Litquake events will leave avid Bay Area readers shaken and stirred
By Lou Fancher Correspondent Contra Costa Times
Quick, name an off-the-Richter Scale festival that begins with a Hendrick's Gin future that never was, conjugates and feeds the mood of a voracious book-loving populace, scores big in the (poetry) World Series and closes with (lit) crawling in an alley near San Francisco's Mission Police Station.
It's Litquake: from Oct. 11 to 19.
The nine-day literary festival presents more than 800 writers and journalists -- 4,600 author appearances since it's founding in 1999 -- at nearly 160 venues scattered throughout the Bay Area.
Two highlights, "Lit on the Lake" and "Inside the California Food Revolution," share the joy in the East Bay.
The geographic scope includes fewer events outside of San Francisco's core than last year, but there's still the North Bay's "Words on the Waves" in Sausalito and an opportunity to imbibe in great lit at the Center for Literary Arts in San Jose.
Nearly 80 percent of the events are free.
If Litquake is a cacophonous carnival (there's a Literary Death Match, after all), it's also a tightrope expedition for authors.
True story readings, dirty haiku bouts, first-time authors, and even Cal students reading published lies add an air of danger to the temptations.
The notables are an embarrassment of riches: authors Piper Kerman, TC Boyle, Delia Ephron, Anne Perry, Isabelle Allende, Mary Gaitskill, Joyce Maynard and many more.
Barbary Coast honors go to Last Gasp Books Publisher Ron Turner during an opening night event celebrating the 150th anniversary of Jules Verne's first book, "Five Weeks in a Balloon."
The first, official East Bay event of the celebration is "Lit on the Lake: A Plunge into the East Bay's Literary Depths" (6 p.m. Oct. 13, the Lake Chalet at Lake Merritt in Oakland. The Gondola Room overlooking Lake Merritt offers the best view to ignore -- in light of the bright minds gathered for the event).
Alameda's Eli Brown ("Cinnamon and Gunpowder") is appropriately nautical with a female pirate in command of her ship. Wedgwood, a chef she kidnaps to ensure she's well fed, magically replaces meals that previously tasted like "a fart boiled in a shoe" with delicious, spicy shark bisque. Meanwhile, a riotous tale spins into a story of brave love.
Amy Franklin-Willis debuts her "The Lost Saints of Tennessee," a deftly told account of a man who can't move on -- but does, leaving behind home and past hurts to find safe harbor in self-imposed exile.
Dr. Joan Steinau Lester's "Mama's Child," a double narrative told by a white mother and her biracial daughter, proves a parent's harshest, yet most compelling teachers are often their children. Investigating racial identity may be the author's catalyst, but the fire on every page burns with the common heat of all families.
"Among the Wonderful," Stacey Carlson's opus to P.T. Barnum's American Museum, shows a first-time author straddling plot and subplots with such beautiful writing that language threatens to overtake the story. With rich historical detail and curious characters, 1840s New York is a vibrant backdrop for the story's "sights" and insights.
A Litquake gem, the slender "Holding Silvan" by Monica Wesolowska, is arguably one of the best memoirs of 2013. With spare, unflinching prose, she tells the tragic, ironically life-affirming account of losing her son. Few writers handle naked sorrow with the eloquent simplicity sculpting this must-read book.
Renee Swindle, author of "Please Please Please," will complete the panel.
While Lit on the Lake will offer a satisfying, literary-themed menu, "Inside the California Food Revolution, Thirty Years That Changed Our Culinary Consciousness" will leave listeners drooling. Joyce Goldstein, chef and founder of San Francisco's Square One restaurant and the California Street Cooking School, will be in conversation with former San Jose Mercury News food editor Carolyn Jung (6:30 p.m. Oct. 19 at The Marsh, 2120 Allston Way, Berkeley).
Goldstein's new book bears the same title as the event and traces a glutton's delight: California food culture from the 1970s to the present.
The book is food folklore, but also an exacting, epicurean entree into the area's cultural history. Early food pioneers struck gold in the kitchen with self-taught cooks, long produce-growing seasons and a boundary-busting activist attitude unafraid to flip a coin, call "tails we eat," get heads, and gorge from farm-to-table anyway.
A final chapter predicts a peril- and promise-filled gastronomic future: More women leaving the industry (less collaborative innovation inside restaurants); farmers gaining respect amid legislative support for food safety (2008's Proposition 2, mandating protections for livestock) and an ethnic infusion stirred by ancient traditions and contemporary, global influences as the next generation of food anarchists take the reins.
Litquake closes on Oct. 19 with a three-phase extravaganza promising to take book lovers to the edge. Whether or not attendees "go over" to the all-San Francisco events -- if not over the edge -- or choose to stay home with a good book, one thing is certain: the Bay Area's prolific literary providers will soon be back at their laptops, stocking up for 2014.