I came upon a delightful little essay about visiting used book stores the other day.
It was written for summer when the idea of reading for no great purpose or profit is permitted. Now, of course, it’s fall, but don’t let that bother you. The author, who both works in and patronizes, used book stores suggests the way to do it. Step one, surrender all expectations.
Less like a treasure hunt, that is to say, intent on finding the prize that you would drag home to mount and display, and more like a nature walk where you never quite know what might pop up. Here’s author Kelsey Rexroat,
“I’ve learned to treat a visit to a used bookstore less like a treasure hunt and more like a nature walk, with plenty of chances to enjoy myself along the way. Although searching for specific titles or authors has led to disappointment, curating a mental list of topics I can’t get enough of—New York in the 40s, the Beat generation, memoirs by female rock stars—gives me a place to start and regularly leads to happy surprises, especially when I look across genres.”
Our lives have become, in Rick Warren’s franchised phrase, so “purpose-driven,” that surprise and the delight that often attends it are an endangered species.
This made me think of the book A Field Guide to Getting Lost, which turned up, oddly, in the travel section at the public library. Alongside manuals and guidebooks to Istanbul and Bucharest was Rebecca Solnit’s book on the values and virtues of getting lost. Here’s Solnit:
“The word “lost” comes from the Old Norse los, meaning the disbanding of an army, and this origin suggests soldiers falling out of formation to go home, a truce with the wide world. I worry now that many people never disband their armies, never go beyond what they know. Advertising, alarmist news, technology, incessant busyness, and the design of public and private space conspire to make it so.”
That gets at what is so depleting about life in our polarized society, now only ratcheted up tighter by impeachment. Our armies never disband. We are in constant formation. On the ramparts of a cultural cold war that threatens to break hot.
Over against this the idea of getting lost for a few hours in a used bookstore or on a beach or reading poems or in worship seems irresponsible and irresistible.
“Lost really has two disparate meanings. Losing things is about the familiar falling away, getting lost is about the unfamiliar appearing. There are objects and people that disappear from your sight or knowledge or possession; you lose a bracelet, a friend, the key. You still know where you are. Everything is familiar except that there is one item less, one missing element. (italics added)
“Or you get lost, in which case the world has become larger than your knowledge of it. Either way, there is a loss of control.”
Well, it’s the weekend — at least as I write this. May it find you, and me, lost for a least a bit of it. Let the unfamiliar appear. Let us fall out of formation, our army disbanded to find a world, and a soul, larger than our knowledge of it.