San Francisco’s Litquake kicked off last weekend, and one of the opening events took place close to home – at the deathless (literally, so far) Kepler’s bookstore in Menlo Park. In all likelihood, I won’t be able to attend any other events this year, but there was no excuse for not toddling over to Menlo Park, especially since a friend, Marilyn Yalom, was one of the writers scheduled for the reading.
A pleasant but exhausted woman named Jane Ganahl, one of the Litquake co-founders (download the schedule here), told the audience that the place to be this weekend is Lit Crawl, Litquake’s signature event. Participants are asked to dress for the night in a classic literature T-shirt, for sale at the Lit Crawl headquarters at 518 Valencia Street, purchase a cocktail, and tip the bartender.
At the event, the organizers threaten us with “30 bearded men singing at a barbershop, a post-mastectomy stripper, a Twitter novelist, a Holocaust survivor, award-winning TV writers, a professional hair model, and the executive director of NaNoWriMo.” There’s more: readings inside a botanical brewery, a consignment store, and a rug retailer. Plus an open mic. I won’t be going. The idea of staggering about the noisy streets of the Mission District with a stack of books in one hand and a martini in the other leaves me cold – and at this time of year, this will be a literal, not figurative, cold. Another reason to show up at Kepler’s … if one needed a reason.
At Kepler’s, Harriet Scott Chessman read from her new book, The Beauty of Ordinary Things, a novel in two voices, one a Vietnam vet and the other a novice at a Benedictine abbey in rural New Hampshire. Meg Waite Clayton read from The Wednesday Daughters, a sequel to the Wednesday Sisters, focusing on a group of women combing through a tangled family history in England’s Lake District. The only male in the group, Keith Raffel, read A Fine and Dangerous Season, a thriller spun from the “what ifs” that flow from John F. Kennedy‘s fall quarter at Stanford in 1940. Michelle Richmond read from her forthcoming novel, Golden State, which takes place on a single day when California votes for secession. It’s due out in February. Ellen Sussman read from her novel, The Paradise Guest House, which explores one survivor’s coming to grips with the 2002 terrorist bombings in Bali. You’ll notice I’ve listed everyone alphabetically? That’s the order in which they read.
Marilyn’s last name begins with a “Y.” She finished the reading with this, from How the French Invented Love:
During the summer of the [Dominique] Strauss-Kahn affair, I found myself walking behind the Cathedral of Notre Dame and wondering how I could finish this book. Had love in France become little more than a myth? Were the French abandoning the ideal of “the great love” in favor of serial affairs? Had seduction won out over sentiment? And then my eye was drawn to a strange sight. I saw, attached to the grille on the Pont de l”Archevêché crossing the Seine, a forest of glittering objects, small padlocks with initials or names on them, sometimes with dates or hearts: C and K, Agnes & René, Barbara & Christian, Luni & Leo, Paul & Laura, 16–6–10. There must be at least two or three thousand. And already, on the other side of the bridge, a few similar locks were clinging to the grille. How long before that side would also be completely covered?
I hung around, enchanted by the spectacle, and was rewarded by the sight of two youthful lovers, who came across the bridge arm in arm, affixed a lock to the grille, drank from each other’s lips, and threw the key into the Seine.