Bookbanter Column: “Thank You Borders” (September 16, 2011)

Borders 1Window signs for Borders Roseville store #130 at the beginning of liquidation

I started working for Borders in October of 2005; last October I had my fifth-year anniversary working for the company; by the beginning of October this year Borders Books, Music and More will no longer exist.  It is estimated that around 10,700 people will lose their jobs when Borders closes its doors for good.  The original Borders bookstore opened in 1971 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  At its height in 2003, Borders had 1,249 stores; five years later it announced its intention to sell.  Two years of doubt and uncertainty followed, mainly for the Borders employees, knowing that the end would come and it was merely a case of when.  A revolving door of CEOs and constant changes to upper management couldn’t stem or slow the tide of inevitability.

It is truly the end of an era, not just with all of us losing our jobs, but as a community venue that so many people have attended over the years.  Whether it was for books, DVDs, music, coffee, Paperchase stationary items, or somewhere to enjoy a music performance or a signing on the weekend; Borders to many was a place to go and have fun.  And now there will just be a series of big empty locales across the country.

Borders 2
Employees putting up liquidation signs

Borders prided itself on carrying a wide variety of authors, especially during the better years when it wasn’t just bestsellers, but a large number of midlist authors that readers couldn’t find at Barnes and Noble, and wouldn’t be able to ever discover at  Independent bookstores do their best to carry many of these authors, but they don’t have the spread and range that Borders used to carry.  In a recent interview with bestselling author George R. R. Martin, he indicated that a number of these authors will have a lot of trouble selling their books, what with the small publishers already owed millions by Borders, as well as not having such a large retailer to carry their titles anymore.  The next few years are going to be interesting as readers, publishers, writers and booksellers look at what happens to this big hole in the book world.  Will and Barnes & Noble automatically fill it?  Will new independent bookstores begin to flourish across the country?  Will eBooks fill this great void?  Only the future will tell.

But Borders will not be quickly forgotten.  Many of the employees in the history of Borders – as well as current ones – have had many fond memories of working for this institution.  Many customers also have their own recollections of shopping at Borders, in fact at the beginning of the liquidation a customer came into the Folsom Borders asking if they could have a piece of the carpet once the store closed as it was there that she was proposed to; sadly she was not granted her wish as the carpet is needed for future tenants.  Shortly after the liquidation announcement, Sourcebooks publisher Dominique Raccah created a special Twitter hashtag, #ThankUBorders, where everyone and anyone could share their fond memories and happy times with Borders; each and every day there are many new entries under this hashtag.

I could go on for paragraphs and paragraphs, reminiscing about my job and experiences at this place called Borders that I will never forget.  I know on that last day, we’re going to need a lot of tissues.  For now, I invite you to read what a variety of authors and one publisher have to stay about the end of Borders . . .

Borders 3
Letters and messages received from caring customers

“I am saddened by the demise of any book purveyor, though of course there must be a sadness hierarchy — with the defunct independents outranking the bankrupt chains.  I long ago forgave Borders for shelving Stiff under Medical Reference, because they also chose the book for their Original Voices program, and that program was a nice a leg-up for a first-time author… “ – Mary Roach is the author of the bestselling Stiff, and most recently Packing for Mars.

“Borders was a wonderful chain, with terrific stores.  It’s a huge loss to all of us.  We mourn when a single bookstore closes, and rightly so — but when 700 close, it almost defies imagination.  Countless communities will have no local bookstore at all.  I’m truly sorry to see them go.” – Robert J. Sawyer is an award winning author; his most recent book is WWW: Wonder.

“Well, my thoughts aren’t particularly complicated. It’s a shame, even though we all sort of saw it coming. Fewer book stores – whether it’s a chain or an indie going bust – is bad for readers, and bad for writers. Fewer books available means fewer books sold. And for that matter, it means a number of (often) book-loving people are out of a job.  Perhaps the Borders closings will open an opportunity for independent stores to rise up and fill the void – particularly in some of the markets where Borders was the only bookstore in the area. I’m not sure how viable or likely that is, but a girl can hope.” – Cherie Priest is the author of the bestselling Boneshaker.

