Re-energized by Litquake!

Litquake: San Francisco's Literary Festival, October 5-13, 2012

You may have heard about the crazy flow of people into San Francisco this weekend for a number of events, including the Giants game, the Niners game, the Strictly Bluegrass festival, the new UNIQLO opening, and the Blue Angels for Fleet Week. (I had quite a time people-watching on the crowded J-Church yesterday, trying to figure out who was a tourist or new to the city and who was just high as balls. In some cases the outward signs are amazingly similar; I’m still scratching my head over one average-looking guy who got on at Dolores Park and was just REALLY EXCITED to take the train and hang on to the hand rails.) And me? I was headed to the best event of them all: Litquake!

So yesterday I volunteered at Day One of Off The Richter Scale, a two-day series of hour-long themed readings featuring a variety of authors. A bit of background on my week: I suddenly got really sick on Tuesday and had to leave my internship early. (I thought it was a fever, but I didn’t have a temperature or anything… I’ve never had a cold that’s knocked me flat on my back like that, but I guess that’s what it was?) I stayed at my boyfriend’s for the next few days because SF was in the middle of a heat wave and my apartment is on the 4th floor with no air conditioning, and I honestly think the whole thing was my body’s way of telling me “If you won’t stop working for one day, damn it, then I will FORCE you to lie in bed for SEVERAL days and you will use this time to RETHINK YOUR PRIORITIES.” So I rested and got re-energized and ready to give 100% again at my two internships and one job, which I haven’t really been doing lately because I’ve been so run-down and exhausted. Yesterday’s Litquake event was more or less my first time out in public in several days. And of course they had me work the front door, and of course I was weird and awkward, but it was still a lot of fun signing in authors and chatting with my fellow volunteers.

You may recall that I had a slight bout of anxiety at a lit event recently when faced with a Zyzzyva editor rattling off a list of names that meant nothing to me. Turns out I was being silly, because as soon as I picked up the fall issues and actually started reading the stories, it didn’t matter if I recognized the authors’ names because they were all wonderful and engaging and totally accessible, and really, that’s the whole point. Something similar happened at Off The Richter Scale–I didn’t know what to expect really, only picked this particular reading because it was the only one I was able to volunteer at with my current schedule (thanks, part-time retail slave job), and was a little nervous because I had never heard of the authors listed (what if someone asked me about them? what if one showed up and demanded “Don’t you know who I am?!” when I tried to sign them in?), but I fell in love with the stories being told. The first series of readings featured flash fiction, and I was blown away by stories about shoes, about love, about looking for God in the fluorescent aisles of a minimum-wage retail environment. The second series, First Fiction, was devoted to debut authors, and had me adding all their books to my reading list.

This is a lot of wordage, but the upshot is this: Litquake got me excited about words again. I’ve been spending an embarrassing amount of time lately stressing about between one and all of the following: whether I’ll ever find a job in publishing, whether I look like an idiot for not knowing x author or y hip publication, poetry (not the joy and art of it, just whether I should read it to be more “with it”), whether the guy from McSweeney’s thinks I’m stalking him at events, whether everyone else is better than me. I’ve read books from my internships and I’ve read books for edification, but I haven’t read a book for sheer joy and escape in at least a month, and lately I’ve all but given up and taken to listening to my iPod on BART. This is ridiculous. And, amazingly, I forgot about all of it while listening to those authors read. Instead I thought about life. I thought about stories. I even thought about writing. And I feel completely renewed and ready to rock.

Anyway, I took a festival program and browsed through it (it’s all online, but for some reason I found the print version much easier to absorb) and found tons of events I want to attend, and even some which I will actually be able to attend (miracle of miracles!). Here’s a small selection of events that are more than just readings. (Readings are wonderful, readings are great, and you should attend them, but I’m a huge fan of events that take a more imaginative approach to literature, and if you can’t find it in yourself to get excited about a reading where you don’t know any of the authors, you’ll surely find something to tempt you below.)

Pitchapalooza (Sunday 10/7, 5pm): Twenty randomly selected writers get one minute to pitch their books, and receive an editorial critique and a chance to win an introduction to a publisher.

Quiet Lightning (Monday 10/8, 8pm): Okay, this is kind of just a reading, but it’s presented as a “literary mixtape” moving  from piece to piece without introduction, and best of all, it’s held at the wonderful Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park!

West Coast Review (Tuesday 10/9, 7pm): A panel discussion on book reviews in the digital age, featuring representatives from big names like The Rumpus and The Believer.

Goodreads Litquiz (Thursday 10/11, 7-10pm): A literary pub quiz at the Make-Out Room, hosted by everyone’s favorite online reading community, Goodreads!

