The Lonely Writer’s Companion
Where Have All the Bookstores Gone?

"I was so stunned by what greeted me."

I needed a new Rand McNally Road Atlas, having recycled my circa 1999 edition when we moved last summer. So off I headed to the closest Barnes & Noble Bookstore.

It had been a while since I’d been there, but I was so stunned by what greeted me, I turned into a walking cliché and stopped in my tracks. Front and center was a huge Nook counter. It makes sense to push the e-book delivery device, but the display and counter were so egregious, I felt as if I’d walked into the nearby Total Wine that was once a Borders.

Once I’d recovered my bearings, I cut to the right of Nookville toward where the travel section was. Or rather, had been. What I found instead were far more widely spaced racks containing everything but books. Nook holders. Book lights. Candles. Fancy notebooks. Games. Legos. More games. Collectibles. Jigsaw puzzles. And more games.

Okay. Maybe they’d moved the maps closer to the magazine wall, which still spanned a reassuring half wall-length. As a magazine lover, I was happy to find the racks still filled with a variety of choices (of which I chose two). But no maps.

I continued toward the back of the store, cutting through much-reduced fiction, mystery, and science fiction departments, then passing a much-expanded Rosetta Stone rack. I skirted the children’s section only to realize that it had spilled, in toys, games, stuffed animals, and mysterious boxes of interactive somethings, into what was once history and biography. I made a brief stop at the one shelf left for architecture and home design (my not-so-secret passion), scanned the New Age shelves for my own Complete Idiot’s Guides as I breezed past (yes, there they were), and arrived in a sea of remainders that stretched all the way to the front of the store.

I’d gone full-circle without finding the travel section.

"The old, centrally located customer service desk was unpersoned, so I got in line at the Nook counter. "

The old, centrally located customer service desk was unpersoned, so I got in line at the Nook counter. “I’m looking for a Rand McNally,” I told the young woman when it was my turn.

“A what?”

“A US road atlas.”

“Row atlas?”

“It has road maps of each state.”

She squinted at me. “Don’t you have GPS?”

“Well, yes, but I just love those old maps when I’m traveling solo.”

She shrugged, and with a, “Sorry,” dismissed another dinosaur from her digital domain.

When I got back in my car, I switched the dashboard display to GPS. It was as annoying as ever (although, yes, it has on occasion served me well), so I tapped it back to energy consumption (it’s a hybrid—it’s fascinating to see whether I’m running on gas or battery). Then, as I pulled out of the parking lot, I spotted it: the big gas station/mini-mart/car wash across the street.

The Rand McNally’s were in a rack right by door. I selected a lovely spiral-bound one that will lie open nicely on my passenger seat as I travel next month, each state’s map large and detailed. I also bought two lottery tickets, which I seldom do, but of course I didn’t win a thing.


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Find Your Story,
Write Your Memoir

by Lisa Lenard-Cook
and Lynn C. Miller
Buy This Book via

PEN-short-listed author Lisa Lenard-Cook’s most recent book is Find Your Story, Write Your Memoir (University of Wisconsin Press), which she co-authored with Lynn C. Miller, with whom she co-founded of ABQ Writers Co-op (, creating community in New Mexico for writers everywhere. She's an editor of the literary magazine bosque, on the faculty of the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference, and the Board of Narrative Arts Center in Santa Fe. Website: