Lit events: Doug Dorst, Mary Roach, Bookswap, and more

Monday, Aug. 9
Former local Doug Dorst has a knack for getting lots of people to read his fiction. His Colma-set debut novel, Alive in Necropolis, was San Francisco's One City One Book selection last year, and his new short-story collection, The Surf Guru (Riverhead, $26), was the Rumpus' book-club selection last month. What's his secret? Perhaps, as with his new book's titular figure, there is cause for speculation about mystical powers. "Some say the Surf Guru controls the tides," Dorst writes. Indeed. It could just be that he's a fine writer and his prose sweeps you up into it. Like, um, a perfect wave. Dorst lives in Austin now, but he'll be back in town while touring with the book. Catch him if you can at the Marina branch of Books Inc., 2251 Chestnut (at Avila), S.F. 7 p.m., free; 931-3633, www.booksinc.net.

Friday, Aug. 13
We all know that in San Francisco, it doesn't really feel like summer until September and October. But that doesn't change the fact that the back-to-school season already is upon us, and going back to school often means reading for reasons other than pleasure. Unless, of course, we head to the Booksmith, which continues its deservedly popular Bookswap tonight by cleverly subverting the standard back-to-school dread. "Bring a book that moved you at some point in your education," the swaplords say, one that "deepened your love for books somehow." We all have them, don't we? And we can safely assume that sharing them with like-minded readers, over wine and snacks, won't feel like homework at all. The evening's special guests include local authors Caroline Paul (East Wind, Rain, Harper Perennial, $14) and Justine Sharrock (Tortured: When Good Soldiers Do Bad Things, Wiley, $26), presumably along with whatever books first got them enjoying reading. The ticket price covers food, drinks, and a coupon for 20 percent off Booksmith purchases. 1644 Haight (at Cole), S.F. 6:30-9:30 p.m., $25 (advance purchase recommended); 863-8688 or www.booksmith.com.

Tuesday, Aug. 24
Where do you go after Stiff, Spook, and Bonk? That is, after Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers; Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife; and Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex? You go into space, that's where. Or, at least, into research facilities whose purpose is to understand the other-than-Earth existence. Hence Oakland author Mary Roach's latest dispatch, Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void (Norton, $26). How refreshing it is to know that after all her intrepid research, Roach still remains so curious. It is less refreshing, perhaps, than knowing what happens when you puke while wearing a space helmet. Ask her about that at Bookshop West Portal, 80 West Portal Ave. (at Vicente), S.F. 7 p.m., free; 564-8080 or www.bookshopwestportal.com.

Thursday, Aug. 26
The title of Teresa Gowan's new book is Hobos, Hustlers, and Backsliders (University of Minnesota Press, $25), which almost makes it sound romantic. But the subtitle is Homeless in San Francisco, which puts it in perspective. Hopefully. It's too easy, even in San Francisco, to lose perspective on homelessness. If it weren't, how would we be able to talk about dumpster diving — a disgusting and debasing activity that some people do only to keep from starving to death — as though it were a recreational sport? That might be a good question for Gowan, a sociology professor who spent several weeks hanging around with our city's homeless, helping them cope and survive, and came away with the material for her challenging book. Tonight she'll be at Modern Times Bookstore, 888 Valencia (at 20th St.), S.F. 7 p.m., free; 282-9246 or www.moderntimesbookstore.com.

 
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