And, of course, LIT CRAWL (Saturday, 10/13, 6-9:30pm), the original and ultimate literary pub crawl across the Mission District, which I can’t bear to even look at the program for because I have to work until 10 that night, but I guarantee you it will be unforgettable. Before I averted my eyes I caught glimpses of a haiku battle and a reading at Good Vibrations. How could you lose?

Happy Litquake!

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In which I admit that I do frivolous, girly things to help me cope with the pressures of the publishing industry

This book nerd’s secret passion.

So I just discovered The PR Girl Blog (which I am loving), randomly enough while trying to learn more about Cision, since a certain big book publisher out here in SF just posted a publicity job that (among other bits that completely disqualify me) requires candidates to be proficient in it. Anyway, speaking as someone whose route into something resembling PR (?) was rather circuitous, it’s a fun insight into the field from someone who lives and breathes it (and was trained in it!). I won’t lie to you, though, I am also totally eating up the posts about shoes and fitness and relaxation and fashion and stuff. It got me thinking about why I never write about all those lifestyle things… really I am all about it, but as a literary type and a San Franciscan, I don’t know, it just feels so politically incorrect. Maybe it’s a Nor Cal/So Cal thing? (PR Girl is in San Diego.) Besides, I’m barely qualified to write about that stuff, considering that I’m too broke to indulge in anything ever and I just bought boots in the freaking comfort shoe section (although in my defense, they are really cute). I honestly feel kind of silly even writing this. But hell, my most-commented post here was about books and dating, so I know we book nerds can appreciate the frivolous side of life when we want to. And although I haven’t been writing a lot here about my internships or my attempts to “make it” in publishing, there are definitely days when I need to find ways to relax. Like… every day.

So, stressed-out book nerds of the world, what are your guilty pleasures? How do you unwind? (No fair saying reading!) I can’t say fashion is fun for me anymore because I spend too much time stressing about all the people in San Francisco who are better dressed (and better paid) than I am, but I love me a frothy overpriced coffee drink, and once upon a time I was all about running (I keep saying I’ll pick it up again once I get a real job and the craziness dies down). When I was in Korea in May, I did like the locals do and went completely crazy for skincare and makeup brands Skin Food and Etude House, which I’m still kind of obsessed with even though they’re prohibitively expensive in the States. And if I can break my own rule and choose something book-related, it’d definitely be chick lit… I rolled my eyes at all the Sophie Kinsella and Jennifer Weiner titles floating around on expat bookshelves when I got to Japan, but I read my way through a bunch of them my last couple of months there and loved it (Twenties Girl? Pure genius.) Oh, and I have seen every episode of Sex and the City. Twice. And I am not ashamed.

(Okay, I’m still a little afraid that someone I work with will see this and be like “YOU are a big fake who secretly wants to live in the suburbs and eat at the Olive Garden every Saturday night, and you are hereby banned forever from this hip, glamorous industry! Also you should see someone about those neuroses.” I think this even though I know that book publishing is a very accepting place. I mean, there is a crystal ball in my office. What is wrong with me?)

In other news, today is the first day of Litquake! I’ll be volunteering at the Off The Richter Scale event (do you see now why I don’t have time for running?). I finally just got around to looking at the schedule of events (again, insanely busy), and I’m really excited to attend some of them. So off I go again!

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Booktoberfest at the Mechanics’ Institute Library



Mechanics' Institute Library

Mechanics' Institute Library

Yesterday I went to Booktoberfest, which is more or less a publishing intern’s dream event: a book publishing trade show, with microbrews, at the Mechanics’ Institute Library.  Heyday, McSweeney’s, Tachyon, Zyzzyva, Smashwords, and the SF Writer’s Grotto all had tables, and there was a panel discussion with John McMurtrie, the San Francisco Chronicle’s book editor. As you can see, the Mechanics’ Institute Library on Post Street was the perfect setting for the event. I had no idea the library existed, but apparently it’s been around for a while and it’s wonderful: “Founded in 1854 to serve the vocational needs of out-of-work gold miners, the Institute today is a favorite of avid readers, writers, downtown employees, students, film lovers, chess players, and the 21st century nomadic worker who needs a quiet place to plug in a laptop and do research.” Beers were provided by local breweries Anchor Steam and 21st Amendment (I used my drink tickets on the latter’s Hop Crisis IPA and Hell or High Watermelon watermelon wheat beer, both of which I highly recommend!) It was a lovely event, and it definitely did not spark any existential crises in the hearts of any struggling interns.

…But, um, if it did have some poor lost soul questioning her future in the publishing industry, if she felt like she’d been concentrating on learning about publishers for so long that she had no idea who the big writers in the Bay Area literary scene were, if she wanted to know what to read next to stay in the loop, and she already had the latest issue of Zyzzyva and a copy of New California Writing 2012…

…what authors and writings would you recommend?

