It was just over a year ago that three leaders of the San Francisco literary community quietly gathered to plan the destruction of books.
The trio included Amy Stephenson of the Haight bookstore The Booksmith
, and Casey Childers and Steven Westdahl, co-founders of Write Club SF
. The nefarious trio met over after-work beers to envision what would ultimately become Shipwreck, a local answer to Ray Bradbury’s classic Fahrenheit 451
, or as they bill themselves, “San Francisco’s Premier Literary Erotic FanFiction Competition.” The recurring show now regularly sees audiences of over 100 for its collaboration between Booksmith and The Write Stuff. The Aug. 7 show at Booksmith takes aim at the dystopian children’s classic, The Giver
, which debuts as a movie next month is the achingly sweet middle child in a literary family that counts A Brave New World
and The Hunger Game
s as siblings. The slim dystopian novel, consumed by young children and savored by their older counterparts, is without a hint of sexual energy (sex is purely reproductive in The Giver
) and thus so rife for erotic parody. The three founders of Shipwreck debate which novel to destroy over a lengthy email thread in the weeks leading up to the event. Past successes have included Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
, The Hobbit
, and The Chronicles of Narnia
; A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
was the most popular event to date. Nate Waggoner won The Catcher in the Rye
Shipwreck competition with a piece where Holden Caulfield stands in a bar, trying to recall the word phony:
"My uncle had to have both his knees replaced after a treadmill accident," said the tall one. It must have had something to do with a previous conversation. "So now he has these faux knees."
What was the word for these people? Charlatans? Impostors? Frauds? I was going just about half crazy trying to remember it.
"Ugh, my battery's almost dead," the princess says, looking down at the weird little white screen she kept banging away at with her fingernails all night. "This place is really not meeting my phone needs."
They were a real bunch of ... Boy, I just couldn't think of it. Pretenders? Impersonators?"
That quote alone proves you’ve got to love books a lot to want to destroy them like this.
The Shipwreck book destruction method is failsafe and tends to involve a preponderance of dick jokes. A few weeks before the event, several local authors are selected and each assigned a character from the novel in question. Each author writes a short piece from the perspective of their assigned character, which at the event is read aloud to the audience by Westdahl, while the authors face the audience from the stage not identifying the pieces as their own.
“Basically they have to sit there and listen to someone they've just met read their porn to a room full of drunkish strangers and not let on which is theirs” says Stephenson. “It's a stunning thing to witness.” After the reading audience members vote for their top three choices, and the winner is revealed, only to be invited back to the next Shipwreck to defend her title.
This month the list of writers includes Mara Wilson
, formerly known as the child star of the movie Matilda
, who has since used her humorous writings to speak out against the culture of child stars in Hollywood. In short, this event is an opportunity to see a woman whose childhood was destroyed by a children's book destroying children's books, an irony worthy of Roald Dahl.
Despite the fact that Shipwreck drums up business for an independent bookstore, highlights the work of local authors, and reacquaints hundreds of people with beloved classic novels, some readers have taken issue with the event's promise to “Ruin Good Things.”
Stephenson defends the bookstore’s event: “We created the show because we love fanfiction, and the community of writers who made it into something grand enough for us to spoof. That said, I don't think there's any way you can claim that inserting the phrase 'Bitch, I might be!' into Pride and Prejudice
does anything but destroy that book.”
The event subverts literary magniloquence (for example, using the word "magniloquence,") thumbing its nose at the pretension of salons and readings and the sanctimony of traditional book clubs. Stephenson insists that this subversion actually encourages reading. “We say we're going to destroy The Giver
next month, and we sell out of copies” says Stephenson.
The real enemy is outside, in the form of the movie incarnation of The Giver
that will be released next month. Of course we at The Exhibitionist would never pre-judge major Hollywood adaptations of beloved children’s literature, but if the trailer is anything to go off, the movie will be a soulless disaster beyond saving even by co-star Meryl Streep. Stephenson points out that however bad the SHIPWRECKED pieces are, “it can’t be worse than that trailer. Man, oh man.”
Shipwreck: The Giver
is on Aug. 7 at 7 p.m. at The Booksmith (1644 Haight). Tickets are $10 and include a “very open” bar.