Monday, December 19, 2016

Madame Realism and Monsieur Lower East Side

Date: November 22, 2016
Venue: 192 Books
Author: Lynne Tillman
Free Drinks: No
Drone-On-Meter : negative
Lit Celebs in Attendance: Fran Leibowitz, Ron Kolm
UE check collect: n/a, benefits long gone

One of the things I look for in setting my readings schedule is whether the event will be crowded. Sorry Salman and nearly anybody else that gets booked at the Union Square Barnes & Noble. So Lynne Tillman’s reading in support of the publication of her latest book “The Complete Madame Realism and Other Stories” at 192 Books two nights before Thanksgiving was ideal.

It was the perfect storm of a well-known author reading on a night when a lot people would be out of town. Plus, I thought the audience would be hard-core readers for whom a performance by Lynne Tillman might well be their main holiday event.  
192 is a small space and Tillman’s fans filled both sides of the room.

Tillman’s Madame Realism is an alter ego she has been using for decades to comment on a number of subjects, most of them visual arts-related. The first appearance of the character was in a collaboration Tillman did with the artist Kiki Smith back when, as the author said, “you could get grants for that kind of thing.”
The engrossing piece she read at 192 was based on her reaction to an installation by the artist Jessica Stockholder. It demonstrated the way that Tillman is rightfully considered a predecessor of writers like Maggie Nelson and Chris Krauss who also use the fine arts as jumping off points for personal investigations.

Tillman’s latest also features stories written in the voice of another fictional mouthpiece, Paige Turner. These stories cover the waterfront from mediations on love to the work of Cindy Sherman.
One of my favorite Lynne Tillman stories I’ve gathered from attending her events, and which is “live only” as far as I know, is her recollection of doing a book tour with Colm Toiben in the north of England. Apparently, Toiben camped out in the back seat and serenaded the driver and Tillman with Joni Mitchell songs. I’d stack that scene up against anything in the David Lipsky and David Foster Wallace movie about a book tour.

Apparently, Tillman’s Madame Realism pieces have been published in different books and magazines over the years, some of the first appearances so long ago that the author had some trouble piecing together the chronology.
Fortunately, Tillman had a live “aide memoire” present in the form of a friend of hers, the poet and fiction writer Ron Kolm. He knew when the early Madame Realism pieces came out, either as magazine articles or anthology pieces.

Whether as a writer, editor, bookseller or publisher, Kolm has been a fixture of the Lower East Side literary scene since he moved to New York in 1970. I found talking with Kolm about books to be a pleasure, not only because he knows everybody and everything, but also because of his unique focus on the physical aspect of books.

He talked about how much he’s enjoyed Tillman’s work over the years. He tried to goose his memory about aspects of her output by remembering whether a particular work was perfect-bound or not. (Perfect bound is when a layer of adhesive holds the pages and cover together.)
Kolm said the best reading he’d been to was one in which he, Tillman, and novelist Patrick McGrath performed at the Ear Inn on Spring Street. He offered the following tip for readings attendees, “You should buy the book and get it signed because it might be worth something someday.” 

There was another man in the audience who Tillman knew. He might have been a painter because she showed him the newly published collection of Donald Judd’s writings that I doubt would be featured at the Union Square Barnes & Noble.
I guess I’m a readings snob because I prefer events at independent bookstores. It’s important that we all support independent bookstores because they play a vital role in ensuring that readers have access to a diverse selection of voices, which is so vital to maintaining a vigorous literary culture. Plus, it's easier to shoplift from them.