Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Goodbye, Borders

Yesterday I paid what will likely be my last visit to a Borders Books. Here's a typical shelf in their store:


As you can see, things are about half-full, like some carcass partially picked over by a small flock of vultures. What's there is kind of in order, but not really. The staff seemed more interested in selling the tables and bookcases than in helping confused customers find books. And frankly, I don't blame them.

It was a melancholy experience for me. I grew up in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. Up through high school the only game in town were B. Dalton's and Waldenbooks. Nice stores for their day but pretty small in comparison to what we've become used to. I'm pretty sure the stores from my youth would only barely hold the regular fiction collection of a Borders or B&N, so when Borders first came to the area when I was in college it was like a revelation. And it wasn't just about size.

You mean you don't stick Sci-Fi into the darkest, loneliest corner of your store?

You mean you actually carry comics and graphic novels? Like on the shelf?

And you'll special order stuff for me and not sneer at me while you do it?

For the first time since I was a little kid I actually felt welcome in a bookstore. It was fantastic and I made a point to visit it every time I came home from college so I could stock up on pleasure reading for the semester.

As I've gotten (much) older and my tastes have changed I've found less and less by just browsing in their stores, but certainly more than I do when I browse their main competitor. Losing all of these stores will be a loss for many communities.


Take where I live: Prince George's County, Md. A suburb of Washington, D.C. Population of 863,420 and, according to Wikipedia, "the wealthiest African-American majority county in the nation". With the Borders stores closing, that sadly leaves all of two bookstores in the entire county. When the location in Landover shut down a few months ago it ended a series of weekly kids programs, teen book groups, adult book groups, an anime club, author readings, and a place many went just to read, write, and use their internet while sipping coffee. Say what you will about poor business decisions by corporate and ineffective competition, but around here I know book lovers will feel a real sense of loss when these stores shrivel up.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

This past week I read a new book---actually new to English readers----put out by Top Shelf called Lucille. Written and drawn by french cartoonist Ludovic Debeurme, Lucille looks at the lives of two teenagers as they both struggle with very difficult situations. For reasons that are explored quite well in the book but I won’t go into here, Lucille herself is severely depressed and an anorexic. Arthur faces all kind of complicated emotions, since he was the final albeit unintentional catalyst that caused his father to lose his job as a fisherman and take his own life. Arthur and Lucille meet randomly, join forces and set out on the road together on a European tour, forcing them to discover themselves, discover one another and confront many of the issues they’ve kept bottled up for so long.

This little rant isn’t so much a review as it is a discussion with myself over some of the difficulties I sometimes struggle with when it comes to teen-oriented graphic novels. As far as topic and theme, Lucille is a fantastic book for teens. It explores some very difficult issues but in a manner that’s personal, moving and, perhaps most important for a teen book, accessible. Debeurme’s artwork seems simple, maybe even crude, at first. But it matches quite well with the story and there are some images that stab you right in the heart.

But there are two scenes in the book that portray man-on-woman oral sex. It’s not overly graphic but it’s certainly obvious what’s going on. Personally I don’t have a problem with it. There’s a purpose to both scenes and they play powerfully into Lucille’s disturbed psychology in a way that anyone who’s experienced abuse of any kind will certainly understand. So while I would love to be able to hand this book to teens coming into my library, especially any struggling with issues like these, I know doing so would likely get me in a big heap of trouble solely because of these two illustrations. Adapt this book to one of complete prose and fewer people would have any issue with the book. Heck, find a way to take out those two scenes without cutting the power of the book (which I don’t think is possible) and people would have a hard time arguing against this book in any way.To be fair, Top Shelf isn’t marketing this as a Young Adult/Teen book. And I don’t know that the creator intended it to be one, either. I don’t have an answer here, it’s just something I’m struggling with right now.