5 Questions with Gabrielle Selz

unstillPart of the City Lights Books tradition is inviting notable authors, artists, and performers to our store to share their work with the public.

Today we are pleased to debut a brand new feature on the City Lights Blog, “5 Questions”, where we query a visiting author before their event at the store. The questions will remain the same each week.

Who: Gabrielle Selz, author of Unstill Life: A Daughter’s Memoir of Art in the Age of Abstraction (W.W. Norton).

Event: Thursday, May 15th, Gabrielle will be joined by her father, Peter Selz, to discuss her memoir at City Lights Books.

Poignant and candid, Unstill Life is a daughter’s memoir of the art world and a larger-than-life father known to the world as Mr. Modern Art. Selz offers a unique window into the glamor and destruction of the times: the gallery openings, wild parties and affairs that defined one of the most celebrated periods in American art history. Like the art he loved, Selz’s father was vibrant and freewheeling, but his enthusiasm for both women and art took its toll on family life.

City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit? If you haven’t been here before, what are you expecting?

Gabrielle Selz: My father took me there as a kid and later I came back on my own. I loved the wedge shape, the tight angle of the space. It felt secretive. For a while I went through a stage where I would buy books purely by their titles. I bought That Obscene Bird Of Night by José Donoso at City Lights because I thought the title magnificent–great book, too. Then in college I went through a phase of loving cover designs. Like the first cover for J.G. Ballard’s Crash in which the body of a car resembles the body of a naked woman. I bought lots of Ballard’s books at City Lights.

gabrielle_selzCL: If your book had a soundtrack, what would it be?

GS: First Charles Mingus, then the song “Downtown” performed by Petula Clark (so New York), then “Going to California” by Led Zepplin, The B-52’s “Love Shack”, The Velvet Underground “It’s Just Too Much”, Peter Townsend “Save It For Later”, and Pink Floyd “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”.

CL: What’s the first book you actually finished?

Charlotte’s Web. It was also the first book that made me cry. Reading words and then crying was such a surprise and a powerful experience, that I kept doing it again and again. I sat in my bed for hours, reading the last few paragraphs of Charlotte’s Web, trying to recapture that feeling of sad satisfaction.

CL: If you weren’t a writer, what might you do?

A filmmaker. A history professor. The fun thing about being a writer is that when you enter a character who has a particular profession, you get to explore their work-life, become them for a bit.

CL: Name a few things you’d require if stranded on a desert island for an undefined period of time (and, yes, no wifi).

My old battered copy of Silver Pennies, A Collection of Modern Poems for Boys and Girls. It has poems from Robert Frost to W.B Yates. It has lovely illustrations and I have kept it beside all the various beds I’ve slept in since childhood. A photo of my son, because I would want to see him, but I wouldn’t want him to be stuck with me in the middle of nowhere. A few dozen blank notebooks, some lined, some unlined for sketching. Sunscreen.  And some books I haven’t read yet.

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
The Secret History by Donna Tart
Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
The Age of Insight by Eric R. Kandel

A dog for company.


Find more events coming up at City Lights Books here. For more about Gabrielle Selz and her book, go to her official website.

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