Observations from San Francisco

The art museum

Today, I visited the de Young museum. My favorite painting was A day in July by Ritman.


Here’s what occurred to me. In art, I can only observe what the artist has elected to show me. I cannot see what he chose not to show me, even if what is not shown is essential to a complete understanding.

The bookstore

Tonight, I visited City Lights Bookstore, A Literary Meetingplace since 1953, and former/current champion of the Beat poets. As I browsed, my first thought was “I am never going to bother writing a book.” [I’ll qualify this statement as a book of fiction.] I was a little overwhelmed by the rows and rows… and rows of viewpoints, perspectives, and opinions.

In fact, as I sat on a small wooden chair on the third floor (up a spiral of appropriately creaky wooden stairs), I wondered how many authors were represented here. I counted the number of different authors on one shelf. 65. I counted the number of shelves in the one book case, in one room, on one floor. 28. That’s 1820. [Incidentally, I lived in the house of two of the authors on this particular book case, William Logan and Debora Greger. A story for another time.] Thousands of authors in just this one bookstore, albeit famous, in just one city, although with a strong literary tradition.


I picked up a book. I selected it because there were two. I figured this must mean that the bookstore anticipated selling two, which made it twice as good as the selections with just one copy that surrounded it. [Kerouac’s On the Road boasted six copies on the Beat poet book case, for comparison. Kerouac was 5’8″ tall, by the way.]

I opened the book. I read a line. I read the next. Much to my surprise, I met Christopher Butters. The book was Americas. I liked Christopher. I liked his voice. I realized that this room was actually crowded with authors, not books. Far more people than could actually fit in the room. 1820 from one book case alone.

Then this occurred to me. In literature, I can only read what the author has elected to tell me. I cannot read what he chose not to tell me, even if what is not told is essential to a complete understanding.

I wonder what I’ll learn tomorrow.


About Tony Schmitz

Tony Schmitz received his BS in Mechanical Engineering from Temple University in 1993, his MS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Florida in 1996, and his PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Florida in 1999. He is a mechanical engineering professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
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