“I can only talk about our local Borders, which was always wonderfully supportive of our books and events. I think the loss of any brick-and-mortar store is bad news. I do know that in later years I had several conversations with people in the book business who didn’t understand some of Borders’ business practices. Unnecessary expenditures, including over-production of author interview videos (when a lot of people are just using a hand-held flip camera, for example). I don’t know what I think really. ” – Jeff VanderMeer is the author of Booklife and Finch.

“I think it sucks.  Leaving aside the fact that I still enjoy browsing real live bookshelves and this cuts down on my options for doing so, there’s the terrible economic impact this is going to have on the entire book industry.  We were already facing an economic system dangerously denuded of “retailer ecodiversity” — and now the few remaining apex predators, no longer impeded by competition, are free to ravage anyone they see as lower on the food chain:  namely, book producers and book lovers.  It’s already happening, and now will get worse.  Still, at least there’s one hope from the liquidation:  Borders might finally be able to pay back the millions of dollars in unpaid-for books it’s owed to publishers and authors for years now.” – N. K. Jemisin is the author of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and The Broken Kingdoms.

“Any bookstore closing, chain or independent, is a cause for regret. We may enjoy our e-readers of all kinds, but there’s nothing quite like the feeling of walking into a bookstore and wondering what you’ll discover today, just by being among books, picking them up, sharing that space.” – Guy Gavriel Kay is the bestselling author of Tigana and Under Heaven.

“As both an author and a reader, the news of any bookstore closing is a tragedy. But when I learned about Borders closing I was particularly saddened. Borders was instrumental in making my first book, The Lost City of Z, a success. Borders employees were some of the most devoted readers, who recommended books and passed them on to customers. I did a reading at a Borders in Westchester, New York, near where I live, and was so struck by the extraordinary staff. And so when I think about those people who worked there losing their jobs, and all the readers and authors who will lose such a great place to gather and share their love of books, I’m left without words.” – David Grann is the writer for the New Yorker and the author of the bestselling Lost City of Z.

“First of all, my heart goes out to all the hardworking Borders salespeople and managers who have lost their jobs. The demise of Borders is a sad day for them, for us authors, for publishing houses, for the reading public — and indeed for our country. Fewer bookstores mean fewer books sold. It’s that simple. And that impoverishes us all.” – Douglas Preston is the bestselling co-author of Cemetery Dance and Gideon’s Sword.

“This is one chapter we hoped would never be written. But today’s business climate doesn’t take a sentimental approach. There are so many forces that conspired to effect Borders’ demise, but it boils down to the fact that the business model changed. Borders didn’t. I feel bad for all my friends and terrific booksellers who are losing their jobs, and the readers who lose their neighborhood bookstore. Borders was more than just a store…in its heyday, it was a community’s social pulse…a happening place where people gathered for book signings and musical concerts. It’ll be sorely missed.” – Alan Jacobson is the bestselling author of Crush and Inmate 1577.

“I’m crushed and shocked.  The loss of Borders will have a resounding and lasting impact on the publishing market.  Worst of all, it leaves fewer outlets for readers to easily browse, purchase, and explore new books.  And the effect will reverberate throughout the economy as well:  from the dumping of the 400 stores’ retail spaces into an already fragile marketplace to the 11,000 employees seeking new employment during these tough times.  There is not a silver lining in any of this.”– James Rollins is the bestselling author of The Doomsday Key and The Devil Colony.

