I’m a Vulture

With Borders entering bankruptcy, they’re holding sales at the 200-some stores that will be closing. It’s not exactly a fire sale, as I found out yesterday when I drove to the Borders in Ann Arbor that’s closing (it’s the one located at the Arborland mall).

There are signs in the windows and hanging from the ceiling and shelves declaring everything is 20% – 40% off regular price. Which is great for paperbacks, kids books, and even a Ghirardelli chocolate-caramel candy bar I picked up. But not so good for music DVDs or best-selling hardcovers. Especially since all sales are final. So if the DVD or CD you could have bought for even less at a music store, Best Buy, or Target has a scratch then you are, as we used to say in the neighborhood, “shit out of luck.” Also, none of the e-readers (Kobo, Velocity Cruz, or Sony) were included in the sale.

The checkout line was very long. I waited close to a half-hour it seemed to buy the books (and bar of chocolate). A couple of people in the line next to me wondered whether the workers at the registers were going to ask us where we were weeks and months ago, to keep the stores open? None did when I paid for my loot.

Here is what I bought,

What’s Wrong Little Pookie? by Sandra Boynton
Are You My Mother? by P. D. Eastman
Olivia Takes a Trip by Ellie O’Ryan
There’s a Wocket in My Pocket by Dr. Seuss
In Search of Lost Time, Vol. 1, by Proust (Modern Library Edition)
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Tales (Hardcover)
Ghirardelli Milk Chocolate and Caramel bar

The first two were for my toddler daughter. The next two were for my son who is in kindergarten. The next three were for me, though my wife (as I had thought) wants to read the Atwood. The last was for my wife, the Big Buffy fan in the house. It’s an anthology of all the Tales of the Slayers comics.

I toyed with buying Vol. 2 of In Search of Lost Time, but when it comes to Proust I’m a commitment-phobe.

Since I had driven all the way to Ann Arbor (there is no Borders in the Lansing area, though we do have Barnes & Noble and a very good local chain in Schuler’s), I stopped at Trader Joe’s to pick up a few things. Lansing also does not have a Trader Joe’s. Nor does it have a Whole Foods.

When I first arrived at the store, the checkout line wound from the front of the store to the back and then about a quarter of the back towards the front. By the time I took my place in line, it only went to the back of the store. There was still plenty of merchandise in the store, including Legos. I was tempted to pick up some for my son, but he has more than enough right now.

P.S. I just finished the first part of Don Quixote. The parts that center on Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are great. The parts where they relate the tales of Cardenio, the story of the captured gentleman with the Moor-bride-to-be, etc. bored me a bit. Probably because they seemed fairly standard tales of romance and adventure that would not have been out of place word-for-word in Bocaccio’s Decameron.

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Borders is Bankrupt

What was expected to happen has happened: Borders filed for bankruptcy protection yesterday.

Borders, which has 6,100 full time staff, operates 508 namesake superstores as well as a chain of smaller Waldenbooks stores.

The company said it would close about 30 percent of its stores in the next several weeks and plans to continue to pay its employees.

Borders’ largest unsecured creditors include major publishers that provide the books it sells. Borders owes Pearson PLC’s (PSON.L) Penguin $41.2 million, Hachette Book Group USA $36.9 million, and CBS’s (CBS.N) Simon & Schuster $33.8 million, according to court documents.

Everyone involved with Borders is going to be hurt by this, from employees to publishers to landlords.

I’m not sure what the chain can do at this point to turn around its fortunes. Smarter, more business-minded people I’m sure are working on this situation. But between competition from Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and the emerging (and fast-growing) e-book market, there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of room left for a major bookstore chain of any kind. It’s as if the bookstore chain model no longer works in the current market.

The Doctrine of Internet Poetry

From the doctrine of INTERNET POETRY,

long live blogs: long live free literature: long live public domain and creative commons: long live self-publishing: long live torrents: long live free pdf’s: long live pay-what-you-want: long live image-based poetry: long live the internet:

So you can either wait with bated breath for the New Poetry Revolution or you could,

Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you spawned to replace yourselves.

