Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Unscripted Idle

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The Unscripted Idle

I spent this past Saturday at Books & Company in Picton, under the auspices of Authors for Indies, and I came away feeling happy, but with a top note of frustration, because I passed the afternoon mostly talking to people, and by the time it occurred to me to browse a bit, I had to begin the two hour drive back to Peterborough, a town with much to recommend it, but which is without a bookstore of the size and quality of Books & Company.

The purpose of a good bookstore, of course, is to get a bit lost in its aisles, to take forks suggested by titles you hadn't realized you'd wanted but suddenly find yourself unable to live without. The best purchases in such places are always accidents, or happenstantial discoveries. I'd hoped, making the drive down to Prince Edward County that sunny morning, to have the chance to be open to such happy surprises, but circumstances prevented it. But then, these things almost never go as scripted. That's kind of the point.

Long ago, when I had some measure of disposable income and the time to devote to such luxuriously arcane pursuits, I hunted records by little-heard-of bands and long-dead jazz musicians. The key, I learned, was to go in without a plan. A vague wishlist, sure, those titles you'd been hoping to stumble upon for years, but the key benefit of such a list, I slowly learned, was that it gave one a place to start the hunt. Rarely did it yield something on that list, but it served to dig up all sorts of other sonic truffles.

Bookstores and record shops – like Bluestreak in Peterborough, where I have found a ridiculous number of Sun Ra titles I didn't even know existed, plus a copy of the Lounge Lizards' Voice of Chunk to replace the one stolen out of my house ages back – are the slow food of consumer entertainment. The megalithic online retailers have their purpose, if what you're wanting is to get only and exactly what you're looking for, to one-click the money right off your credit card, and get your goods delivered in minutes via supersonic droneship. They're pillars of the economy that's been built around us and to which we've mutely consented, and they're not going away. But it's heartening that, at least for the time being, they coexist alongside individualistic indies, frequently dark-aisled, poorly-catalogued, and staffed by something other than minimum-waged transient student workers (for whom, collectively, I wish to note, I have great affection, and among whose number I once counted, and who knows, may yet again).

Physical browsing in such a place – among inventory amassed by guesswork and chance, rather than finely-calibrated algorithm – is a rebellious act. It defies a culture increasingly centred on convenience. It says that it's okay to not have a specific goal in mind. It goes further to suggest that it's okay to turn off your phone, to be unreachable, to not have an immediate answer to every question. It's okay to not be able to get precisely what you're looking for at this very minute. It's okay to submit to the slow tumble of time and the lazy whims of chance and fluke discovery.

My latest book is about baseball, and those who know me – and really, why else would you be reading this? – are aware that one of the reasons I am drawn so unerringly to baseball is precisely because the game does permit so many great moments of inaction and serenity, that indeed though the current push is to streamline and punch up the game, it is still, at the level of its very DNA, prone to a baseline of slowed time that can sometimes fall somewhere between contemplative and tectonic. It encourages patience of a sort that feels increasingly rare. It's built on boredom. A slow afternoon at the ballpark is like an aimless tour through the aisles and bins of one of these stores. Maybe something memorable will happen. Maybe it won't. Come back again tomorrow.

I'm exhausted. Aren't you? Moments of idle are at a premium. When they happen, often, they're allotted, planned for, artificially set aside chunks of time. Kids are granted forty minute blocks of “spontaneous play.” I have trouble remembering a time in my life before to-do lists, but I do harbour vague memories that go back as far as my early teenagehood of reading things I'd never before heard of, of lying in the shaft of sunlight that streamed down from a perfect blue sky of a vacant springtime afternoon, meandering through my stack of books. All that unified the titles therein was that I'd found them on the shelves at Book Heaven in Ottawa. A few made an impression on me, though it's true to say that some of them were awful, and most of them I now forget. But aside from their content, they had a second point, a twin importance alongside their actual text, that being that my possession of them bore no discernible pattern. My path was messy and nonlinear. I was scattershot, and happily so. I try now to recreate that frame of mind, but it proves largely elusive. But my God, do you remember what it was like to not have a plan?

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Andrew Forbes

Andrew Forbes’s work has been nominated for the Journey Prize, and has appeared in The Feathertale Review, Found Press, PRISM International, The New Quarterly, Scrivener Creative Review, This Magazine, Hobart, The Puritan, All Lit Up, The Classical, and Vice Sports. He is the author of What You Need, a collection of fiction, and The Utility of Boredom: Baseball Essays. He lives in Peterborough, Ontario.

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