You can’t judge a book by its cover
My dog-eared copy of Merriam-Webster’s “Idioms, Metaphors, Similes and Hyperbole” states that “you can’t judge a book by its cover,” a well-known metaphorical phase, “which means that you shouldn’t pre-judge the worth or value of something by its outward appearance alone.” Although my mother drilled this into my head at a very early age, I still struggle with the notion on occasion. The reference book was a high school graduation gift from her and was inscribed with these words. “For example” she wrote, “that man may look small and insignificant, but don’t judge a book by its cover—he’s a very powerful man in his circle.” In hindsight, Mom was undoubtedly doing her best to prepare me for being judged by others. As a teen, I was obsessed with my height. I never grew past five-foot-seven, much to my chagrin. Mom’s guidance has served me well over the years, echoing in my head over the course of the last week.
Between the matinee and evening screenings at the Callicoon Theater last Saturday, I took my seat alongside eight other writers and practiced deep breathing to soothe my jangled nerves. Although I’ve been a member of Ramona Jan’s “Yarnslingers” writers’ group for nearly 10 years, I still get stage fright prior to reading a story in front of an audience. Surprised? Don’t judge a book…
Last weekend’s public reading was a first for the theater. The new owner, Krissy Smith, has big plans for the future, with an eye toward live music, dance and theatrical performances taking place at the theater, NY. Smith “dipped her toe in the shallow end” last week by inviting Jan’s roving troupe to present their newest batch of “true short-stories written on a common theme.” Being nervous about reading my essay in public rarely stops me from making judgment calls about the others, regardless of my mother’s warning, and as I waited my turn to read, I sized up the group of writers. “Oh, Bill Fellenberg is here,” I thought to myself. “He’s really talented. I hope I go before him, otherwise I might bomb.”
Spotting the gifted Bizzy Coy in the crowd caused me to smile. Coy can always be counted on (IMHO) to make an audience laugh; her writing is witty and urbane. Paola Tawa and Mark Dunau were there as well. “All very good writers,” I noted and patted the dog. “And Evan Eisenberg, too? Uh oh,” I thought, “I could be in trouble.” Jan’s entertaining daughter, Lucille, was also on the roster, along with crowd favorite Ramona herself, of course, which left only myself and a guy named Greg Triggs, with whom I was unfamiliar.
“He doesn’t look like a writer,” I said, nudging the dog, who cocked her head and glared. “Don’t be so judgy,” Dharma seemed to say. “It doesn’t become you,” my mother would add, and they would both be right. Triggs’s funny, touching, poignant and moving story captivated the audience and left me wanting more, which is all any writer worth their salt really wants. Perhaps I should have reserved judgment. “Maybe next time,” I said, winking at Dharma and tossing her into the ever-present dog sling at my side.
After the reading, I followed fellow writers and audience members next door, to Rafters. Formerly known as Sidetracks, any semblance of what once was is gone, a cool bar and restaurant in its place, under new ownership and completely renovated. “Oh, it’s fantastic and gorgeous,” Karen Matsu Greenberg said, referring to the refurbished tin ceilings and warm, inviting atmosphere. Matsu has just completed producing author Daniel Bukszpan’s “Woodstock—50 Years of Peace and Music” for Imagine Publishing and was in the audience during the reading. “I brought you a copy,” she said, handing me a pre-release press copy of the beautiful new coffee table book, available everywhere June 4 of this year—just in time for the 50th anniversary of the music festival that rocked the world.
“Your stuff looks great,” she said, referring to the photographs I’ve provided for the book. “I’ll be the judge of that,” I shot back, leafing through it quickly in front of Rafters’ roaring fire, surrounded by bookshelves in what now looks like the cozy study in your great uncle’s country house.
Laughing out loud, I pointed to the acknowledgement page in the back of the book, “I’d like to thank the following people for helping me bring this book to life,” author Bukszpan writes. In addition to thanking 1969 Woodstock Music Festival Producers Michael Lang and Artie Kornfeld, Bethel Woods Center for the Arts’ CEO Darlen Fedun, and his parents, Bukszpan gives a shout-out to “Dharma the Wonder Dog, for her contribution, no matter what it was.” Joplin might be on the front, but my dog is mentioned in the back. Just goes to show: You can’t judge a book by its cover.