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Books without Borders

(Original story by Paul Constant at The Stranger...)

"It's embarrassing now, but on the day that I was hired to work at Boston's flagship Borders store in 1996, I was so happy that I danced around my apartment. After dropping out of college, I had worked a succession of crappy jobs: mall Easter Bunny, stock boy at Sears and Kmart and Walmart, a brief and nearly fatal stint as a landscaper. A job at Borders seemed to be a step, at long last, toward my ultimate goal of writing for a living. At least I would be working with books. And the scruffy Borders employees, in their jeans and band T-shirts, felt a lot closer to my ideal urban intellectuals than the stuffy Barnes & Noble employees with their oppressive dress code and lame vests.

The fact that Borders offered me a full-time job, which allowed me to quit two part-time jobs (at a Staples and a Stop & Shop) and offered health insurance (that promised to help pay for my impending wisdom tooth extraction), was a pretty big deal, too...

Until suddenly, one day, it did feel like selling out. Because it was. Our displays were bought and paid for by publishers; where we used to present books that we loved and wanted to champion, now mediocre crap was piled on every flat surface. The front of the store, with all the kitchen magnets and board games and junk you don't need took over large chunks of the expansive magazine and local-interest sections. Orders came from the corporate headquarters in Ann Arbor every Sunday to change out the displays. One time I had to take down some of the store's most exciting up-and-coming fiction titles (including a newly published book that was gathering word-of-mouth buzz, thanks to our booksellers, called Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone) to put up a wall of Clash CDs. One month, for some reason, the cafe sold Ernest Hemingway–branded chai..."

Fair warning for the innocent in spirit: the tales of employees' after-hours shenanigans are decidedly R-rated.

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