Open a book this minute and start reading. Don’t move until you’ve reached page fifty. Until you’ve buried your thoughts in print. Cover yourself with words. Wash yourself away. Dissolve. Carol Shields Republic of Love

Timothy Findley 1930-2002

I was in high school when I discovered The Last of the Crazy People. Whatever I’d been expecting, it wasn’t what I found; whatever I thought I’d found, I don’t know how I’d have described it. But I liked it: I started and finished it on a Sunday afternoon. This kind of day-long reading session made Sundays my favourite day – even still, though now they seem shorter somehow.

I remember reading Famous Last Words when I was working at my first full-time job, sitting with it in the lunchroom and trying to explain to a co-worker why I found it so fascinating (clearly nothing about it, at least not in the way that I described it, fascinated her). When I left that job to work in a bookstore, the first book I handsold was Dinner Along the Amazon. The woman said she liked Canadian fiction and asked what I would recommend; I remember telling her that I just really liked the stories, but I struggled to find the reasons why.

Years later, passing tables at a sidewalk café in Stratford, Timothy Findley hollered out to me and asked to see what book I was carrying. It was a hardcover Oxford Book of American Verse that I had bought at a second-hand store just minutes before; he nodded and approved aloud. I recognized him (although the amused expressions on the faces of the young men sitting with and around him suggested that they thought I did not recognize to whom I was speaking), and I wanted then to tell him about the way that his books had fastened themselves to moments in my life, to tell him about the way that this fastening didn’t seem to fit into the words that I knew and used everyday, but I did not.

I read Pilgrim twice. It swept me out of a book-slump (the restless series of false-starts when I read forty pages of ten different books without really reading a word) and immediately demanded a re-read. I read it when I was working in the city market and I was also working there on the day that the woman who worked at the coffee shop, who listened to CBC radio during the day, told me that Timothy Findley had died. She thought it would be interesting news: she didn’t really think that it would matter to me. I remembered pulling a quote out of Inside Memory, when I first read it, to comfort another friend whose good friend had recently died. I searched for it that night when I got home and I re-read the chapter whilst sipping a glass of red wine. I doubt my friend found that quote very comforting either.

More about Timothy Findley: Who, Where, What

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