“Why do we go to book readings? For an autograph…the free food…to schmooze. But me? I go to observe and draw.”
Artist Kate Gavino lives in New York City, and attend numerous readings at its plentiful bookstores and literary festivals. Last Night’s Reading collects her drawings and sketches from these events, trying to capture the essence of the literary reading as a cultural experience. Each portrait is accompanied by a quotation from the author’s talk or interview, and arranged into themed sections such as knowledge, creativity, and storytelling based on those quotations. Between each themed section, Gavino has inserted little illustrated vignettes about the bookish life, and the experience of attending readings.
Consisting of more images than text, Last Night’s Reading is a very short book. I was able to read it all the way through over lunch one day, unable to resist devouring it in one sitting. I then went through it again more slowly, reading a page or two here or there until it was time to return it to the library. This small book is put together with great attention to detail. The inside covers are illustrated to look like end papers, and everything from the dedication, to the acknowledgements, to the table of contents is likewise adorned with Gavino’s drawings. The final page, which gives the author’s website, is a sketch of one of the famous lions outside the New York Public Library, with the URL emblazoned across the base. Some authors look more or less like themselves in Gavino’s distinct style, but this doesn’t much lessen the charm of the book.
Last Night’s Reading also highlights the spectacular range of literary events going on in New York City. It’s one thing to know that it’s the heart of the American publishing industry, and another to get this glimpse at just how great it is to be a bookish person in a city with so many opportunities to attend readings and events. The vignettes between the quotations and portraits really capture these experiences. My personal favourite was the sketch that showed the best pairs of shoes Gavino had seen worn by authors to their readings. Another illustration full of world clouds succinctly captures what it feels like to leave a reading, your mind still buzzing with ideas from the evening. But perhaps the most characteristic is the way Gavino captures the potential awkwardness inherent in meeting a favourite author…like the time she said “sup” to Toni Morrison. These vignettes really bring the book together, and I would have been happy to see more of them included.
This small taste of the New York literary life is sure to charm book lovers.
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