Stephen King must be heartbroken.

I used to go to Borders.  I’d leaf through the coffee table books.  I’d listen to CDs at the listening stations.  I’d sit in a soft chair and read a book.  I’d have a cup of coffee.  I’d browse magazines.

See, I love to read.

I wouldn’t buy anything.  How could such a business afford to support customers like me, I wondered?

It turns out it couldn’t.

Especially not in a world of Google and Amazon.

But worry not.

We have libraries.

Borders has displays of best-sellers, horrible books with movie tie-ins.

Borders tells you what to buy.

Libraries encourage reading by subject, getting to know a particular subject, rather than getting a shallow view of a subject by the latest spin doctor which is put on display. 

Hawthorne once lamented the rise of best-selling twaddle for women: books as cheap soap-opera.  Books can even perpetuate cretinism: books, in themselves, are not a good, and this is something your average bookworm has trouble understanding.

Reading trash is still a trashy activity, and even worse is the half-educated person who actually thinks they know something.

The mind is just at good at deceiving its owner as bringing it information, and incomplete information is an excellent deceiver, for we don’t know when we have enough information; we don’t know when we are being deceived by information itself.

The only way to avoid being deceived by one’s mind is to use it as little as possible, and instead, embrace the cause and effect immediacy of the physical world: if one practices to cook by cooking, tasting and eating, a book will not fool that cook.  But if one learns to cook by consulting a book, how is the student to know if the book is wrong, or not?  One can see by this simple example that books are supplements to experience and not a substitute for them.  But the bookworm allows books to be a substitute for experience.

Theoretical science is not, as the mere bookworm might suppose, abstract, for to comprehend formulae, the understanding must literally travel through the sequences of the formulae, precisely as a piece of music, written out, in order to come alive, must be physically manipulated.  The partial information provided by a piece of music cannot deceive, as selected facts can, because the information of the musical piece is mathematical, and thus presents itself as an idea that already exists: the rigors of science, music and mathematics are based on re-discovery, and partake of immediate sensual understanding of physical qualites such as perspective, proportion, shape, duration, pitch and beauty.

The reader of mere fiction, who likes to participate in imagined gossip, is performing quite a different operation than the scientist, the mathematician, or the musician—active participants in the world, a world whose beauty is a concrete way into it.  No, the mere reader of fiction—and the gossip and half-lies of poorly written biography and history—is instead lost in that realm in which information is only partially given, and thus the fiction reader learns information in the manner that deceives, because the reader has no idea what information is missing. 

This misunderstanding of what true knowledge is creates your typical smug, ‘educated’ person, who has no real intellectual curiosity—their mind is built on reading fiction and slanted biography and history, in which missing information is the key element, and thus a true spirit of inquiry actually frightens them, since they are comfortable in their fiction-universe.

Certainly fiction-universes can make us comfortable, and those who condemn religion say it is merely a fiction of false comfort, but it is not for me to question fictions which make us happy; the point of this essay is Borders bookstore, and no one I personally know is a better person because of Borders bookstores; the books sold at Borders would not interest a scientific specialist or a connoisseur.  A true lover of knowledge would always prefer a good library, not a bookstore which piles books on display and serves a marketing/publishing empire which tells people what to read.

In their daily conversation, or in their jobs, none of us are helped by anything sold at Borders.   The half-knowledge of politics, economics, nutrition and science (which is useless and even harmfully deceptive) must be blamed, in part, on cynically marketed books, and the half-knowledge—unfortunately so often a point of pride—is actually worse than ignorance, and bookstores (like much of our so-called education) produces this insidious state of things.

It may be said that even trivial knowledge is good, because it can bring people together in a common atmosphere, and this is invaluable; let us grant this; but trivia can be found anywhere, not just in books; and a community can just as easily be brought together by trivial facts such as ‘our grocer has red hair’ as ‘the grocer in a book sold by Borders has red hair.’

Defenders of poetry and fiction will finally state that deception is the whole point in the fictive enterprise, and here is where  Aristotle and Plato (and the whole world) differ: the good in one philosophy is an evil in the other.  But this division aside, to reject Plato’s hard-nosed search for truth, and reduce everything to rhetoric, which either convinces, or does not, and so partakes of power, or does not; power being all, and truth nothing, is a falling off; indeed, but one that unfortunately supports all sorts of abstract, wasteful, superficiality which we usually dare not question, like books, poets, poetry, fiction, schools, and bookstores.

So you may have the person who fancies themselves ‘educated’ who puts down TV, because they get a little superior-feeling thrill by doing so.  Oh, those reality shows, they are such trashI read poetry, instead.  These are well-meaning folk, who have a vague idea what it is to affect a certain educated demeanor, but unfortunately their own ignorance is so massive, it over-shadows everything.

The work of the scientist, the musician, and the mathematician are physical necessities—they have no abstract properties.  The abstract belongs entirely to fiction—and the half-knowing bookworm.

Everyone likes a comfortable bookstore.  I lament the end of that.

