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The SF LitQuake LitCrawl 2010 guide

There is a fantastic celebration of literature and writing that takes place in San Francisco every year called LitQuake. It’s an amazing event organized largely by volunteers (LitQuake is a non-profit which only has two paid employees). The event culminates in a “Lit Crawl” – a sort of literary stroll that takes place in and around Mission Street and Valencia Street.

I missed the LitCrawl last year and was determined to attend this year, which happened to take place on Sunday, 10/10/10! The crawl is arranged in three parts, each lasting about an hour. You pick up or download a LitCrawl guide, which shows you the bookshops, bars and cafés that are holding events and you pick an event to attend for each hour. Our problem was that there were not many things that appealed to us in Phase 1 and lots of things we wanted to attend in Phase 2. For Phase 1 we decided to go to Four Barrels Coffee shop on Valencia and 14th for ‘Scribd: Where the World Comes to Read’. We caught a really humorous monologue by Helen Black, or maybe it was an extract from her blog or her book, about a road trip taken with her children from Portland Oregon (or perhaps it was fictional). Whatever it was, I really enjoyed it! Helen was a very animated speaker and her piece was poignant, humorous and engaging. If this had not been the case, we would have left pretty much immediately because the venue was a little bit awkward (a huge empty space in the middle of the room, with the reader in one corner and occupied tables and chairs along two walls). We sort of lurked in front of the tables, but felt uncomfortable, as we were blocking the view of the people we were standing in front of. Check out Helen’s writing in her Scribd page/blog, which is titled ‘Going The Distance Or, The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Mother’.

A slightly blurry photo of Helen Black reading her piece

Once Helen had completed her piece, we decided to move on. We strolled into Adobe Books, a huge second-hand bookshop on 16th, which was hosting readings from Small Desk Press. The reading I enjoyed the most here were some poems by local author, Sarah Fran Wisby. Check her out here. I love the fact that her poems contain local references.

Entering the Adobe Bookstore event

Sarah Fran Wisby reading a poem about the Barbary Coast

Hub was a bit bored, and spent his time browsing through books at Adobe. Below is a photo of one of the books he found (but thankfully didn’t buy). Amongst other things, it had a listing and photos of the famous Hundertwasser Toilet in Kawakawa, Northland, New Zealand, that we actually visited during our honeymoon (so romantic . . . not!).

The book that Hub found

We decided to move on to our Phase 2 locations early so that we could get good seats, peeping into ‘Paxton Gate Curiosities for Kids’ on the way there, where there was a very crowded reading from Hans Christian Anderson. Hub’s choice for phase 2 was ‘Zombies and Zeppelins’ at his favorite bookstore in the city, Borderlands Books. I was torn between ‘City of Stairwells: Exploring Place in San Francisco’ by Writerscorps at Serendipity (a really cure gift shop) and the talk I eventually went to, simply called ‘Granta 112: The Pakistan Issue‘, which turned out to be a launch of sorts, of this issue of Granta magazine, which took place at Modern Times Bookstore a couple of doors down from Borderlands.

Once in the bookshop, I realized that Granta 112 included pieces by authors I have read/heard and liked, including, Kamila Shamsie and Nadeem Aslam, I bought myself a copy, and dipped into it, whilst waiting for the talk to begin. I also bought a copy of Michal Pollan’s, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, which I will blog about some other time.

There was just one speaker and a representative of Granta at the talk. The speaker was the wonderfully talented and hugely inspiring Uzma Aslam Khan, who read from her contribution from the magazine, titled ‘Ice, Mating’. I initially thought I would slip out halfway through the session and catch some of the Stairwell talk, but Ms Khan was so engaging that I couldn’t tear myself away. She read beautifully and evocatively.

After her reading there was a question and answer session in which she was asked a variety of questions about her background, the places she’s lived (although she is originally from Pakistan, Ms Khan has also lived in the UK, the US and Japan. She currently lives in Hawaii), and rather randomly, about her opinions of the current dramas involving the Pakistani cricket team.

My favorite question was one that the Granta representative asked about Ms Khan’s fondness of writing on tissues. This is just the kind of author’s quirk I love hearing about – the sort of thing that makes me like an author even more than I did before! I recorded Ms Khan’s answer and have posted my clip of it here. Do have a look, I know you’re going to enjoy it!

Uzma Aslam Khan reading at The Modern Times Bookstore

Once I have got through my current (vast) book backlog, I think I might buy one or both of Ms Khan’s books, The Geometry of God and Trespassing.

Hub joined me for the last five minutes of the talk and we went back to Borderlands Books to talk to our good friend, Susan Tunis, an old friend of hubs, who runs the Bookcrossing SF Bookclub that we sometimes attend and who is an avid reader as well as a talented editor and reviewer, and who also attended the Zombies talk. Check out her blog, In one eye, out the other . . . Adventures in reading, which has lots of really wonderful book reviews.

We were too tired to move on to Phase 3, though I was quite keen on seeing the McSweeney’s and The Believer offering, and ended up going home. After my positive experience of the 2010 LitCrawl, I am eagerly looking forward to LitQuake 2011.


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