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Read This If You Want to Live 

Litquake is an earthquake. Of literature. And it is coming for us.

Wednesday, Sep 3 2008

Okay, it's becoming obvious that nobody is going to say anything, because, well, who wants to be the buzzkill, right? But this whole Litquake situation? Something really has to be done about this. Not someday. Not eventually. Now.

This 7.0 seismic event on the literary Richter scale is a full-bore natural disaster, fully acknowledged as such, and apparently anticipated not with horror but instead with delight, all because it happens to contain various elements of cultural enrichment.

Are we seriously okay with this?

Just to be clear: We're saying we've seen this Litquake thing happen several times before, and we actually know precisely when it will happen again (Oct. 3-11). It'll be nine straight days of willful tectonic mayhem, and nobody — not the scientists, not the city government, not the so-called "activists" — is doing a damn thing to stop it.

Instead we've got Dave Eggers presenting an award to Tobias Wolff for his contribution to Bay Area letters. Terrific. Yeah, okay, let's get two of the most powerful literary forces of nature we can find and go ahead and just smash them right together. That's cool. What if Wolff's contribution to Bay Area letters is getting us all destroyed? What then, eh?

What's worse, we've gone and gotten the Contemporary Jewish Museum involved as a presenter of the award. Here's this impressively high-minded cultural institution in a beautiful, architecturally striking new exhibition space, which hasn't even been open for a year yet, and we've gone and painted a bull's-eye right on its big shiny angular forehead.

It goes on. Oh, how it goes on. How shamefully irresponsible to join forces with the Porchlight storytelling series at the ultra-high-capacity Herbst Theatre, where authors — including Jonathan Ames of the World's Most Phallic Building contest, San Francisco's Robert Mailer Anderson and Cintra Wilson, East Bay spoken worder April Sinclair, Alternadad Neal Pollack, and others — will be made to tell live, unprepared stories based on a chosen theme, "Suckered: Tales of Innocence Lost." (Friday, Oct. 3 at 8 p.m., $25.

You want innocence lost? Think 1906! Think epic catastrophe! How's that for saying sayonara to San Francisco's innocence? What we've really lost, it seems, is our minds. Maybe we've gotten so heady with the smell of books that it has simply gone to our heads.

They say the Three Gorges Dam on China's Yangtze River will displace so much water that it actually messes up the entire planet's rotation. And what of Litquake, people? What of Litquake?

Oh, but what the hell: Let's ignore the warnings and simply frolic along on a wild, literary pub crawl down Valencia Street to swarm around people reading poems and short stories and memoirs and whatever else! La di da! (Saturday, Oct. 11, 6-9:30 p.m. in the Mission. See for venue details.)

And hey, while we're at it, why not just increase the size of this annual travesty by another 10 percent? Attendance has gone up only from 4,000 in 2004 to 10,000 in 2007; let's take some real risks and see if we can get it up to 12,000 this year, or more! Let's have a whopping 44 venues, and tear the roofs off of all of them, and let our rivers of word-magma pour through the streets, right?

Of course it wouldn't be complete without another so-called "Literary Death Match," and another set of readings called "Off the Richter Scale," just so we're really absolutely positive that we're asking for our own annihilation. Oh, sure, our world will be fine without the likes of Daniel Handler, Tamim Ansary, Alan Black, Stephen Elliott, Daphne Gottlieb, Eddie Muller, Michelle Richmond, Rebecca Solnit, Deb Unferth, and the rest of us around anymore. No worries!

Nor is it enough, apparently, to shout ourselves hoarse with storytelling. We've decided we must pound the earth with our hands and feet as if deliberately to provoke its wrath. We have enabled Off Book: Stories that Move, a collaboration between Litquake and ODC Theater that pairs writers with choreographers. That means, among others, Rose of No Man's Land author Michelle Tea and "contact improvisation" maestro Scott Wells; The Five Forty Five to Cannes author Tess Uriza Holthe with Katie Faulkner's Little Seismic dance company. Little, eh? Can you not feel the rumblings already? (Thursday, Oct. 9. at 8 p.m. at the ODC Theater. 863-9834 or

Seriously, now. Dramatics aside, let's bring it down for a minute. Listen: There will even be a two-day affair called "Kidquake." For real. (Oct. 7-8 at the Koret Auditorium and Latino Room at the San Francisco Public Library, 100 Larkin. Admission is free.) Goodness gracious. What will it take to avert this destructive madness? When will someone please think of the children?

Probably not until it's too late. Maybe that's just too much to ask of hedonists like us. Maybe living on the edge is just what we do. The edge of the continent. The edge of fate. Suit yourself, San Francisco. Start your endings now at

Fall Arts Guide

Choreographer Erika Chong Shuch by Nirmala Nataraj
Events to check out this fall

San Francisco Jazz Festival by Eric K. Arnold
Classical and Opera events

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Visual Arts Picks

Fall Books by Bay Area authors

Loretta Greco by Chloe Veltman
Fall Theater Events

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About The Author

Jonathan Kiefer

SF Weekly movie critic Jonathan Kiefer is on Twitter: @kieferama and of course @sfweeklyfilm.


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