Monthly Archives: May 2012

Quick Link: Celebration of Edith Piaf at the Epicenter

Edith Piaf

Litquake’s Epicenter series is hosting a celebration of Edith Piaf at Tosca Cafe at 7:00 tonight, May 29. That’s about two and a half hours from now, actually, but if I was in San Francisco I’d definitely be making my way out there. I’ve been a fan of Edith Piaf since La Vie En Rose (the movie about her life starring Marion Cotillard) came out in 2007—she’s not only an incredible singer, but a fascinating figure. The event will feature readings from Carolyn Burke, author of No Regrets: The Life of Edith Piaf, and performances from Betty Roi.

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Quick link: Kathi Kamen Goldmark

Kathi Kamen Goldmark, San Francisco literary figure and founder of the author band Rock Bottom Remainders, has died.

I hadn’t heard of her before yesterday (although I was aware of the existence of the Rock Bottom Remainders), but the Shelf Awareness obituary has some wonderful things to say about her. Sad news for the San Francisco literary world.


Just keep running

I’ll be running my first 5K one week from today. I’m excited for the race and the milestone it represents for a former shy nerdy kid who never thought she could do anything physical, but as of today I was still huffing and puffing and half-walking my way to barely 4K. Japan being what it is, there will probably be a few octogenarians running, and if I’m lucky they won’t beat me too badly.

The thing is, I could totally have been kicking the 5K’s ass by now if I had just trained earlier and more consistently. This is kind of a theme in my life. I’m not used to working consistently for things over a period of time; I was always staying up late to finish papers in college and that sort of thing. I’ve gotten a lot better about this over the last couple of years, mostly thanks to the rigors of learning Japanese, for which there are no shortcuts (although that said, I’m taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test in a month and have barely studied), but it’s still a particular weak point of mine.

The reason I’m talking about this in a blog about books and literature has to do with my reading stamina. Last year, in 2011, two of my friends and I challenged ourselves to read 50 books within the year. You can read about it at my old blog here. I was the only one to finish the challenge, although Matt came close with 46 books. I don’t know if I would have finished it otherwise, but I ragged on him so hard every time he talked about quitting that I knew I couldn’t quit myself, even though I was really behind by about November.

Anyway, this year I privately vowed to read at least 25 books, half the number I read last year, to give myself time to slow down and read some longer books. I haven’t been keeping great track of this (after reading some really excellent nonfiction at the beginning of the year, I went through a spate of chick lit consumption that I was too embarrassed to publicize on Goodreads), but I constantly feel like I’m not reading enough, so I was surprised to find out that I’m right on track. 50 books was a bit of a stretch, but 25 doesn’t seem to be enough, so I wonder if there’s some ideal number of books I can aim for to keep me reading. Or maybe my feelings of inadequacy stem from the fact that I’m adding books to my reading list far more quickly than I’m crossing them off; since May 1 I’ve added four books (Catfish and Mandala, The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov, Valencia, and The Collective) to my to-read list on Goodreads, and actually read one (The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest).

I guess this is just my public promise to get off my butt and read more. And I’m curious: Do you keep track of your reading? How many books do you read per year?

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Green Apple Books Gift Card Giveaway

Green Apple Books tote in Takada Park!

So I currently live in Japan (Niigata Prefecture, to be precise), and it kind of prevents me from attending any literary events in SF, but at least I owned the heck out of the Green Apple Books photo contest! If you email them a picture of you sporting Green Apple garb in an interesting location (and give them permission to use it on their various sites and social media spots), they’ll send you a $10 gift card. My friend Adam took this picture of me with my Green Apple tote bag (which I love, by the way) in front of Takada Castle during cherry-blossom time around the end of April. Our local park is pretty famous for its cherry blossoms, specifically the night viewing.

Green Apple Books gift card

I got the gift card in the mail today! I’m already thinking about what I want to buy with it… perhaps San Francisco Is Burning, or A Coney Island of the Mind, or The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov, or one of the famed staff picks, or maybe I’ll just get a pile of used books.

Thank you, Green Apple!