But the dragons, vampires, half-baked science and history, the gossipy fiction?

I won’t miss that at all.


  1. February 20, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    Of course, states, counties and municipalities across the country are moving to shutter libraries and reduce hours, so we can’t count on libraries to pick up the slack so much anymore.

    While I much prefer to shop Politics & Prose, Busboys & Poets, and Bridge Street Books in Washington, DC than Borders, there are many communities for whom a Borders big box store is the only bookstore for a hundred miles or more. Just as we have “food deserts,” we also have a growing problem with “book deserts,” caused by local governments shutting down libraries and Borders and B&N shuttering stores.

    Borders is not as good as a quality indie store, owned by true believers, but I cannot be happy about the death or travails of any bookstore these days.

    • thomasbrady said,

      February 20, 2011 at 4:56 pm


      Yours is the general ‘common sense’ response, and true as far as it goes, but I wonder if you comprehended the gist of my piece?

      Half-knowledge is mostly a waste. Bookstores really won’t be missed as long as there are libraries, and I just don’t see libraries shutting down, but libraries must be championed more than bookstores; a small percentage of humans will always be truly curious, and there’s more information out there already than we can possibly absorb. Humans adapt, too; business-closings have to do more with the economy, and the economy’s bad because of too much half-knowledge, and so purveyors of half-knowledge are the first to go…there’s some justice in that…


  2. February 20, 2011 at 6:11 pm

    “I just don’t see libraries shutting down…”

    Tom–that is a politically naive statement and you should be able to realize it. I know you like to keep an air of being intellectually above the fray, but please engage your substantial critical talents more fully. We have significant swaths of idiots in this country now who have been programmed by the right-wing noise machine to view even police officers, fire fighters and the guys who stay out around the clock during blizzards to keep the roads clear as tax payer parasites.

    You think that those simpleton, low-information voters aren’t going to be chomping at the bit to cut off all funding for public and school libraries? They are already going after them. Moreover, it is clear to me that the billionaires pulling the strings behind the scenes of this populist austerity movement (a la the Koch brothers) are very keen on seeing the general public further dumbed down.

    Hopefully the libraries won’t shut down, but it will likely take a lot of action like we are seeing in Wisconsin this week to make sure that doesn’t happen.

    On the other hand, “Borders is closing.” meh…fuck Borders.

  3. Noochness said,

    February 20, 2011 at 6:39 pm

    Though money is short and times are hard,
    I’d be willing to pay for a library card.
    Here in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, library funding’s low
    Because the public school system takes most of the dough.

  4. thomasbrady said,

    February 20, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    Our public education system: five officials (principal, teacher, various counselors) filling a room to press upon me the need for my son to take powerful medication for ADHD, merely a typically restless child—I resisted their urging to put my boy on drugs, now at 11 years old he reads at a level beyond those five officials. I’m tired of the stupidity. Auto-didacts are always the smartest people. Education is a joke in this country, and driving people into debt. Science and hard work create wealth. I’m tired of politicians crying ‘education, education, education.’ We all want the same things, but politicians divide us. Democrats are not the problem; Republicans are not the problem; ignorance is the problem. You’re right, Briggs; I will not stoop to a divisive political conversation.

  5. Noochness said,

    February 20, 2011 at 11:32 pm

    In Anne Arundel County, Maryland,
    The libraries get 18 mil a year—
    The public school system gets
    Over one billion, I fear.

    The county’s yearly budget is two billion,
    The schools getting a 50 plus percentile—
    One percent goes to the library system—
    It almost makes me mental.

    Yes, I know, I should move if I’m unhappy—
    Just as parents should move if their local school is crappy
    Because they must utilize the ‘free’ school they are told—
    Shades of Soviet Russia, though the weather’s not as cold.

  6. July 24, 2011 at 11:24 am

    Lyrics to “Philosophy Of The World” by The Shaggs

    Oh, the rich people want what the poor people’s got
    And the poor people want what the rich people’s got
    And the skinny people want what the fat people’s got
    And the fat people want what the skinny people’s got

    You can never please anybody in this world

    The short people want what the tall people’s got
    And the tall people want what the short people’s got
    The little kids want what the big kid’s got
    And the big kids want what the little kid’s got

    You can never please anybody in this world

    Oh, the girls with short hair want long hair
    And the girls with long hair want short hair
    Oh, the boys with cars want motorcycles
    And the boys with motorcycles want cars

    You can never please anybody in this world

    It doesn’t matter what you do
    It doesn’t matter what you say
    There will always be
    One who wants things the opposite way

    It doesn’t matter where you go
    It doesn’t matter who you see
    There will always be
    Someone who disagrees

    We do our best
    We try to please
    But we’re like the rest
    Whenever at ease

    Oh, the rich people want what the poor people’s got
    And the poor people want what the rich people’s got
    And the skinny people want what the fat people’s got
    And the fat people want what the skinny people’s got

    You can never please anybody in this world

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