Despite Closure of Cody's, Book Readings Continue

Photo: Author David Henry Sterry reads selections from his memoir at a book reading hosted by Berkeley Arts & Letters, a program meant to replace readings held at Cody's Books.
Chris Chung/Photo
Author David Henry Sterry reads selections from his memoir at a book reading hosted by Berkeley Arts & Letters, a program meant to replace readings held at Cody's Books.

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When Cody's Books closed its doors on Shattuck Avenue in June, Berkeley literati worried that the days of local book readings had come to an end.

But on Wednesday night, about a dozen residents gathered at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley to sip complimentary wine and listen to two authors read excerpts from their newly released memoirs.

This was the inaugural event for Berkeley Arts & Letters, a new program that aims to carry on Cody's 52-year tradition of hosting book readings at the church on Channing Way.

The program is produced by Melissa Mytinger, who was the marketing director at Cody's for 26 years.

"We got a lot of phone calls after Cody's closed, with people saying, 'Yikes, does this mean we won't have any more writers coming to town?'" Mytinger recalled. "We felt confident that people wanted it, and it was one of the obvious voids that was easy to fill after Cody's left."

Several other local bookstores, such as Pegasus Books on Shattuck Avenue and Mrs. Dalloway's Bookstore on College Avenue, also host a handful of book readings each month, but Cody's has traditionally been the go-to spot for residents.

"We think it's a really important part of life in Berkeley," said Rachel Marcus, event coordinator for Pegasus Books.

To fund the program, Berkeley Arts & Letters sells copies of the featured authors' work on site. They also recommend a $10 donation to attend an event, but no one is turned away for insufficient funds.

Mytinger said she hopes to hold between six and 10 events each month. Four events are scheduled this month, including Wednesday night's program about memoirs.

Alan Black, a Scottish immigrant, read from his first memoir, "Kick the Balls," a comedy about his failed attempt at being a youth-soccer coach.

David H. Sterry, a well-known author from New Jersey, read from his latest memoir, "Master of Ceremonies," a humorous account of his experience working as an announcer at Chippendales, a male strip club in New York City during the '80s.

"For me, this is the reward for months and years of hard work," Sterry said of doing book readings. "Also, how else are you going to get attention? My publisher spent zero dollars to publicize this book. I have to be my own publicity machine."

For Black and Sterry, book readings are not only good publicity but also a way to support local bookstores, which Sterry calls the "lifeblood of community."

Mytinger made it clear that she is dedicated to involving more local bookstores, despite some neighborhood bookstore owners' concerns that the program was not reaching out to Berkeley establishments. Beginning in January, Mytinger said she plans to invite all the city's bookstores to provide books for events.

According to Mytinger, events at Cody's Books usually attracted between 35 and 60 people. The crowd for these events tends to be on the older side, but certain authors, such as Christian Lander, founder of the hugely popular satirical blog, "Stuff White People Like," who is set to read on Oct. 24, will likely attract a younger set.

Although the turnout was low on Wednesday night, Stacey Appel, a Berkeley resident and writer who has been coming to the book readings for a long time, said she is confident that this will change.

"I think we are on an upswing with the creation of this new program," she said. "When word gets out, I think this will take off like fireworks."


Contact Anna Widdowson at [email protected]

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