(That awkward moment when your blog only has 3 posts, and two of them are gushing about the same bookstore… Oh well.)

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17 San Francisco Reads

Since I’ll regularly be posting about (I hesitate to say “reviewing”) books about San Francisco, I thought I’d kick my blog off with a post about some of the San Francisco books I’ve already read. It’s a surprisingly slim list; I could only come up with 17 books (though I’ve probably forgotten a few) that are partially or completely set in San Francisco or tell a story about it in some way. One of my shortcomings as a blogger is an annoying tendency to thoroughness (i.e. if I’ve read 17 books about San Francisco, I MUST blog about all of them, whether they were good, bad, or anywhere in between), so to combat this (and the fact that it’s been many years since I read some of them), I’ve only written a few summaries, and listed the rest without descriptions. They range from literary game-changers to Oprah’s Book Club picks to YA novels to total guilty pleasures; some deal with San Francisco very briefly, others are an open love letter to it, but they all have something valuable to say about the city.

 Slouching Towards BethlehemSlouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion (Farrar, Straus and Giroux,1968)

Most of the essays in this collection of writing on California in the sixties deal with other parts of the state (southern California, the Central Valley, or the Monterey Bay area), but the title essay, about drug use in the Haight-Ashbury counterculture, is an unflinching, de-romanticized look at a part of San Francisco history that has by now passed into legend. Unlike ecstatic writings by people inside the Beat or hippie movements or nostalgia-laden contemporary accounts, Didion writes from the outside looking in, and as such is able to capture the weakness and decay of the counterculture.

Continue reading

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Welcome to Barbary Prose

Green Apple Books

Green Apple Books, my favorite of the many great San Francisco independent bookstores.Via.

The first literary event I attended when I moved back to San Francisco for college was a Tom Robbins reading and booksigning sponsored by The Booksmith (a true San Francisco institution, though I didn’t know it at the time) to celebrate the release of his short collection Wild Ducks Flying Backward. I was 18 years old and had lived in the city for a month; I didn’t know my way around and was almost late to the reading thanks to a MUNI fiasco, and when I got there I was too shy to say more than two words to Mr. Robbins (although I did get an awkward photo with him that is now lost to the mists of time), but I remember sitting in the audience and feeling absolutely unreal. During my adolescence in the whitebread suburbs, I had lived and breathed literature as only a pretentious and socially isolated 16-year-old can, but in my mind the creative exchange of ideas and celebration of the arts was something that belonged to faraway times and cities, Paris in the 1930s, say. And there I was, here, now, in the thick of it.

If you’re interested in San Francisco’s literary scene, you’ve probably already read this NY Times article, but I want to link to it anyway for my first post to explain why I decided to start this blog. San Francisco is regarded as a tech city, a hip, modern breeding ground for startups and apps and gadgets. Especially considering the highly dramatized battle between print and ebooks, many would consider this state of affairs antithetical to fostering the literary arts, but in addition to being a favorite city of many writers, San Francisco is home to a flourishing independent publishing scene and a vibrant collection of independent booksellers, each with their own unique personality. We have a rich and romantic literary history (comprising Mark Twain, Herb Caen, the Beats, many Asian American writers, and so many others) that continues into the present day.

Barbary Prose, of course, comes from Barbary Coast, the old name for the Gold Rush-era area of downtown San Francisco where prostitution and gambling flourished. When I first heard of the campaign to get the name to catch on as a moniker for the present-day Financial District, I thought it was the dumbest idea ever, and to be honest I still don’t see the connection between that rough image and the modern skyscrapers and suited professionals. But I’ve come to feel a certain attraction to the lawless, freewheeling spirit that the name “Barbary Coast” recalls. For me, it also evokes Barbary Lane, the fictional Russian Hill street where Armistead Maupin’s characters lived in his Tales of the City series.

I don’t currently live in San Francisco (I’m moving back this summer), so for the first couple of months content will probably be limited to books about San Francisco and things I’ve heard about secondhand, but eventually I hope to take part in events like readings, launches, and Litquake; talk to local literary celebrities; and blog about all of it. Welcome to my literary adventure! I hope you stick around.