Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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2 Lit Visits, 1 Open Mic; 1 – 0 Open Mic over Lit Visits

December 15, 2012



In keeping with my promise to go out to as many “literary events” as I can, I went to a couple last night. There was a gathering at Shakespeare and Company to honor George Whitman, who died a year ago. And there was a little Christmas get together at the Abbey Bookshop, around the corner from Shakespeare and Company. The Abbey is run by Brian Spence, a Canadian whose bookstore on Harbord Street in Toronto I used to sometimes go to when I was at the University of Toronto. Shakespeare and Company, of course, I started going to shortly after that period, when George was already what seemed to me to be an “old man.” And he would go on to live another nearly 30 years.

I made a little film of someone playing piano at Shakespeare and Company, but aside from that, it was really just a question of wandering around and paying respects, and perhaps having a bit of tea or some other drink, which I did not do. Then I went off to the Abbey and there an author was reading out in front of the shop, standing a crate like a speaker at Speaker’s Corner in London, with a large crowd of people standing in the cold beneath him. I think his book’s title has the word “merde” in it, and so I decided to go into the store away from the crowd, where I was warmly greeted – as usual – by the genial Brian Spence, who was preparing goodies for the Christmas toast to follow.

I drank a deadly beverage offered by Brian who had received it from a client, and I read a few first pages of books to see if I wanted to buy any – the one I recall is Borges’ Labyrinths then an AJ Liebling book on boxing, but then the drink went to my head (it was from the Czech Republic or Poland or some equally strong, hardy nation) and I cannot remember the others – and decided I did not want to buy anything. I needed to eat something very quickly if I was to survive the rest of the night and a beer or two.

So I went to a restaurant around the corner, ate some fromage de tête (head cheese), which was as disgusting as it sounds – were it not for the fact that it was excellent quality – and then a terrine de volaille and then ris de veau (sweetbreads, i.e. thymus glands), and some wine, and I was all ready to go off and have some Delerium beer and use up all that delirium and even the tremens, on an open mic.

So I went to the open mic that I reported last week was a little like a literary salon, the one at the Arte Café. After all I had been through, I really did not expect the open mic to live up to my past experiences there, and I fully expected to stay a short time and leave. I thought I would stay long enough to drink the Delerium to digest the animal innards. But the open mic, once again, was really wonderful, and I enjoyed the music, enjoyed playing, and then enjoyed the jam session, and above all, meeting new and interesting people – as always at the Arte Cafe. Thanks again, Arte Cafe!

A Remembrance of George Whitman of Shakespeare and Company

December 17, 2011

Shakespeare and Company Book Shop

Shakespeare and Company Book Shop

I learned of the news of the death of George Whitman, the owner of the Shakespeare and Company book shop, on the day he died at 98, on December 14th via the store’s Facebook page. I thought immediately that I had to say something about it on this blog, but I decided to wait, let the news sink in, and try to figure out exactly what I could say. I had first met George in 1983, and periodically since then I saw him as he steamed on through life running this amazing book shop. But I never got to know him, despite speaking briefly with him on several occasions.

The book store actually had played an important role in my life, but I have always had a hard time summing up how. I had met many writers there, including Christopher Cook Gilmore, a novelist who died of a brain tumor in 2004, and who introduced me to his literary agent, who would become my own first literary agent. He actually at one point commissioned from me a murder mystery that takes place in Shakespeare and Company, and I actually wrote the whole novel. Taking a look at it now for the first time in the 20 or more years since I wrote it, I laugh out loud at how bad it is and I am not surprised it was immediately rejected not even by publishers, but by the agent! (He tried to sell one or two of my good novels, but never succeeded.)

But I suddenly realized today a fact I had completely forgotten, which was the I had also had another thing commissioned linked to Shakespeare and Company, and that was a newspaper article about the bookstore, that an editor at the Globe and Mail in Toronto had asked me for on spec – and he too rejected that. I wrote the story in 1989 and it was just one of a long string of articles that I had written over the previous decade that had been rejected as all my efforts to write journalism came to nothing but rejections. I suppose now that I was so used to rejections and thinking that anything I wrote would never get published, that I immediately gave up on the idea of publishing the story. But now that I look at it for the first time in 22 years, I think it was a shame it never got published. It paints a wonderful and very true picture of the Shakespeare and Company of the time, and no doubt, George Whitman’s store of any time going back to its founding in the early 1950s.

So I am very pleased to be able to post that never-before-published article about Shakespeare and Company – including quotes from my interview with George (and with Gilmore) – here in the articles section of this blog. It was a visit to the store right squat in the middle of its Shakespeare and Company period, and a nice museum piece and memory of how things were. I have posted the article with no changes made to the manuscript, as I found it in my computer archives, as written.

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