(Yes, this is me admitting I lack expertise on my own blog topic, and yes, it was mostly precipitated by people dropping names all night that meant nothing to me. The literary scene in San Francisco is so rich that I know I could live a whole lifetime here and not discover all the events, books, writers, zines, classes, and publishers that are out there, but I need a fresh perspective, so hit me!)

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Poem: Bernal Hill

Bernal Hill by night
Bernal Hill 
by Randall Mann
Something has to give.
We stand above it all.
Below, the buildings’ tall
but tiny narrative.


The water’s always near,
you say. And so are you,
for now. It has to do.
There’s little left to fear.


A wind so cold, one might
forget that winter’s gone.
The city lights are on
for us, to us, tonight.
(source: Poetry magazine)
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The Painted Word at City Lights Books

The Painted Word cover

Last Thursday I had the good fortune to be able to see Phil Cousineau talk about his new book, The Painted Wordat 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

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Link roundup: Podcasts, courses, events and more!

Still working on getting some real posts up, alas. Here’s what I’ve got for now:

  • Books and Booze, a group for Bay Area publishing professionals, is having a networking event at Chronicle Books on November 8! Now to convince some fellow interns to go with me.
  • UC Berkeley Extension now offers a course on Litquake, where you can learn about the festival authors and their work. Way out of my price range, but a totally cool idea. (That said, Litquake itself is coming up fast and the volunteer party is this weekend!)
  • The SF Arts Commission’s Deep Roots podcast features San Francisco’s poet laureate Alejandro Murguia this week. (via Mission Loc@l)
  • Not lit-related, but AWESOME: Shawn Clover has put together a set of composite photos that blend scenes from the 1906 earthquake with modern San Francisco. Dennis Smith’s San Francisco Is Burning has been on my to-read list for some time now… maybe I should bump that up. (via Burrito Justice)

I’ll be attending this panel on West Coast publishing at City Lights tonight, and I’m pretty excited about it (though a bit gutted that I’ll probably be late thanks to work). The publisher of one of the houses where I intern (who I haven’t actually met yet) will be on the panel. I’m really interested to hear what everyone has to say!

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Jack Kerouac Alley and City Lights Books

With two internships, a part-time job, and a freelance writing/social media gig, I am crazy busy these days and have had no time to post! But here are a few pictures I took of City Lights Books and Jack Kerouac Alley last week while waiting for a book event at City Lights for my internship (more on that later). If you don’t know, City Lights Books is a wonderful bookstore founded by Lawrence Ferlinghetti in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco, and Jack Kerouac Alley is the alley next to the bookstore, which runs between North Beach and Chinatown.

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Reading On Muni: An Instructive Guide

Since I started my internship, I’ve been commuting from 24th and Mission to Berkeley via BART three days a week. In my student days, I cherished my daily commute on public transit as my personal reading time—even if I didn’t make any other time to read in a given week, I could still usually finish a book or two. This was not the case when I lived in Japan, where I had to drive up to an hour one way. I listened to a LOT of Savage Love and Sex with Emily in those days, and lamented the loss of my daily reading time. I was a bit worried about transitioning back to a car-free lifestyle, but so far I’m loving the exercise involved in walking between stops and the extra time I get to read—I’ve finished 3 books just in the past week, and made good progress on another.

(Another side effect of the internship? In Japanese schools, all the students and teachers take 15 minutes every day to pick up brooms and dustpans and clean up the school, and every time I swept my kitchen floor at home I would think “Man, I wish I had a team of junior high school kids to do this right now.” Now I find myself wishing I had a team of interns to post to social media with proper tags and trackable links every time I make a new post here. But I digress.)

If you regularly read on public transit, you’ve probably noticed a few things by now, namely:

  • You tend to choose books that will fit nicely into your purse or bag, and you have to time things just right so you don’t end up stranded without reading material or have to waste precious space on TWO books. (Of course, these concerns don’t apply if you have a well-stocked e-reader, but if you’re taking MUNI chances are you don’t have the $$$ for that. I do see plenty of iPads on BART, though.)
  • To the devoted commute reader, MUNI’s dismal on-time record is both a blessing and a curse. You’ll pray for the ride to last longer so you can keep reading, and that delay might give you just enough time to find out what happens in the next chapter, but it’ll also make you late for work. (Over months or years, though, those extra minutes probably add up to a lot of extra reading time!)
  • People will occasionally comment on what you’re reading, and this can be wonderful (have a nice chat with someone who shares your literary taste! Maybe they’re even an attractive member of the opposite sex!) or awful (creepy hipster won’t stop badgering you to summarize The United States of Arugula for him, despite having no interest in the culinary arts and claiming to have no idea what arugula is!*)

So, keeping these things in mind, here are my tips for reading on MUNI:

