Doug, a longtime employee of Borders, died recently of prostate cancer. Whenever I pass the old Borders, now a Babies R Us, I think of him. He was in my Latin class, and, unlike some of my students, knew my name.
When I saw him at Barnes and Noble last fall, he was sitting in a comfortable chair reading Neal Stephenson’s Reamde. He looked thinner and older, but still wore his hat. (He wore it even when he bicycled.)
“You’re not into hard sci-fi, are you?” He asked. He told me Stephenson was from Ames, where Doug had lived for many years.
He confided he had dropped out of our class abruptly because he was diagnosed with cancer. I was shocked, didn’t know if this meant he was dying, said I was sorry.
Couldn’t I have bought him Stephenson’s book? Seemingly not.
He described the last days of Borders, the changing book culture, how Borders stopped selling Loebs and reduced its stock, and then began hiring young beauties to replace the bibliophiles who hand-sold books.
He knew the whole history of Borders.
I thought he was the manager. No.
Over the years he quoted the first line of Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind, chatted about Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Sarantine Mosaic (still on my TBR), and guaranteed I would like George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones (so maybe I’ll read that this weekend).
He also read history.
One of my favorite moments in class was when we were talking about Wolf Hall and another student said he’d bought it for his Kindle.
“Traitor!” Doug said.
He was adamantly leftist, so I’ve posted his picture on the left.
At a caucus in 2004, he told Vote for America,
To me, democracy has always been neighbors and fellow citizens getting together face-to-face to talk about it. In a sense, the actual amount of commitment you have to have to come out here makes you think about it and makes you value it more.”
I will vote early and often for Obama on his behalf. (I am joking: I will vote once on his behalf.)
I will now read George R. R. Martin.
Luv ya, Doug! You were the most enthusiastic bookseller in town.