Tuesday, Dec. 6
Among the professionally outraged talking-head set, “Kool-Aid drinker” has become shorthand for “anyone who subscribes to beliefs different than those I am paid to espouse.” The phrase implies a gullible zealotry on the part of the believers and an evil, messianic cunning on that of the believed-in. It's a public service, then, that Julia Scheeres has written A Thousand Lives to remind us of the horror and humanity of the actual Kool-Aid moment: when, at the behest of Jim Jones, 900 Americans drank a cyanide-laced fruit punch, many at gunpoint — under a duress that belies that awful shorthand. Scheeres fills in the story's human heart, showing us how regular people came to the Peoples Temple at 1859 Geary and then to the jungles of Guayana — and how Jones' intimidation techniques kept them from leaving. Soul by soul, detail by detail, Scheeres lays bare the small tragedies that accumulated into the larger one. She discusses the book today at the Booksmith, 1644 Haight (at Belvedere), S.F. 7:30 p.m., free; call 863-8688 or visit www.booksmith.com.
Thursday, Dec. 8:
Her first night running the kitchen at the Keystone Korner, the North Beach club that brought progressive jazz to San Francisco in the 1970s, Ora Harris had what she calls “a little fight” with a “touchy-feely” Miles Davis. As she recalls in Keystone Korner: A Portrait of a Jazz Club, Harris declared, “I'll be your sister, I'll be your friend, I'll be your cousin. And that's it!” That Davis, who was selling out theaters, would play the Keystone is testament to the club's artist-friendly rep. Owner Todd Barkan cared more for music than money. Kathy Sloane's oral and pictorial history of Barkan's beauty is a treasure: In the the club's heyday, Sloane shot striking portraits of performers like Bobby Hutcherson, Carla Bley, Dewey Redman, and McCoy Tyner. These she augments with the memories of performers, patrons, and staff, which range from dishy — if Dexter Gordon's around, do not put down your whiskey — to affecting: Harris describes Barkan serving as the eyes of blind genius Rahsaan Roland Kirk on a tour of Australia, right up to helping Kirk handle a koala bear. Sloane will sign and discuss the book at Books Inc. at Opera Plaza, 601 Van Ness (at Golden Gate). 7 p.m., free; call (415)776-1111 or visit www.booksinc.net.
Friday, Dec. 9
To his credit, Lou Beach didn't name his slender, arresting collection 420 Stories for the reason you probably expect. (Well, not exclusively.) Instead, that 420 is an announcement of a serious formal constraint, one 750 million people live by but rarely consider: the number of characters allowed in a Facebook status update. Beach pulls off daft, deft storytelling in 420-character short shorts that read like novels in concentrate. “A bird lives on my head, nests in my hair, pecks at my scalp,” one begins. Another: “Vera 'Wooly' Lamb dressed like a man, and could outcuss, outshoot, and outdrink anyone in pants, Little Rock, 1922.” Here a sketch-comedy premise, there a stab at Lydia Davis-like miniature ennui, Beach's postings are by turns silly, inspired, and inspirational — the tech that shapes our lives and minds hasn't guttered the creative impulse yet. You can try to click LIKE on his face at Book Passage, 1 Ferry Building, Suite 42 (Market and Embarcadero), S.F. 6 p.m., free; call 835-1020 or visit www.bookpassage.com.