Finding copies of your own work on the internet in free-for-the-taking form is just a fact of twenty-first century life. In addition to snagging a paperback copy from an actual store or e-store, you can find my work in the form of Googlebook, or simply as an uploadable zip or PDF file. You can borrow it from someone else or buy it used. None of which benefits this author financially, but it still gives you the chance to read my work. I used to feel like complaining about this phenomenon, and did, but losing battles of any kind no longer interest me. Writing does, and it always will.
I’m still a good old fashioned paper-copy book buyer. I buy new, and I too buy used, haunting the stacks at Allison The Bookman in North Bay with my bookworm-partner-in-crime. The store just celebrated 40 years in business (we missed the party) and is going strong in downtown North Bay. The criteria for used books is (1) out of print (2)rare crazy edition (3)author is not Canadian which of course means he or she is automatically rich and successful. (Snort.) When I’m in Toronto I shop new, mainly because I have access to great independent bookstores (there are some left) like Type and Book City. They have great stock and smart staff, so leaving the shop with that happy feeling—and an armload of book-happiness—isn’t difficult at all.
On a recent trip to my hometown, Orillia, I got to see the spanky new public library. It’s a thing of beauty and I really wished I could partake of the bounty, but alas, I was there to look and look only that day. And to use the (free) internet to catch up on business. If you get the chance, visit the branch. It’s filled with light and air, jammed with books and bears no resemblance to the airless building where I nevertheless spent MANY happy hours of my childhood and youth becoming “well-read.” Back in the day, when the card catalogue was something the librarian appeared to have memorized.
I’m a card-carrying member of the West Nipissing Library system now. Last week I experienced the thrill of the find. The random, no reason-for-it-wasn’t-looking find that is the heart of soul of book-loving thrill of the find. There was time before an appointment, the library was close and open, and I wandered in. I headed for the English fiction section, since a recent attempt to read Marie Claire Blais in French proved challenging without a dictionary. (Bit rusty, the French part of my brain.) And scanned along, happy to be surrounded by books, the heart rate thrumming a little faster as a result. “An Arsonist’s Guide To Writers’ Homes in New England” popped out at me. Not literally, although the coral red cover and snazzy spine are proof that book designers have a very important role in the choosing process and always have. Brock Clarke. Never heard of him. This is not something that has ever stopped me from buying or selecting a book. Ever. Because there was a time when people said “Ernest WHO?” in book shops and libraries; when people could not distinguish between Margaret Atwood and Margaret Laurence. I opened the jacket flap to see if the copy writer for Chapel Hill Books would lure me further, although based on the title alone, I was IN.
Several happy hours later, the dark and laugh out loud funny world of Brock Clarke reinforced my gratitude for libraries, the random nature of book-loving and the concept of being wide open to what you are meant to find, both in life and on bookshelves. I had really needed a good laugh, something unlike anything I had ever read, something only one person could have dreamt up, and I found it in “An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England.” Because what is more terrifying to a writer, whose life is built of paper, than a fire? As it happens, the writers’ homes in this novel are historic, and not much mention is made of burning manuscripts since those are safely stowed in archives (another passion of mine). In fact, the houses Clarke “burns down” with his imagination are all still standing in the real world. That alone made me grin: his audacity riding just this side of dangerous. Had he chosen to “burn down” notable places of religious worship the book would have raised well, holy hell.
It was a delicious few days of reading. Completely by accident, finding his work, and I now have several other books by Clarke to look forward to. Next to me on the sofa my partner was lapping up “Mary Coin” by Marisa Silver. We bought it new after hearing the author on Writers and Company on CBC Radio. That’s another thrilling way to find books, by letting Eleanor Wachtel lead you to them.
Reading: Paris 1919, Margaret MacMillan
Listening to: Essential Bob Dylan
Next month: a new (unpublished except here) short story.