This is the last week that Cody’s bookstore will be holding author readings in its Telegraph Avenue store.
It’s painful to consider that this era is at an end. The upstairs loft where Cody’s holds its reading is almost like a sacred place. It’s not beautiful by any means – the floor is scarred from the scraping of thousands of chairs and the fluorescent lighting is not particularly flattering. But high up on the walls there is a gallery of photographs of the authors who have read there. It covers almost the entire canon of American literature. There are pictures of well-established authors – John Updike, Toni Morrison, Phillip Roth, Susan Sontag, Allan Ginsberg, Annie Proulx, Diane Johnson, Amy Tan, and others. (And they look so young!) There are photos of the young Turks, like Daniel Handler, Michael Chabon and Dave Eggers. There’s the poet Adrienne Rich, humorist Garrison Keiller, novelist Dorothy Allison, and more.
The photographs remind me that this is the kind of place where the beauty of literature shines brightest. It’s not in the fancy hotels or halls that hand out the Nobel Prize of the National Book Award, but in bookstores scattered around the country. Authors come to read; readers come to listen and a special bond forms, one that continues long after the store has closed for the night. The photos illustrate that even famous authors cherish that interaction.
Cody’s has lined up – as usual – a wonderful, eclectic mix of authors for this week. You’ve got to admire a place that has such a broad appreciation of authors. (So why aren’t more people shopping there?)
On Monday at 7:30 p.m., my good friend and New York Times reporter Neil MacFarquhar will read from his satirical novel about the first Gulf War, The Sand Café.
On Tuesday, Jason Roberts will read from A Sense of the World, his new biography of the blind traveler James Holman. The book has gotten excellent buzz, and the San Francisco Chronicle Book Review featured it prominently on Sunday.
On Wednesday, Greg Palast will read at 12:30 from Armed Madhouse: Whose Afraid of Osama Wolf, a humorous, yet well-researched investigation into the perils of George W. Bush’s foreign policy.
At 7:30 Nando Parrado will talk about Miracle in the Andes, which details how he survived the famous plane crash in the Andes that killed most of the Chilean rugby team. Parrado and other survivors trekked over 45 miles of glacier to find help.
On Thursday, Chris Abani (his last novel was Graceland) will talk about Becoming Abigail, the novel of a young Nigerian girl whose relatives force her into prostitution when when she moved to London. He will be joined by the Jamaican author Colin Channer, the editor of Iron Balloons, an anthology of emerging Jamaican writers.
The list goes on: Douglas Copeland will speak on Friday night; at 4 p.m. on Saturday Alex Polikoff, an attorney, will talk about Waiting for Gautreaux, his memoir about the landmark Chicago housing discrimination lawsuit he fought all the way to the Supreme Court. That night, Sean Wilsey will talk about the anthology he edited on the World Cup.
Then that’s it. The store won’t close until mid-July, but the readings will stop. Cody’s has two other bookstores – one on Fourth Street in Berkeley and one on Stockton Street in San Francisco, but they have neither the space nor the atmosphere of the Telegraph Avenue store. When you attend a reading at those stores, as well as many other independent bookstores, you feel squeezed into the space. There’s never enough room and all the other patrons milling around can be distracting.
I never felt that tug at Cody’s on Telegraph. When I was in that loft for a reading, I felt as if the author and his or her audience were in a world all their own. I'll miss it.