The Litquake festival, San Francisco's weeklong salute to all things literary, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, with more readings and events scheduled than ever before. With almost 100 events to choose from over the course of the week, however, Litquake's schedule can feel like a slog through War and Peace. No need to panic, dear readers: 7x7 has you covered. This short list of our top picks should help you storm the festival with all the zest of Michiko Kakutani tearing into a first-time novelist.
The big guns: If you can only make one event at Litquake, it should probably be the Lit Crawl (see below), but two more big events are also worth noting. The festival kicks off this Friday with the Book Ball, an opening-night fete that boasts lively jazz, erudite conversation, and the opportunity to wear party masks of famous authors. Your ticket buys one drink and hors d'oeuvres. The other major event is the presentation of the annual Barbary Coast Award, honoring Joy Luck Club author Amy Tan for her contribution to the Bay Area literary scene. The popular writer of novels on Asian heritage and assimilation will be subjected to a roast, or, as emcee Ben Fong Torres puts it, an "Amy Tan Stir-Fry." (Book Ball: Friday, October 9th, 8 pm, $20, at the Herbst Theatre Green Room in Civic Center. Barbary Coast Award: Wednesday, October 14, 8 pm, $25 general admission/$75 VIP admission, at Herbst Theatre in Civic Center.)
Artists from other mediums: Not all of Litquake's participants are primarily writers by trade: two artists who have gained their fame in other arts (with a little help from Bravo) will be at the festival to promote their new books. Flamboyant fashion designer Christian Siriano will read from his new fashion guide, Fierce Style: How to Be Your Most Fabulous Self. Regular viewers will know him as the winner of Project Runway's fourth season; non-Runway fans will know him as the guy who brought "hot tranny mess" into the lexicon of an ungrateful nation. Chef John Besh, on the other hand, owned four Louisiana restaurants before his recent foray into television on Top Chef Masters; nonetheless, his reality-show fame should help popularize his new cookbook, My New Orleans. (Fierce Style: Tuesday, October 13, 7 pm, free, at Book Passage in Corte Madera. My New Orleans: Wednesday, October 14, 6 pm, free, at Omnivore Books in Noe Valley.)
Words on film: Authors make great subjects for films (note, for example, the recent success of John Keats biopic Bright Star), so it's not surprising that Litquake boasts a pair of literary-themed flicks. The Drums Inside Your Chest, a concert film, stars seven young spoken-word poets in a presentation of "humor, dirt, song, and fire." They include former Joan of Arcadia star Amber Tamblyn, who will be on hand at the screening. A more historical perspective can be found in One Fast Move or I'm Gone, an account of Jack Kerouac's soul-searching trip to Big Sur. The film features Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Tom Waits, Patti Smith, and (again) Tamblyn. Still can't get enough Tamblyn? She'll also be judging the Literary Death Match, Opium magazine's long-running authorial face-off. (The Drums Inside Your Chest: Friday, October 16th, 9:15 pm, $10, at Roxie Theater in the Mission. One Fast Move or I'm Gone: Sunday, October 11th, 7 pm, $15, at Barrel House in SOMA. Literary Death Match: Thursday, October 15th, 9 pm, $15, at Verdi Club in the Mission.)
Subcultures and movements: Mainstream authors may be Litquake's biggest draws, but the festival is also a great place for different subcultures to express their literary sides. Twelve punk-rockers will tell stories and recite poetry at the Punk Rockers Spill Their Guts event, held in honor of Gimme Something Better, a newly published history of Bay Area punk. Punk rock is also a presence in the underground "zine" culture, which will be explored in an Underground Exposed panel at messenger-bag retailer Chrome. Finally, Be Afraid! brings gay writers together to express their feelings on the "gay menace," from right-wing worries to evil queens and dykes who threaten the populace. (Punk Rockers Spill Their Guts: Monday, October 12, 8 pm, $15, at Broadway Studios in North Beach. Underground Exposed: Friday, October 16, 8 pm, free, at Chrome Bags in SOMA. Be Afraid!: Saturday, October 10, 8 pm, $5, at Joe's Barbershop in the Castro.)
Local color: It wouldn't be Litquake without some classically San Francisco authors and events. In addition to award-winner Amy Tan (see above), local author Doug Dorst will read from his novel Alive in Necropolis, which is set in an alternate-universe version of Colma, and was this year's selection for the SF Public Library's One City One Book program. And for those who can't get enough of Grace Cathedral's majesty, the chapel will play host to an assortment of poets in a Poets in the Pews benefit for the West Coast review Poetry Flash. (Alive in Necropolis: Tuesday, October 13, 6 pm, at San Francisco Main Library, Koret Auditorium, in Civic Center. Poets in the Pews: Monday, October 12, 7:30 pm, $5, at Grace Cathedral in Nob Hill.)
Walking the crawl: The Lit Crawl, Litquake's culminating event, is a three-round wonderland of readings and parties that unfolds simultaneously at nearly every bar (and even a few outdoor spaces) in the Mission. There are tons of interesting events to choose from, but here are a few of our favorites: an Edward Gorey story hour for kids at Paxton Gate in Phase 1, erotic literature at Good Vibrations in Phase 2, comedy troupe/authors Kasper Hauser at Clarion Alley in Phase 3, local publisher Counterpoint Press at the Women's Building in Phase 2, and poets presented by The Believer at the Latin American Club in Phase 3. These are only a few of the numerous choices: see Litquake's website for full details. (Lit Crawl: Phase 1, 6-7 pm, Phase 2, 7:15-8:15 pm, and Phase 3, 8:30-9:30 pm, various locations in the Mission, all events free.)