Borders Books: Corporate Media Heroin in Las Vegas, Part One

Moving into the next decade, we are being endlessly pummeled by journalists and pundits in the media attempting to sum up for us poor saps what the last ten years mean in the larger context – as if the last decade of credit markets gone mad followed by economic collapse needs a better academic summation than: we saw, we spent, we went broke.

A recent visit to a Borders book store in Las Vegas, Nevada, served as a stark reminder to me how much the collective culture has changed over the last ten years, and how the corporate media (and we, as willing consumers) have denigrated the art and craft of writing to the level of respect afforded to a perfume sample at a high-end department store, just another brand of corporate media heroin to be pushed.

Ten years ago it was not impossible or unthinkable to enter a chain bookstore and hunt down the rarest of beasts in the homogenized box store retail jungle: a cheerful and informative clerk who could prove helpful in discriminating between, say, a recognized Hemingway classic and a posthumously published work that contributes nothing significant to the author’s canon, surviving only as an ATM for the Hemingway estate. Such distinctions are important for a literary novice, lest they depart the store with a copy of True at First Light instead of Death in the Afternoon.

In the modern retail environment, with independent book sellers going the way of VHS video, the average book store clerk and cashier is little more than a slave to a corporate brand that hypes not only books but music, electronics, movies, and board games, as if all popular culture is interchangeable, housed under one deluxe, glass-domed roof for your shopping convenience (with the ubiquitous Starbucks or Seattle’s Best Coffee shop on-site for those clueless, caffeine-addled customers who confuse the functions of a book retailer with those of a lending library or a Beat-era bistro).

Las Vegas, where I have been exiled from my native California for the last three years, is a hell-bent, open-air insane asylum in the sand; any community whose revenue stream is primarily taken from the salt mines of vice is bound by any reasonable sociological measurement index to house more than its fair share of fragile and often violent egos.

It takes a certain moral flexibility to live here, a city built out of a mobster’s dream of a hedonistic playground for adults in the middle of nowhere. The failure of the city’s founders and future protectors to install some sort of fail-safe device in the face of a worldwide economic slowdown is reflected in the city’s current unemployment rate, hovering just above 13 percent as of this writing.

Like Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, the inhabitants of the town he put on the map do not trend toward self-realization; it should therefore come as no surprise that “full service” massage parlors outrank book stores by a staggering ratio in Las Vegas.

The 2010 Yellow Pages directory for Greater Las Vegas – including the neighboring communities of Boulder City, Henderson, and United States Senator Harry Reid’s hometown of Searchlight, Nevada – lists five full pages of massage parlors, including one page of listings for those seeking what is passively classified as “non-therapeutic” adult massage (contrary to popular misconception, prostitution is not legal in Clark County, where Las Vegas is situated).

Flipping through the alphabetical listings in the Greater Las Vegas Yellow Pages, one happens upon the listings for retail book dealers on page 278, sharing the page with bail bondsmen and booking agents.

The first six book dealers listed are the last retail establishments one would patronize for a copy of Moby Dick unless it’s the gay porn version on DVD, which can probably be found at either one of two Adult Superstores listed as “book dealers”, as well as Adult Supreme on South Main Street, Adult World on Valley View Boulevard, A Showgirl Video on the Strip, and A-Action Adult Books and Video, located in a part of town I would not recommend venturing to without an armed escort.

Continuing through the slim listings for book dealers (three small columns), one discovers a sole B. Dalton Bookseller in Henderson; there are three Barnes and Noble retailers in the Vegas Valley and a Barnes and Noble College Bookstore at UNLV. The only other chain book retailer in the community is Borders Book Shop and Café, represented in Las Vegas by an impressive seven outlets, two of them Borders Express stores.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those box store haters. Barnes and Noble and Borders have their place in the retail market; in fact, many urban communities across the United States only have one choice for a book shopping experience: B&N, Borders, or stay indoors and take your business to Amazon or the aforementioned retailers in an online shopping mall.

This was the choice confronting me one Thursday afternoon in February when I urgently needed some reference books for several long-term projects I am working on (including my monthly literature column for PopMatters, currently on a short hiatus): order the books I need online and pay extra for expedited shipping or jump in a taxi cab and travel the three miles from my home to the local Borders Book Shop and Café in the Vegas suburb of Summerlin and have the much-needed material in my hands before sunset; opting for the latter choice sent me on an unexpected and remarkably unsettling journey into the heart of book marketing, new century style.


The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

'Curb Your Enthusiasm' S9 Couldn't Find Its Rhythm

Larry David and J.B. Smoove in Curb Your Enthusiasm S9 (HBO)

Curb Your Enthusiasm's well-established characters are reacting to their former selves, rather than inhabiting or reinventing themselves. Thus, it loses the rhythms and inflections that once made the show so consistently, diabolically funny.

In an era of reboots and revivals, we've invented a new form of entertainment: speculation. It sometimes seems as if we enjoy begging for television shows to return more than watching them when they're on the air. And why wouldn't we? We can't be disappointed by our own imaginations. Only the realities of art and commerce get in the way.

Keep reading... Show less

Wars of attrition are a matter of stamina, of who has the most tools with which to keep fighting. A surprising common tool in this collection? Humor.

The name of the game is "normal or abnormal". Here's how you play: When some exceedingly shocking political news pops up on your radar, turn to the person next to you, read them the headline and ask, "is this normal or abnormal?" If you want to up the stakes, drink a shot every time the answer is abnormal. If that's too many shots, alter the rules so that you drink only when things are normal—which is basically never, these days. Hilarious, right?

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.