“Well, it’s funny, I remember when Borders was “cool.”  —Before they became intent on opening a location next to every indie in town and running them out of business. I was so sorry to see their business model change; they really became the opposite of how they started.  Borders was “sex-positive,” and gay-friendly in their infancy; back when it was considered risky. They were out front with graphic novels and comics.  Whereas some prominent booksellers were saying: “No title with the word SEX in it will be allowed to have a signing in our store!”— Borders would welcome me.   I think I first went to one in Chicago, that was fun. I also remember very well being in their Wall Street location a few months before 9/11. They had such a jolly time inviting me to “invade” the suits and have a reading there.  I wish I could remember names better, because obviously, the good times were all about the great individuals I met, who in many cases, had been booksellers for years, at every kind of store. I hope I keep seeing them in the future!” – Susie Bright is the bestselling author of Big Sex Little Death, as well as the editor for The Best American Erotica.

“For any trade publisher the loss of Borders means that print runs will drop, in some cases by quite a lot for some categories in which Borders did well, which will then put pressure on unit costs and retail prices and profit margins. The knock-down effect would include loss of employees, fewer output, and more. And if this is the direction of chain stores, with indications that B&N will soon follow in five years, at least with attrition, as leases expire, then we could see a situation where publishers are either put out of business entirely or transitioned to ebook business models in order to save themselves. It’s a brave new world, but it’s anyone’s guess how brave and new it’s going to be.” – Sean Wallace is the editor and publisher for Prime Books.

“I think it’s a sad day when thousands of people lose their jobs and the ability of the consumer to browse through books in person becomes even more limited.” – Amber Benson is the author of Death’s Daughter and starred as Tara in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

“The closing of Borders leaves an enormous void in the book world, not only physically but also spiritually. The professional implications to the publishing industry aside, there’s something about the experience of stepping into a book store that can’t be duplicated by browsing books on If the other brick-and-mortar stores suffer the same fate as Borders, then we will have lost a fundamental piece of our culture.” – S.G. Browne is the author of Fated and Breathers.

“I’ll miss Borders.  The closest bookstore to me right now is a Borders.  It’s in a local shopping center that has a movie theatre, and nearly every time I go to the movies I go in there to shop.  But that’s just the tiny little sliver of my personal regret.  Thousands of people are losing their jobs.  Big shopping centers will have massive empty real estate that will be hard to lease, and the cities and towns won’t be getting the taxes those businesses generate.  Of course, even that is only one aspect of the loss taking place with Borders flaming out.  Doubtless it will hasten the rush toward digital books as people have a harder time finding a bookstore.  The long term picture–what publishing will look like a decade from now–is unclear.  Perhaps once the conversion to digital is complete, or nearly so, that will create jobs and opportunities for writers.  But in the short term, we’ll have to navigate carefully as the industry continues to undergo its metamorphosis.” – Christopher Golden is the author of numerous books including The Myth Hunters and The Map of Moments with Tim Lebbon.

“Borders was the only new book store near my house when I was a kid.  I spent so many hours there.  Borders was the bookstore that always had the book I wanted, that always had the people who knew what I was talking about.  When I started publishing my own books, Borders was the bookstore that happily invited me in to sign and read and be a part of the bookstore dream.  I miss my local stores so much.  I can’t believe the whole chain is going away.  It’s a loss to me as a writer, to me as a reader, and to me as a little girl who just wants to walk into a bookstore and be amazed.” – Seanan McGuire is the author of Late Eclipses and Feed under Mira Grant.

Halloween Recommended Reads

We’re coming up on Halloween once again when everything goes spooky and dark, and we like to get scared by things.. Well, here’s a Halloween story I wrote and a list of recommended reads for kids and adults of books that will really give you some shivers . . .

Click on the image below to read the free Halloween Story

A Halloween Story


And now some recommended Halloween reads to chill your bones and make your blood freeze . . .


