Fall Arts: Reading is optional, but Litquake is mandatory

The reasons to attend this year's Litquake are obvious. You don't have time to read books anymore. Nobody does. And the whole publishing industry is doomed.

Party time? True literature lovers will recognize the opportunity. See, by hitting this one festival, you can have the essence of a whole bunch of books packed right into your soul all at once. It's like taking one of those huge, almost unswallowable vitamins, with 5,000 percent of your recommended daily allowance of intellectual edification — except even better, because you probably won't later pee most of it out. Maybe some of it.

Plus, in one ecstatic nine-day binge, you can do the good deed of making more than 550 authors (including me) feel less alone. That's important these days. As Litquake cofounder and former SF Weekly mainstay Jack Boulware explains, “It's just so great to know there are all these other people, writers, with all the same fears and insecurities. I wish there was a Litquake around when I was a young person.”

Litquake has been around since 1999. Its beloved “litcrawl” draws audiences of thousands now, and has spawned similar events in New York City, Los Angeles, and beyond. It bodes well for the future of the storyteller's art.

“Who really knows where the industry of publishing is going?” Boulware says. “It's like with the Internet, when all these futurist dickwads started making predictions. Meanwhile, MFA programs and journalism programs have waiting lists. People want to go and study in a field where there's no monetary gain. That hunger is very exciting to me.”

And so Litquake 2010 includes, but is not limited to: every Bay Area writer you can think of; other writers you've never heard of; a literary tour of San Quentin prison; a one-day literary film festival; a guy who has been called the Indiana Jones of entomology, in conversation with a honeybee-researching neurobiologist; an homage to Dashiell Hammett and Mother Goose; a live Patti Smith performance in honor of Lawrence Ferlinghetti; men's sports; women's memoirs; Kurt Vonnegut's son. There's so much. The press release is three times longer than this article.

Local author Karl Soehnlein, who also teaches in USF's creative writing MFA program, goes so far as to call Litquake indispensable. “I get a lot of immediate feedback; it becomes part of the writing process,” he says. “Last year I read an excerpt from my novel, Robin and Ruby, that was published this spring. It was a confirmation that I was going in the right direction with it. Sometimes it's just very specific: People laugh at a line, and it's like, okay, don't cut that line.”

Or, as Mill Valley author Joyce Maynard, most recently of the novel The Good Daughters, sums it up: “Most of the time there's nothing very glamorous about being a writer. October gives us that brief moment to pretend we're all rock stars. Of course I love that.” (She will be reading as part of the Tales from Hollywood Hell event on Oct. 5 at the Herbst Theatre.)

Boulware dimly remembers somebody describing Litquake as “book prom.” In other words, something you'd better not miss or you'll regret it for the rest of your life.

Litquake runs Oct. 1-9 at various San Francisco locations; call 750-1497 or visit www.litquake.org.

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