  • Be nosy; take a few minutes to glance around at what everyone else is reading. I’ve discovered some great books this way! But for God’s sake, don’t be weird about it, okay?! I know you, dear readers, would never be this guy, but if you’re reading something salacious or controversial and want to protect yourself against the crazy bum who takes a look at your bell hooks and screams “Feminist theory?! The white man needs some hoes! That’s my fuckin’ feminist theory!”*, you can cover your book in paper, or just hold it in your lap (assuming you get a seat). Perfect for erotica!
  • Leave War and Peace at home! Something you can hold in one hand while you grip the rail with the other for balance is ideal. If you don’t have an e-reader, slim paperbacks are easy to handle and tuck nicely into an outside pocket. If you’re almost done with a book and have a long commute, leave it at home and bring along something fresh. You don’t want to get stuck waiting for the 38 without anything to read.
  • This probably depends on your personal taste, but I’ve found that certain genres are a lot easier for me to read on a bus than others. My favorite at the moment is spiritual travel memoirs (à la Lessons from the Monk I Married, which I read last week—it made for a very peaceful commute no matter who was screaming all over the place!), followed by really engrossing fiction. I’ve been trying to get through Imperial San Francisco, which is a great non-fiction book, but I just do not have the concentration required to read it on public transit.
  • Maybe I am just getting old or something but I have been having some serious bouts of motion sickness on public transit lately. Cold fizzy drinks help, forward-facing seats really help,  but if you’re taking the 24-Divisadero, I dunno, maybe just give up and listen to your iPod or something.

Happy reading!

*true stories

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SF Reads: Monstress

Cover of Lysley Tenorio's "Monstress"

I finished reading this last week and got around to posting just in time—Monstress by Lysley Tenorio is the July/August pick for the San Francisco Public Library “On the Same Page” book club, and the library is holding author talks this Wednesday and Thursday evening at the Excelsior and Main libraries. Every single story in this collection was a joy (and a heartbreak) to read, but my favorites were Monstress, Superassassin, and Save the I-Hotel. In the title story, a Filipino woman dreams of being a romantic Hollywood heroine, but is forever consigned to playing the grotesque monsters of her lover’s B-horror films; she finally gets her big break, but at the cost of her relationship. I don’t like reading or hearing about the film industry (a neurotic holdover from my ill-fated stint in L.A.), but I thought this story really captured the sleaze and the pathos of Hollywood. In the final scene, years after her film’s release, the heroine sits anonymously in a theater where her campy film is being played for laughs, lost in her memories.

Superassassin is a darkly hilarious tale of a teenage boy obsessed with comics and supervillains, becoming a supervillain in his mind as a form of empowerment as his life spirals out of control. His plans to destroy schoolyard bullies and his mother’s boyfriends with his evil weapons technology are alternately funny, frightening, and sad, but always pitch-perfect. As a 透明外人, a possessor of a certain kind of invisibility myself, I also appreciate the half-white main character’s thoughts when faced with a shop owner complaining about thieving Filipinos: “My mutant biology hides that part of me he would fear. Ollie continues complaining and accusing, unaware that a shape-shifter stands before him. I tell him I know exactly how he feels, that they really can’t be trusted, that they’re a dangerous and deadly breed, as my hand fingers its way to the mini-rack of candy bars at my side.”

They are probably going to take away my Asian American studies degree for admitting this, but when I saw the title of the story Save the I-Hotel in the table of contents, while my conscious mind thought “All right, a shout out to the Asian American movement in San Francisco!”, a small evil voice in my subconscious said “Geez, the I-Hotel again?” Don’t get me wrong—no matter how much time has passed, the fact of the injustice remains, and I understand the importance of preserving our history. On the other hand, I was shown the documentary The Fall of the I-Hotel at least five times in various classes and at a certain point it started to feel like the professors were just waxing nostalgic for their student activist days. I guess I was expecting something like the ham-handed dramatic production staged by my Fil Am Lit class, but Save the I-Hotel is the real thing—a deeply human history of the Filipino immigrants in America, and a surprising love story that’s rooted in brotherhood and made more poignant by the tragedy of injustice. Save the I-Hotel doesn’t depend on the plight of the manongs to tug at your heartstrings, though; that starts to happen long before the dramatic events of 1977, when the two main characters are young and full of hope.

San Francisco doesn’t appear in every story, but it’s rendered faithfully in the stories that are set there (The Brothers, Felix Starro, and most especially Save the I-Hotel, which tells the story of a part of San Francisco history that, while overexposed in Asian American studies classes, is little-known to almost anyone else). Monstress is full of the human, the tragicomic, the strange and the sad and the wonderful.

SFPL event information:

Excelsior branch
Wednesday, August 29, 7-8:30pm

Main library
Thursday, August 30, 6:30-8pm

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Link roundup: Feature edition

Time for another link roundup! A lot of these are pretty old, but worth seeing if you missed them the first time around; the last two in particular are pretty meaty and essential reading for any booklover.

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