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Shakespeare and Company Literary Gathering, 3 Open Mics and the Most Beautiful Woman in the World

December 11, 2012

It has been a very long time since I attended a literary event – if you exclude the literary events I partake of every time I read a work of literature, which is very often – and now that I am on vacation and staying at home in boring old Paris, I decided I would make an effort to attend as many literary events as possible. So it was that when I arrived at the Shakespeare and Company bookstore for the first of my planned literary events and I was being refused entrance by a young and somewhat helpless book worker, I was very upset. But the guy was kind of right to try: The bookstore was so full of people it was barely standing room only, with all corners of the shop being occupied by listeners for a panel of editors of literary reviews talking about the past, present and future of that genre.

I really insisted, though, and the guy could see as well as I could that there was just enough space on the inside of the door for me to stand – with my large Gibson J-200 in its bag, by my side. So I got in and nodded thanks to the guy. I was delighted to see also cramped in there in a little desk by the entrance the delightful Sylvia Whitman, who has in recent years taken over the store that belonged to her father, who recently died, nearing 100 years of age. Sylvia is doing amazing things at the shop, and this panel is an example, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, so much so that I bought three of the reviews discussed in the panel, and I will have to busk for a week in sub-zero Paris weather in order to pay for them at 16 euros each. Literature is not for the poor. (Oh, sorry, another of the reviews, Five Dials, is entirely free and downloadable on the Internet, supported by the Hamish Hamilton publishing company in the UK.)

But anyway… The panel was made up of … no, forget that. I will just paste in the full details from the Shakespeare and Company newsletter announcing the thing: “Please join us to celebrate the launch of The White Review No. 6, notably featuring interviews with China Mieville, Julia Kristeva and Edmund de Waal, fiction by Helen DeWitt, essays on J. H. Prynne and Bela Tarr, artwork by Matt Connors and poetry by Emily Berry. To mark the release of this new edition, editors Jacques Testard and Benjamin Eastham have put together a panel to discuss the past, present and future of literary magazines, including Christian Lorentzen (Senior Editor at the London Review of Books and editor of Say What You Mean: The n+1 Anthology), Craig Taylor (Five Dials, and the author of Londoners), Heather Hartley (Paris editor of Tin House) and Krista Halverson (former managing editor of Zoetrope).”

The panel was a probing and interesting look at what is on the minds of the editors AND the readers. IE, how it is so much more fun to create a review and publish your own stuff rather than looking for a “traditional” publisher or one of the top magazines; how doing that also allows for discovering much interesting stuff from foreign writers in translation; how difficult it is to go through a slush pile every day; where to get writers in translation the funding of which will come from foreign literary lobbying organizations; how to distribute such reviews in a time when book stores no longer exist – except in strange places like Paris, where there is a massive number of small non-chain stores that will carry such magazines; how, with “so many” such reviews a reader is to make a choice on which to buy (!! if you’re rich, I say, buy them all); how submission to the slush pile really, truly, DOES work for the good writing, etc. It was fresh, and I hope that I have not highlighted too many “negative” things. I recall having attended a similar panel at the Village Voice book shop in around 1984 at a time when there was quite a movement of local expat literary magazines in Paris like Frank, and other names I now forget(!), and last night’s panel seemed so much “larger.” Having started to read N+1 today, I think it is, in fact. (I thoroughly enjoyed the opening essay, an insouciant attack on other magazines: the Atlantic, Harper’s and…the Paris Review.)

I think I will quit that theme now. From Shakespeare and Company I headed off to the Coolin that has a new system for the open mic that will be the death of it for me. It is an 8:30 PM sign up before the music starts at 9:30. This brings it to the level of the Highlander, where I can never get early enough to get my name on the list in a comfortable position – my fault, and the fault of living in the suburbs and eating a meal at home and getting up at 4 PM. But anyway….

So I went and signed up for the Coolin, then went to a great Italian restaurant next door and sat beside one of those women that you want to say to them: “You are the most beautiful woman in the world that I have ever seen.” But you don’t, because they’ve heard the line 500 times and no matter what, they will think you are insincere. And since it has happened to you 500 times you probably are insincere – except it seems true at that moment. But there she was with a friend, and talking about being friends with Vanessa Paradis and having approached “M” over some proposition or other…and slowly you think, maybe she IS the most beautiful woman in the world. Anyway….

Left the restaurant after eating one of the most beautiful pizzas in the world, went to Coolin, played two songs – Steve Forbert’s “Romeo’s Tune” (fitting, no?) and No Expectations of the Rolling Stones. Then realized that having signed up early enough to be around the sixth performer, I had the time to drop in briefly to the Tennessee for its open mic and then go to the Galway for its open mic. So went to the Tennessee, recorded a couple of acts, but did not even think of signing up to play at that late moment of the night, and then went to the Galway and played four songs.

An amazing, amazing night, all things considered. Four rendezvous, three open mics and two sets. Oh, and a pizza beside the most beautiful woman in the world that I have ever seen. (At least at that moment.)

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