CBD.

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