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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

‘I remember where I was when I read that book…’

"Book-besotted troubadour" Corin Raymond explores the books he's loved, lost, and lent in cities all over the world


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Illustration by Nicholas Luchak

In the Venn diagram of nerdy pursuits, there is a special place where enthusiasm for public space overlaps with the obsessive and irrational drive to collect books. For self-described “book-besotted troubadour” Corin Raymond, books are the keys to unlocking memories of places and the emotions that are felt there.

His one-man show Bookmarks, presented as part of the Provocation Ideas Festival, features Raymond telling stories from his past through the lens of the books he las loved and often lost. As Raymond wanders through memories of his childhood and of his life on the road as a musician, books act as mnemonic devices for cities from his past, from Sao Paolo to Montréal to Berlin.

The show opens in the airport bookstore in Melbourne where Raymond is having trouble controlling himself. Pockets heavy with “pre-boarding funds,” Raymond considers buying “gleaming paperbacks I wouldn’t normally allow myself to buy.” His suitcase is, naturally, full of books already, but he falls for a copy of Helen Garner’s True Stories.

“I fell in love with Helen,” he says, floored by her first-person descriptions of her life in Melbourne. The book travelled with him through Taiwan and eventually back to Australia. It was there that Raymond had his heart broken by Helen, at the exact same place he first met her. I lost my copy of True Stories at the Melbourne airport,” he says, ten years after its purchase, “she left me.” The books’ loss triggered feelings of grief and abandonment, flinging him back to the places he experienced as a child.

Illustration by Nicholas Luchak

Raymond’s childhood home in Cochenour, Ontario, was a nest made of books. As the distribution hub for his father’s business, Beaverlodge Books, Raymond would explore the stacks and pillars of books piled up in his basement. “I could hide in them,” he explains, casting “books as safety, as shelter, as home.” As Gaston Bachelard writes in Poetics of Space, “the house shelters day-dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.” He describes his ritual, enacted decades later, upon entering a new hotel room, of placing books on the bed-side table in a little stack to make the room feel more like home. “I unbook myself,” he says.

Moving through his stream of memories, Raymond brings us to a bookstore in London, England. Drawn to a copy of The Collected Works of Tennessee Williams, he picks it up only to find that it was previously his, sold to the second-hand bookstore weeks before after a bad breakup. (Don’t fret: after explaining the situation to the bookseller, he bought back the Williams and three of his other books at a fifty percent discount).

He loops back to the Melbourne airport, dwelling on themes of loss and attachment. Garner’s sudden absence in his life reminds him of the pain he experienced as a child, losing two mothers (one at his own birth and another at the age of seven). Buying books, for Raymond, is a protective mechanism, revealed as “a bid against my own death.” He quotes Warren Zevon here: “we love to buy books because we believe we’re buying the time to read them.”

As such, Raymond knows that, at least one day, he must let his books go. His tourmate, folk singer Scott Cook, doesn’t understand Raymond’s obsession with owning books. “Scott has one book,” says Raymond, with a curled cover, jammed into the dashboard of his car, “the one he’s currently reading.” When he’s done, practicing the Buddhist concept of detachment, he’ll give it away to the next person he sees.

For now though, Raymond still surrounds himself with books and the memories they store. “How many cities have revealed themselves to me in the marches I undertook in the pursuit of books!” writes Walter Benjamin in his classic essay “Unpacking My Library.” “Other thoughts fill me… not thoughts but images, memories” continues Benjamin as he unpacks crates of his books after moving. “Memories of the cities in which I found so many things: Riga, Naples, Munich, Danzig, Moscow, Florence, Basel, Paris.” Raymond’s memories of cities are also catalogued like this, as chapters in a travelogue that grows story by story, book by book.

He brings us to a laundromat in Parkdale where he gives a boy his copy of The Neverending Story, in the original German, purchased some years before and devoured on “a park bench in Berlin.” (Bachelard again: “Each one of us, then, should speak of his roads, his crossroads, his roadside benches.”) His copy of James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential, held together with elastic bands, travelled around the world with a friend, read by dozens of backpackers in hostels and parks. It now acts as an aide-mémoire that triggers stories from the voyage.

Raymond includes in his monologue references to books lost and lent introduced with the familiar refrain, “where’s my copy of…?” When packing and unpacking his own library for a move, he realizes he has amassed three entire shelves of books he’s borrowed from others but never returned. Those books also pin memories, to specific times, to places, to people. As Jack Lasenby writes, sometimes, “the book reads you.”

The literary references keep coming: Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451, John Fowles’ The Magus, Keats, The Little Prince, “(anything by) James Baldwin.” They all make appearances in Raymond’s travels, like little luggage tags with unique home addresses, woven into a narrative of Raymond’s life that doubles as an homage to the world’s great cities.

The Provocation Ideas Festival continues this weekend, presented in partnership with the Toronto International Festival of Authors

Saturday June 8, 2:00 pm to 3:00 pm, Harbourfront Centre: “Critical Conversations: Looking for a Familiar Face: The Justice System and Canada’s Diverse Communities,” with Christa Big Canoe, Dr. Julius Haag, Keith Merith, and Kevin Donovan.

Saturday June 8, 5:30 pm to 6:30 pm, Harbourfront Centre: “Critical Conversations: Through a Mirror Darkly: Why We Love True Crime,” with Kristi Lee and Kevin Donovan.

Sunday June 9, 5:30 pm to 6:30 pm, Harbourfront Centre: “Critical Conversations: The Real World of Crime Investigation,” with Kerry Watkins, Ralph Steinberg, David Perry, and Arshy Mann.









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