Among the Ghosts Coraline The Graveyard Book

Halloween Tree Rot and Ruin


Neverland I am Not a Serial Killer Feed Horns
Death Troopers
The Strain The Terror The Living Dead
Living Dead 2
World War Z Full Dark No Stars Handling the Undead
Illustrated Man Handling the Undead Handling the Undead Handling the Undead

“Serpent’s Storm” by Amber Benson (Ace, 2011)

Serpent's Storm

In the third installment about the daughter of Death from Amber Benson Calliope Reaper-Jones is really put through the ringer.  Readers not familiar with the earlier books will feel lost in Serpent’s Storm, as it is severely lacking in structure and logical direction, but for those who look forward to seeing what Callie is up to next, they’ll enjoy this next adventure.

Things certainly heat up right from the start as the book opens with a pretty graphic sex scene between Callie and her hunk she can’t get enough of, Daniel.  But after that brief moment of happiness, a silly argument ensues, and things quickly go downhill as she learns of some very troubling news that, if true, will completely change her life.  Not knowing where to really go next, Calli finds herself going from bad to worse real fast, as those she thought she could trust and love turn against her.  Plus her sister who she thought safely behind unbreakable bars is now somehow free.

Serpent’s Storm lacks a coherent plot, jumping from place to place without apparent reason, as the reader continues to wonder what exactly is going on and why; Calliope Reaper-Jones’s eccentricities become unbearable at times.  This may have something to with the series originally planned as a trilogy and then getting extended with more books; nevertheless, readers will see a development in Callie from her early days in Death’s Daughter, as Benson looks to kick everything up a notch.  At the end of Serpent’s Storm, readers will be left wondering where Callie will be going next.

Originally written on April 10, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

02/15 On the Bookshelf . . . “Serpent’s Storm” & “WWW: Wonder”

Serpent's Storm Wonder

Ahh, the next two sagas in two series.  We have the next installment of the entertaining Calliope Reaper-Jones series, after Death’s Daughter and Cat’s Claw by Amber Benson.  And the conclusion of the fantastic WWW trilogy from Robert J. Sawyer, after Wake and Watch.

The Li’l Depressed Boy Among the Ghosts: An Interview with Sina Grace

Sina Grace

Sina Grace

Sina Grace is an artist and illustrator who has published Cedric Hollows in Dial M For Magic, about a sorcerer sleuth in Orange County, and is working with S. Steven Struble on The Li’l Depressed Boy. Most recently he has illustrated the book Among the Ghosts, written by Amber Benson.

Alex: When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

Sina: I think the real question is: when did I know I want to be a storyteller?  I kind of always knew I never had the chops to call myself an artist, because my sister studied it so formally and was in rigorous art programs from high school through graduate school… but to get to the short of it: I was re-drawing and re-telling fairy tales and fables at the age of four on old Xerox paper.  I was always drawn to stories.  Further proof: in fifth grade, my intended career was “comic book illustrator.”

Alex: Who are some of your heroes who influenced you?

Sina: Right now, I die over Craig Thompson.  I look at the work he and Chris Ware do- and by hand at that- and it reminds me that I can always push harder.  I fawn over the artists of the Die Brücke movement (the only time I’ll be super snobby!).  Then there’s Arthur Rackham, and nowadays I absorb all of the Skybound artists: Cory Walker, Ryan Ottley, Charlie Adlard, Jason Howard, Ransom Getty, etc.  Seeing their artwork day in and day out shapes how I draw.

Alex: What was the first book you published and how did it happen?

Sina: In high school I did a zine called The Roller-Derby Robo-Dykes vs. The Cannibals.  It was partially as a project for my econ class, and then it was also to prove that I could finish a comic from start to finish.  I think PRISM has a few copies of it.  I actually did two printings of that book!

Alex: Do you like to write as well, or do you prefer doing artwork?

Sina: If I have a story to tell, I will go out there and tell it.  The past year I’ve really dedicated myself to working with other writers and telling their stories, and it’s been sincerely great, and helpful in learning how to write for myself.  At the end of the day, I would rather be my own boss, but being someone else’s employee helps my work ethic.