[Hat tip: Bookslut]]

What’s Your Excuse?

From Wired,

Aleksander Doba, a 64-year-old native of Poland, took off from Dakar, capital of the west African nation of Senegal, back on Oct. 26. After 98 days, 23 hours, 42 minutes at sea, Doba and his custom 23-foot-long, 39-inch-wide human-powered kayak landed at Acaraú, a city on Brazil’s northeast coast. The trip covered some 3,320 miles in all, and Doba became only the fourth known person to accomplish such a feat, and the very first to do it nonstop.

A 64-year-old man kayaked alone across the Atlantic ocean, putting us all to shame with all the things we say we’d like to do but don’t do.

There’s your motivation for the day. 😉

Some Indian History

Last fall my friend Soma lent me two books: The Last Mughal by William Dalrymple and The Glass Palace by Amitva Ghosh. It was only around the Holidays that I finally got around to reading both books.

The Last Mughal is nonfiction. The Glass Palace is a novel.

Before I read them, my knowledge of Indian history consisted of what I vaguely remember from having seen the movie Gandhi when I was about 12 years old. So I was in for quite the education. Each book tells a very different but engaging story. Together, they provided me with an excellent lesson in Indian history.

By chance I read The Last Mughal first. Dalrymple tells the story of the 1857 Delhi Uprising/Rebellion (depending on your perspective) and of  Zafar the last Mughal Emperor.

Dalrymple shows how the uprising wasn’t an organized uprising at all. It was disparate, mutually-distrustful, groups who were angry with the British that only coalesced around Zafar because they needed a leader. At the time of the uprising Zafar was in his 80’s and a figurehead, whose power was limited to the walls of the Red Fort in Delhi where he still “ruled.” He was a reluctant and indecisive leader of the uprising having been drafted to the task by various leaders.

Though it is fact-heavy, Dalrymple’s account never feels like a mere listing of people and events, as some histories often do. He documents the personalities on both sides, providing plenty of historical context for them and their actions.

It was Indians, both Hindu and Muslim, who rebelled against British control. But it was also Indians, mainly those from Punjab, who beat back the uprising. Apparently, the Sikhs were still angry that the Mughals had martyred two of their leaders over 200 years before. The British, far outnumbered by the native population, exploited the divides already on the Indian subcontinent to their advantage. I knew this is what the British did, but I hadn’t known exactly how it was practiced.

After the uprising was beaten down and many of its participants and instigators killed, Zafar was put on trial, convicted, and sent to live in exile in Rangoon where he died.

I’m glad I read The Last Mughal first because there are many casual references to the Delhi Uprising in The Glass Palace. This made it possible for me to understand some of the references by the narrator and some of the characters to the Uprising such as, “passing around chapatis” and Zafar’s exile in Rangoon.

Starting in Burma, going to India, back to Burma, and on to Malaysia, to Kolkata, Inida, and ending in Burma in the 1990’s, Amitav Ghosh’s story in The Glass Palace is epic. I had no idea just how entangled the histories of India, Burma, and Malaysia were thanks to their British rulers. In addition to ruling the three territories, the British imported Indians into Burma to work in the teak business and Malaysia to work on the rubber plantations.

Ghosh begins with the infatuation that a boy has for girl who is a servant of the Queen of Burma. As the story begins the Burmese monarchy is defeated and King Thebaw, his wife and children are captured and sent to live in exile on the west coast of India. (Yes, the British sent the last Mughal King to live in exile in Burma and sent the last Burmese King to live in exile in India.)

Ghosh’s story loosely follows the boy (Rajkumar) and girl (Dolly) as they grow up, finally meet again as adults, start a family, thrive, struggle to survive during World War II, and their offspring make their way to the end of the 20th century. Ghosh’s strength, and why he’s able to pull off such a multifaceted story, is that he is able to describe the panorama of history just as skillfully as he is the individual struggles of a person caught in an unfulfilling marriage or stuck in the wild churn of history.

Reading The Glass Palace made me want to read more books by Amitav Ghosh.

Reading both books made me want to learn more about India. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll even get a chance to visit India.