What Goes Around…

On August 1, 1999 Robert Gottlieb, the esteemed editor-in-chief at Simon and Schuster, reviewed Speaking of Diaghilev in the New York Times Book Review. The book is John Drummond’s definitive biography of Serge Diaghilev, the famous/infamous ballet impresario. Gottlieb is best known as the editor for Toni Morrison, Joseph Heller, Nora Ephron, John LeCarre and Robert Caro–but he was also a lifelong balletomane and wrote frequently on the subject.

So, why am I telling you this?

Because last week when I was feeling overwhelmed and reflecting on both the good and bad news associated with moving a household, I noticed a yellowed corner of newsprint sticking out of a book in our new bookcase. The book was Speaking of Diaghilev and the clipping was Gottlieb’s review.

The bad news about moving is you have to deal with all the extraneous stuff you’ve accumulated over the years. The good news is you sometimes run across a treasure tucked away and overlooked during those same years. I know it’s not original to talk about “six-degrees of separation” or “what goes around comes around,” but when I unfolded and read Gottlieb’s review I was reminded of how haunting that experience can be. 

I bought the Drummond biography 25 years ago, because I wanted to know more about the history of ballet. Like Gottlieb, I’ve always  been a fan—partly because what dancers do with their bodies is so beyond anything mortals, like me, might be able to do and partly because I admire the marriage of art, music, dance and theater that is embodied in the discipline.

This particular “what goes around comes around” story began in 1998 when I moved back to Seattle. I didn’t have a job but felt it was the right place for me. I rented an extended stay hotel room and started job hunting. Within a couple of months, I ran across a newspaper ad (remember those?) recruiting employees for a new bookstore. Amazon was killing independent bookstores, but Third Place Books was setting itself up to be the anchor tenant in the revamped Lake Forest Park Mall. As an English major I’ve always been a sucker for books. In college I worked at the University of Washington Bookstore and in Salt Lake City I moonlighted a couple of nights a week at The King’s English. So, Third Place wasn’t out of my wheelhouse. I got the job at Third Place and started working there the day it opened. And that’s where I bought the Diaghilev biography.

Fast forward 25 years… In January, we sold our condo and moved to a new apartment in Edmonds. In March our floor to ceiling bookcase was installed, and by the end of April we had unpacked the 40 cartons of books we brought along and the bookcase was full. That’s when I re-discovered the book and the Gottlieb review.

A by-product of my discovery was to feel the absence of ballet in our lives. For several years, pre-Covid, we were Pacific Northwest Ballet subscribers, and even in year-one of the pandemic we committed for the digital season. But we missed the up close and personal experience, and though we felt guilty about dropping it we couldn’t risk mingling with a large crowd in an enclosed space. The arts suffered because of people like us and haven’t fully recovered but things are changing. We’re still careful about crowds but in May M and I went to our first post-Covid ballet and this week we renewed our subscription for the 24-25 season.

One of the new season’s offerings is Romeo and Juliet, and I can’t wait to see it. M and I saw the PNB version in 2008 and it was exceptional. But my indelible first experience was seeing Rudolf Nureyev and Dame Margot Fonteyn in 1967 at the Opera House in San Francisco. It was a once in a lifetime event. Still… even without that incandescent star power, PNB’s is a heart-wrenching treat.

Diaghilev, Nureyev, Fonteyn and Gottlieb are all gone now. But they’re still in our bookcase. 

Earlier this week Alice Munro died and there was a long obituary in the New York Times. When I finished reading it, I pulled one of her short story collections out of the bookcase, folded the article neatly and placed it inside the cover. Maybe my daughter will see its torn, crinkled, yellowing edge peeking out from Too Much Happiness 25 years from now. Nothing would please me more. It’s part of the good news that comes with the “what goes around comes around” about moving. There are treasures hiding in the stuff we accumulate. It’s good to remember that and not be too eager to Marie Kondo everything before the movers pack it up. RIP Alice Munro!

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