Alex: How would you define your style?

Sina: Amateurish!  Hah… I would say cartoony with attention to little details.

Alex: Do you have a preference to what tools you like to use?

Sina: I use micron pens, smooth Bristol boards, and my life would be over if I ever lost access to these Pentel brush pens a classmate showed me during a life drawing lesson.  Seriously, it’s like having a decent brush that you can take with you anywhere!

Alex: How did you get involved with Amber Benson and Among the Ghosts?

Sina: We had been friends for a few years, and she had gotten me Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials for Christmas one year.  As a thank you, I did a drawing of the protagonist Lyra with her polar bear buddy Iorek.  She liked it so much, that when she decided to push forward with pitching Among the Ghosts, she called me and asked if I would do a few pictures with the proposal.  That afternoon I started doing a ton of drawings of this little girl I hadn’t met, and all the ghosts she would be attending school with.

Alex: What was your process for illustrating the book?

Sina: Amber sent me the first draft of the novel, and I found moments that spoke to me, or that seemed interesting to have visualized, and would doodle those out for her approval.  To her credit, she has never once rejected anything (if you can, do a book with Amber, it’s the best!).  Once we had editors, they had me send a list of illustrations I wanted to do with short descriptions.  Once those were approved, I sent in detailed sketches.  There would be some back and forth on notes, and at that point I would work on the final art board.  We got lucky because our editors loved the book and only wanted to make everything as awesome as it could be, so their notes were sincere and only made the book better.  They saw what Amber and I were trying to do, and they were not working against that.

Alex: Do you confer a lot with the publisher and/or with Amber Benson

Sina: In general, or with the book?  Heh!  In both regards: yes.  I love the people I worked with at Simon and Schuster, and it was super rewarding to have them guide the illustrations.  Same goes for Amber.

Alex: How would you compare illustrating a novel to doing a comic?

Sina: A novel was a lot more work because there were more people to answer to.  In comics, I’ve either self-published, or been a part of anthologies, or worked with Image… and every single one of those avenues is very hands-off.  A novel allows you to do awesome illustrations and work around your weaknesses because you’re selling single iconic moments, whereas comics demand a certain fluidity and ability to draw EVERYTHING.

Alex: Do you know if there will be a sequel to Among the Ghosts?

Sina: I can’t say yet.  People seem to like the book, and the drawings, so my hope is that I will be involved if there is a sequel.

Alex: Can you talk about your future projects?

Sina: I have a new comic book series I am drawing coming out February 9 from Image Comics called The Li’l Depressed Boy that I’m super excited about!  Then I am working on a new graphic novel called Not My Bag, which chronicles retail hell in a very Black Swan fashion (pun intended).

Alex: If you had the choice, what would you like to do most in your work?

Sina: I want to continue doing the kind of stuff I did in Among the Ghosts, where the lines were dense, and the art was still whimsical.  Honestly, I don’t know how I pulled off some of the stuff I did in that book.  Blame it on the author.

Alex: What do you like to do in your spare time?

Sina: I go to coffee shops and draw.  Hobbies and stuff include reading books, and going to concerts and stuff.  Also, I’m that Los Angeles guy who loves seeing movies in the theatre and making a night of it.  Pretty lame stuff.

Alex: Do you have any advice for up and coming artists?

Sina: You’re always a student.  There’s no questioning that.  The minute you admit you have more to learn and are willing to work on improving—that is when you will actually make leaps and bounds.

Alex: What is your favorite TV show and/or movie?

Sina: I loved Pushing Daisies.  That show is the perfect example of how you can push every single aspect of your production – the music, the sets, the costumes, the acting- to the limits in order to create the best looking product.  R.I.P.

