The Mall Issue
The most interesting thing about malls is what you can't find in them. There's never a good hardware store in a mall, for example, outside of Sears. For some insane but unspoken reason, almost no mall is connected to a grocery store. And since Borders exploded like a poorly maintained fertilizer silo, taking Waldenbooks with it, it's increasingly difficult to find a mall bookstore anywhere.
On Alderwood's large, glowing directories, the only listing for "Books" points to the Papyrus store over in Zone A. Their book selection is familiar to me. Not long after I first got my job as The Stranger's books editor, I started collecting review copies of awful "joke" books, many of which are compilations of content from amusing blogs available for free on the internet, into a pile that Stranger editorial director Dan Savage dubbed Hell's Lending Library. The library now takes up two and a half shelves at The Stranger's offices and includes titles like The Man Cave Book, Suburban Haiku, and Honey Badger Don't Care. It's intended as a monument to the hopelessly stupid side of the publishing industry, to remind me that not every book is a sacred object, that in fact some of the most popular books are not only bad but actively terrible. The bookshelf at Papyrus is like an annex of Hell's Lending Library. The one measly bookshelf is pretty much my worst nightmare: How to Poo at Work, Farts Around the World, Grumpy Cat, Porn for Women, Fifty Sheds of Grey, Darth Vader and Son. I'd rather Alderwood had no books than these particular books. If the firefighters in Fahrenheit 451 were to somehow appear and set this shelf ablaze, I wouldn't shed a tear.
I walk around Alderwood, despondent. Visually, the closest things to a bookstore are the calendar kiosks spread around the mall, particularly the desk calendars that have "pages" with "writing" on them. I imagine buying a page-a-day calendar and reading it from front to back in the food court, but nothing catches my fancy. There's a "Classic Dave Barry" calendar, right next to a "Senior Moments for 2015" calendar, just above the "Medical Bloopers" calendar. The rest of the paginated calendars are the same compilations of user-generated-content blogs you can find at Papyrus: "Passive-Aggressive Notes," "People of Walmart," "Awkward Family Photos," that damn Grumpy Cat again, scowling next to a Dalai Lama calendar, near the "What Cats Can Teach Us" and "Great Guns" calendars. It's a wasteland.
While trying to find some sign of literary life in Zone A, I walked into Anime World, at least expecting to find a bookshelf-sized wall of manga. There is a huge bookshelf, but it's groaning with DVDs; on the floor next to those are barely an armload of comics, faced out on a shelf. Again, no books would be less insulting than this scrap heap.
Hands down, the best bookstore in Alderwood is Urban Outfitters in Zone E. It doesn't carry enough titles to warrant alphabetization—instead, the books are spread on the top of one large table near the cash registers.
Urban Outfitters shares some stock with Hell's Lending Library, but it also, surprisingly, carries books that are mostly made up of pages of text telling stories from beginning to end: Lena Dunham's very good Not That Kind of Girl, Amy Poehler's terrible Yes Please. They share space with some beautiful and useful Phaidon and Taschen titles like The Twenty First Century Art Book and The Book of Symbols, as well as Lonely Planet's guide to Europe and, weirdly, a tall tower of Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild. If a nuclear bomb were to fall on Lynnwood and I had to burrow into Alderwood for a time while the fallout blew over the Rockies, I could probably keep myself occupied for a month or so on Urban Outfitters' book selection.
Waldenbooks used to be a great gateway bookstore, where suburban kids could first learn about the existence of a world beyond the mall—a whole society that, once they learned about its existence, they could gain free access to with a library card in any halfway decent American city. Waldenbooks is where I bought The Satanic Bible when I was an asshole kid, Kurt Vonnegut's Galápagos as a teenager, and Norman Mailer's Executioner's Song on the weekend I graduated high school. That's a steep learning curve, and while it's not a diverse representation of authors, it's at least a wide array of subjects. I have no doubt that a hapless teenager could be transformed into an avid reader from the launchpad provided by Urban Outfitters' scant selection, but it would be a hell of a leap.