In Praise of Randomness

Random can be good. Random can lead you to discovering new things. Random can take you out of your safety zone and into new, sometimes uncomfortable worlds. Random is a way of forcing yourself to adapt. To explore. To try new things.

In the world we live in, randomness is no longer normal.

We live in time of great irony. Every book you want is available at your doorstep the next day. Every song you want to hear is on your Spotify playlist. Every movie you want to watch is probably streaming somewhere. Yet it all tends to get really boring. Worse, it tends to make YOU really boring.

By having everything you know you already like in front of you, its increasingly easy not to bother with anything new. Not new, as in just came out. New to you. New to your sensibilities. New to your way of looking at the world.

My strongest personal example of this is books. I am a huge Amazon user. I have totally bought into their ecosystem of rewards credit cards, free prime video and heavily-discounted music streaming services. I buy a lot of crap from Amazon.

Clearly there is a downside to this. Several, in fact. To begin with, there is the impact of letting Amazon catalog my every taste and every habit. Not to mention the fears of Alexa turning into a DEMON SEED-like evil.

However, there is also another great loss. Amazon lets me stick to things I know I already I like. Its very powerful set of algorithms actually encourages it.

Knowing this doesn’t stop me from using Amazon, of course. For instance, I still order books by Haruki Murakami and some of my other favorite authors the moment they come out in paperback. Or vinyl releases of CDs I know and love but want in their proper format. But I try to resist doing it too much. In spite of Amazon’s constant reminders not to stray.

One of my biggest escapes is a used book store. The fact that I have a bookstore of any sort that I can walk to is a much appreciated miracle. Even more strange is the fact that it carries a huge selection of mostly used books.

As good as a selection that it is, however, they often don’t have the things I go in hoping to find. And that’s a beautiful thing.

The reason is that after checking on four of five authors I have on my “to read” list it becomes time to improvise. I need something to read. I am surrounded by books. I will try my utmost to find something interesting enough to fill that immediate need.

It doesn’t always work. I’ve looked at books in the store and thought they would be amazing. Then I’ve read 50 pages and realized I’ve made a grave error. Sometimes, it’s because the books just don’t seem very good to me. More often, they are just not to my taste or suit my mood at the time.

That result is shockingly rare. I’ve had far more “wins” than “losses.” Often, I pick authors I have heard of but know little about. They are just a name.

In fact, my familiarity with Cheever, John O’Hara, Ayn Rand and Celine is due far more to this bookstore than to my formal education. And that doesn’t even begin to cover more contemporary authors like Fuminori Nakamora, Colson Whitehead Michel Houellebecq, Ryu Murakami and Carlo Lucarelli.

My point isn’t to brag about my reading list here. Or to fess up to my glaring lack of reading so many great works earlier in my life. It’s to point out that I may have never gotten around to reading ANY of these authors if it were not for pure chance. On some particular day, books I had hoped to purchase weren’t available but they had books by these authors in stock. So, I bought those instead.

It’s kind of like a kid demanding hot dogs for dinner every night and getting served other meals instead. He might kick and scream at first because he wanted more hot dogs. But maybe, just maybe, that weird fish thing will turn out to be his new favorite.

My main point is this. It is the very lack of selection which has allowed me to expand my horizons. Not giving me what I want when I wanted it has been the best thing imaginable.

It has been good for my book collection. It’s been good for my writing. Most of all, it has been good for my soul.

So, here’s to you randomness. May lack of time, laziness or technology never take you away!