“For beauty is nothing/ But the beginning of terror, which we are just able to endure,/ And we are so awed because it serenely disdains/ To annihilate us,” quotes a heavy-lidded young man over a frothy latte with cinnamon. “Every angel is terrifying.”
He's sitting in the Mission Grounds creperie; he speaks without shifting his gaze from the wall-length windows. The redhead next to him looks up from her copy of Patti Smith's Early Work and says, “T.S. Eliot.”
“Rilke,” corrects the boy.
“Oh,” says the girl. “It's nice.”
“Mmm,” says the boy.
The couple has spent the last two days frolicking at the eighth annual San Francisco Bay Area Book Festival and other literary events. Last night, the pair attended a poetry reading at Dylan's with Irish writers Ben Howard, Jessie Lendennie, and Mary O'Malley (his choice). Tonight, they plan on slipping over to the Kilowatt for “I Hate You More Than You Hate Yourself: An Evening of Disgruntled Dissonance,” a spoken-word performance featuring infamous Monday-night Chameleon host Bucky Sinister, as well as Don Bajema, Kurt Zapata, and Beth Lisick (her choice).
“I met this incredible woman at the Sojourner's Seminar [subtitled “Turning Your Journeys Into Jobs”] and picked up a couple of books from Last Gasp,” says the redhead, whose name is Melissa Inoue. “I always end up getting stuff from Last Gasp.” Her companion, Jerry Meacham, found the affair difficult to bear at times (“For a belletrist such as myself, companies like HarperCollins hold absolutely no interest except in that it is important to know thy enemy”). Eventually, though, even the 23-year-old literati has to admit that the Book Fair has a little something for everyone — seminars on book publishing, lectures on medieval ink recipes, a poetry cafe, in-depth discussions of vegetarian cooking, online erotica, debates on Hawaiian vernacular, and over 1,000 booths hosted by book-related companies from as far away as New York and Canada.
On Sunday, the barely contained delirium inside the Concourse Pavilion is a tad disconcerting. Thousands of bibliophiles pore over hundreds of thousands of new and autographed copies by their favorite, soon-to-be favorite, or niece's favorite authors. Some fairgoers have the demeanor of a small child dropped into a candy store; others seem stunned, walking through the maze of shiny, four-color covers with the guilty stare of a bulimic on a fudge brownie binge.
“I was here yesterday,” says Ela Liu, balancing numerous bags, catalogs, programs, and promotional materials. “There sure is a lot to see.” Yes, indeed. There's 4-M Enterprises, which specializes in out-of-print dog books; Bakunin Magazine, “for the dead Russian anarchist in all of us”; a Culver City company that sells fabric book jackets with handles and eyeglass pockets; Molysdatur, which specializes in books on the Enneagram; Crossing Press, which prints New Age cookbooks; hand-painted “literary jewelry” from Eleanor's Ears; lots of sex stuff from Good Vibrations; Alaskan books by Alaskan authors from Hardscratch Press; light therapy demos from Light Years Ahead; vintage pulp from Kayo Books; the greatest sauces in the world (in two volumes) from Marcus Kimberly Publishing; the Romance Writers of America; and Sisters in Crime, an organization that supports female mystery writers. And that's not all.
Upstairs, V. Vale, publisher and founder of Search & Destroy fanzine and the Re/Search books, and Henry Rollins, former Black Flag frontman and founder of 2.13.61 Publications, are sitting down to have a little chat about DIY publishing. The talk is packed; aging punk rockers and hopeful documentarians are forced to sit on the pea-green industrial shag.
“I brought some stuff to have signed,” says a woman with tribal-size piercings and a fading green mop top, “and a present for Hank.” She's not the only one. Inoue — the redhead from the poetry reading — is back for day two of the fest with a Black Flag CD in hand.
Vale asks Rollins if the punk rock movement was empowering. Rollins talks about the DIY ethic and the obsessiveness it takes to spend two days pasting a flier together for a punk rock show. Vale relates how he got $100 of start-up money from Allen Ginsberg, and how Lawrence Ferlinghetti felt compelled to match it. Both agree that those who choose to do it themselves must resign themselves to a very rough road. They finger-wag at obvious targets — Oprah Winfrey, Stephen King, television — and talk about book placement, cover design, and word-processing programs. The crowd begins to fidget until Rollins says “pharmaceuticals” (as in, you can't find them in spell check) or “motherfucker” (as in, it's hard to be in this business when there are so many dumb motherfuckers who can't, don't, or won't read). Vale calls himself an oral historian, “giving voice to the vox populi.” Rollins says he is fascinated by the country's smaller history; that he is very passionate about the arts. Patti Smith gave Vale inspiration; Henry Miller gave Rollins a spine. Neither surfs the Web. It goes on.
Vale and Rollins, friends for nearly 11 years (Rollins has a massive Search & Destroy tattoo on his back), have done it their way, so such dry exchanges are tolerated by the adoring in attendance. During the question-and-answer-cum-flattery session, one attending writer suggests that countercultural movements cannot exist any longer because they get expropriated by the mainstream media before they have a chance to develop. “I've never sought to be counterculture,” says Rollins. “It would be a hard gig. Eventually everything will be permitted and allowed. Even if you're into flamethrowing kids every day at 3 o'clock, you'll have a fan club and a Web page before you know it.”
“That's true,” sighs Inoue. “That's the state of it.”
Downstairs, John Ash, Alice Medrich, and Peter Reinhart discuss the state of sauces in America. The crowd is rapt, asking well-informed questions while clutching their new copies of The Joy of Cooking. The outcome: Chutneys are taking the place of the common vinaigrette.
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By Silke Tudor