As for movie… Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, without a doubt.
Among the Ghosts

“Among the Ghosts” by Amber Benson (Aladdin, 2010)

Among the Ghostsstarstarstarstar

Amber Benson takes a break from Calliope Reaper-Jones and tells an enchanting little story for the younger folk.  In the style of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and Graveyard Book, Benson creates a unique world of fun characters in a very interesting place, with just enough scariness to keep young readers on the edge of their seats.

Noleen-Anne Harris Morgan Maypother, better known as Noh, is a strange little girl who likes her time to herself; her inquisitive and investigative nature makes her wiser beyond her years, and it seems like fate when she ends up visiting and staying with her aunt who works at the gothic and enchanting New Newbridge Academy.  Noh arrives early before the start of school where there are only teachers and no students yet to walk its high, echoing halls.  But this is a dream come true to her: a giant empty school, like an ancient castle, asking to be explored, filled with mysteries and enigmas.

And then there’s the West Wing, which mysteriously burned down.  As Noh gets to know some of the teachers, she also meets some kids her own age, which shouldn’t be possible since classes haven’t started yet.  It doesn’t take Noh long to realize that these kids are actually all ghosts.  The really strange thing is that you should only be able to see ghosts if you are one too.  And then there’s something that seems to be taking the ghosts, making them disappear for good.

Amber Benson seems to have found a perfect niche with Among the Ghosts, using a simple but descriptive and colorful language style that will keep any reader hooked and interested, as well as providing a compelling mystery that serves to compel her protagonist to find out what’s going on, as well as force the reader to keep reading until the very last page.

CLICK HERE to purchase your copy from Bookshop Santa Cruz and help support BookBanter.

Originally written on October 6 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Cat’s Claw” by Amber Benson (Ace, 2010)

Cat's Clawstarstarstar

Calliope Reaper-Jones is back . . . sort of.  Actually, she just wants her life to get back to normal, to do her stressful, fast-paced job, and live in the normal world, but of course that’s not going to happen.  In Death’s Daughter, Calliope ended up owing the three-headed guardian of Hell, Cerberus, a favor, and now he wants to collect on that.  After being forcefully summoned to stand before Cerberus, she is offered a deal: to find a an ancient Egyptian architect who has gone missing.  She only has so much time to complete this task: if she succeeds, her debt will be filled and she’ll get to keep Runt, the cute offspring of Cerberus who Callie adopted; if she fails, she will have to take over Cerberus’s job as the guardian of the gate of hell.

Cat’s Claw continues Calliope’s adventures from our world into the underworld and beyond – even traveling through time at one point – as Amber Benson continues to have fun with the world she’s created.  While this sequel lacks a little of the depth and complexity of Death’s Daughter, it’s nevertheless a fun romp into an interesting fantasy that plays around with mythology and history.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on March 22nd 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.

Goal Achieved: “I’m on the cover of a book!”

Today I discovered I’ve achieved one of my goals.  I’ve been reviewing books now for over ten years, starting in 1999 for the Long Beach Union.  During the month of March I will likely hit the 300 review mark for the BookBanter site, and while my initial goal with reviewing books has always been to critique what I’ve read and then to interest and entertain (and in some cases warn) readers about various books, I have also been looking to gain a popularity and notoriety with my book reviews, and now with my BookBanter podcasts.  And now I’ve achieved another goal in getting a quote of one of my reviews not only mentioned in a book, but featured on the front cover, which is more than I could wish for.

The book in question is the recently released Amber Benson’s Cat’s Claw, the sequel to Death’s Daughter which I reviewed for the Sacramento Book Review almost a year ago.  Here’s the review, and below is an enlarged photo of the book cover with a quote from my review on it.

Cat's Claw

This is great for the Sacramento Book Review, but also makes me feel pretty great.

And the longer quote featured on the first page is: “Amber Benson does an excellent job of creating strong characters, as well as educating the reader on some great mythology history . .  a fast-paced and very entertaining story.”

Feeling pretty psyched right now.

And for anyone interested in revisiting, or perhaps checking out for the first time, my interview with Amber Benson, click here.