Last Thursday I had the good fortune to be able to see Phil Cousineau talk about his new book, The Painted Word, at City Lights Books in North Beach. This is a book that we’re promoting heavily at my internship right now, but I hadn’t had the chance to sit down and read it. I got the sense that the author was kind of a big deal, but I wasn’t familiar with him or his career, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.
As it turns out, Phil Cousineau is an incredibly charismatic, engaging guy who puts on a heck of an event. He appeared with his illustrator, Gregg Chadwick, who brought along some of his original artworks for The Painted Word and talked about them at length. The idea behind the book is word histories, not just of extravagant, sesquipedalian words (although there are plenty of those in the book), but also of seemingly mundane, everyday words that have fascinating histories hidden in their roots and suffixes. Although the writer and illustrator didn’t consult in depth on the illustrations, preferring to let images arise naturally from the words, there are plenty of serendipitous connections between art and word. For example, the illustration for the word “aesthetics” is a painting of a maiko in Kyoto, with emphasis placed on the nape of her neck; elsewhere in the book, Cousineau explains that the word “gorgeous” arose from the French word gorge, throat, at around the time high-necked fashions gave way to more libertine necklines. Cousineau also tailored his appearances to each specific venue by selecting words that fit the place; for City Lights it was shanghai (the verb, not the city–a common practice in the old Barbary Coast). It was far from a typical reading, though–the extemporaneous drawing of connections from word to word to word was a lot more like poetry, and it was a joy to witness, especially when members of the audience began suggesting their favorite words. It was also a highly successful event from a promotional point of view–the store sold out of books, and sales of his previous book, Wordcatcher, are also way up (as one of my bosses says, you know you’re doing well when you bring the backlist along!).
Unfortunately, City Lights was the last Bay Area event for The Painted Word, but here are his remaining appearances, including four more in central and southern California. (I’ve just grabbed these from our website and don’t have full event details at the moment, but if you’re interested in any of them, feel free to drop me a line and I’ll happily get more info for you!)
9/25/2012 Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee
9/30/2012 Institute of Noetic Sciences, Chicago
10/4/2012 Golden Notebook, Woodstock
11/7/2012 Warwick’s, La Jolla – with Gregg Chadwick
11/7/2012 The Inside Edge, Irvine
11/8/2012 Book Soup, LA – with Gregg Chadwick
11/9/2012 Esalen, Big Sur