On Friday night we went to a reading at Gallery House, a co-op spot for artists. (I’ll be reading there in January and was on a recognizance mission.) The gallery is on a side street in downtown Palo Alto, a street lined with quaint little restaurants and wine bars and kitschy shops and a used bookstore. The bookstore is, sadly and of course, going out of business.
We only stayed for the first 2 hours of the event — hard chairs and no moving air being cited — but we did hear a few fabulous readings. Andrew Tilin led off with his new book. As much as I didn’t think I had any interest in this topic, by the time he was finished I was sold. It’s about doping in sports, yes. But it’s also about trying to recapture youth in our youth-obsessed culture, and about what it means to be an aging man in today’s culture of Steroids and Viagra. Perform perform perform.
The next 2 readers were women: Thea Sullivan and Jacqueline Berger. Poets. One had published a few books and the other was, like me, published in a few good journals but with no book in hand. Yet. They read beautifully, and their poems were both funny and heartbreaking and real. I could have listened to them twice as long —- and I rarely say that about a poetry reading, so you know they were particularly good.
And then there was the guest artist. A photographer. He set up 4 large framed photographs on easels behind him and, for the next many minutes, just about bored me to tears. I felt for him, poor guy, having to following the brilliant raconteurs before him. He opened with “the origin of photography” and I thought, Oh dear god, he’s only got 7 minutes to talk. Sure enough, by the time he got to himself and his work — his beautiful work — his time had long been up.
But here’s the deal folks. None of this mattered one whit. I didn’t buy a single book at this reading, but guess what I did open my checkbook for? The photographer had barely finished speaking when I leaned over to my husband and said, I have to have the photo on the far right. I can’t explain it, but I know I have to have it. And then I barreled my way through the crowd before anybody could beat me to it.
It’s not some grand panorama of nature. It’s not of real people. It’s not fantastical in color or boldness. It was taken in — are you ready? — a plaster factory. Funny what grabs you.
Now this gorgeous photo graces the top of my bookshelf. And you know what? It looks like it belongs, like it’s always been there.