Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Bookstealing

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A few years ago my friend Sam and I went to hear Pico Iyer read/speak at the Blue Metropolis Literary Festival in Montreal. Afterward we were in the festival's pop-up bookshop, browsing the table of Iyer's numerous essay collections and travel memoirs, and a voice came booming down from above: "Stealing books?"

The voice belonged to George Bowering.

I don't know George Bowering, but my friend Sam is good in these sorts of situations, so he and our then-poet laureate got chatting while I stood there stupidly clutching a copy of The Global Soul. When the conversation was over, Sam and I left the Place des Arts -- and, walking down Ste-Catherine, I realized I had inadvertently shoplifted the book. George Bowering! What prescience! Or maybe he'd subliminally convinced me to do it?

There's a nice piece in Roberto Bolaño's Between Parentheses (reprinted in the NYRB) about stealing books. Bolaño refers to himself as a "book hijacker," which I like; he suggests the best way to steal a book is "[to carry] it out in plain sight of all the clerks," a method itself stolen from an Edgar Allan Poe story.

Inspired by Bolaño, last summer I stole my first book on purpose, Jesse Ball's The Curfew, from a Chapters in downtown Ottawa. I more or less just walked out with it; for some reason the security alarm didn't go off -- though I feel like I knew it wasn't going to, somehow. I enjoyed that book in a way I wasn't expecting, and I wonder if the excitement of acquiring it illegally might have had something to do with it. Reading it, I found myself constantly looking over my shoulder for the "bookstore samurais" who would have hunted me down across the province.

The urgency I felt reading The Curfew is rare. Compared to Bolaño's Chile of the 1970s, Canadian literary life is pretty easy, censorship doesn't really exist, and so maybe we need to create a little danger around our literature to really enjoy it. Now I feel like I should steal all my books, if only to create some excitement for myself lacking in our safe and staid book culture.

Yesterday I walked through the Indigo at Bay and Bloor after seeing Prometheus at the Varsity Cinemas, a movie you don't need to see (unless, maybe, you sneak in). As I went out the doors, the alarm went off. I'd bought a comic book earlier that day, and I guess I'd inherited some sort of magnetic security tag within its pages. But the guy working the door didn't care to look in my bag; he just waved me through.

What a wasted opportunity to steal more books!

Next time. Next time I will steal them all.

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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Pasha Malla

Pasha Malla’s first collection of short stories, The Withdrawal Method, a Globe and Mail and National Post book of the year, won the Danuta Gleed Literary Award and the Trillum Book Award and was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize and longlisted for the Giller Prize. His latest book, People Park, is forthcoming from Anansi in July 2012.

Go to Pasha Malla’s Author Page