When Harriet Giorgi returned to Berkeley after a two-year stay in Europe, she suffered a shock. “Cody’s Books on Telegraph was closed, gone.” She felt this not as just the closing of a favorite retail outlet, but as a deeply “personal loss.”
Harriet put aside her feelings and got back to work, arranging shows at her Giorgi Gallery on Claremont Avenue. One of her recent exhibits was titled “Bay Area Landscapes.” Her daughter Francesca Giorgi contributed an 18 x 22 inch fresco on wood panels, depicting the exterior of the glass-walled Cody’s Books when it dominated the corner of Telegraph and Haste, from 1965 to 2007. When people came to view the exhibit, groups inevitably gathered around this image, exchanging memories about events, encounters, talks, experiences, insights which came to them during their days of browsing or just hanging out at Cody’s.
That’s how Harriet got the idea for “A Tribute to Cody’s Books.” She contacted several artists, inviting them to submit one or more works of art on the subject of Cody’s Books. These artists contacted other artists and photographers.
One of them is painter Evelyn Glaubman (Berkeley City College). “Back around 1970, I arranged a benefit exhibit for the Free Clinic,” one of the Cody’s volunteer efforts (during the first five years, Fred was president of the Board and Pat was treasurer), she said. When Glaubman complained about the neglect of women artists at the time, Fred Cody invited her to establish the “Both-Up” Gallery upstairs at Cody’s Books. “Both” referred to the fact that male and female artists would be displayed in equal numbers. (If you can remember Both-Up, you qualify as a genuine old-timer, like me).
For the upcoming show at the Giorgi, Glaubman has created “Homage to Fred Cody,” a collage built around photos from Pat Cody’s personal archives and memorabilia from Both-Up Gallery.
Poet Owen Hill and photographer Robert Eliason, long-term staff at Moe’s Books, will display one or more of their inimitable image/text creations with a Cody’s/Telegraph theme. (See their website: lostinthestars.com) .
Harriet estimates that six to 12 artists will submit one or more works each, in various media. In a central location of the Giorgi Gallery will be a blank book where visitors can write their memories and thoughts of the Times of Cody’s Books, as evoked by these images.
I asked the two successive owners of Cody’s books, Pat Cody (1956-1977) and Andy Ross (1977-2007) what thoughts each of them might be inspired to write (as if they weren’t going to be too busy) at the opening reception.
Andy Ross, who took over the bookstore in 1977, computerizing and modernizing the inventory, said, “I was 29 years old. What the hell did I know about selling books on Telegraph Avenue?” in the aftermath of political upheavals that had left the avenue staggering. “If I had known what I was getting into... .” His eyes widen, and he laughs. “Still, we did very well throughout the 1980s. We had fun, and good things happened while people were just hanging out and browsing at Cody’s.”
One example: “John Gage says that the idea for Sun Microsystems (one of the superstars of Silicon Valley) got hatched in the math section at Cody’s.” He shrugs. “Then came the ’90s, and Internet sales.” Andy’s eyes flash. “Look, when you write this, mention the photos of authors who read at Cody’s—including you—that were spread across the walls. They disappeared when we closed. I did those photos, and I want them back, dammit.”
Pat Cody took some time before she could give me a comment. “First of all, I’d just want to say or write down how touched I am by the very idea of this show—by the desire of people to commemorate Cody’s Books.” (That’s Pat, always turning a question outward, toward crediting other people.) So I pressed her. Beyond that, what would your favorite memory or story be? She paused again. “It was such an exciting time. I don’t know if it’s possible to convey that wonderful feeling, going into the ’60s, inspired by the paperback revolution, by Roy Kepler and Lawrence Ferlinghetti and their bookstores, selling cheap and beautiful editions of old and new books. Even publishing some. These stores were a political act, a social act, democratizing literature in a new way.”
Are you sad that it’s over? She shook her head.
“It’s not over,” she said. “Fred and I were part of a special moment, with a bookstore as a center of community concerns. We were part of a big change. Now there’s another big change in the way people buy books. And next month or next year, someone will come along with a new, brilliant idea we can’t even imagine—about how to get people together around books and ideas and community concerns.”
She smiled. “Maybe someone who comes to this exhibit.”
A TRIBUTE TO CODY’S BOOKS
Feb. 12-March 12 at Giorgi Gallery,
2911 Claremont Ave. 848-1228.
Opening Reception, Feb.12, 6-9 p.m.
Gallery hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.