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Books: The Must-Read Books and Must-Go-To Literary Events of the Season 

Wednesday, Sep 4 2013


Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire (Aug. 22)

The final installment of Brenda Hillman's four-book series on earth, air, water, and fire, this collection of poems is transformative.

Highbrow: Each poem finds its own form and even has its own agenda, if you ask Hillman. Her work is widely considered experimentalism at its finest.

Lowbrow: Hillman "reminds us that the language we use when ordering a sandwich is also the language we use to make art," says Poets & Writers.

Mañana Means Heaven (Aug. 29)

Tim Z. Hernandez tells the tale of Bea Franco, "The Mexican Girl" who had an affair with Jack Kerouac and, in more ways than one, set both his trajectory and that of On the Road.

Highbrow: Hernandez did extensive research for this book, which could easily be a biography. Instead, he has made of her story an astounding, comparatively slow-paced supplement to Kerouac's cult opus.

Lowbrow: Aside from it being about a book that is a teenage rite-of-passage and now a movie with Kristen Stewart, this novel portrays Franco in a mythical light, and consequently Kerouac comes off more relatable than we have seen him before.

The Moth (Sept. 3)

A collection of 50 true stories from the archives of the pioneering, 16-year-old series of live tales known as The Moth, this book includes the likes of a Nobel Laureate and a White House Press Secretary.

Highbrow: Each tale has been sculpted and reworked by the show's producers to fit the 10-minute time limit; accordingly, each word has tremendous weight.

Lowbrow: Designed originally to be spoken, these stories are relatable on the most fundamental human level. It is impossible to read them and not feel an innate connection with the people who once presented them to a live audience.

Here Come the Warm Jets (Sept. 10)

The 10th in City Lights' "Spotlight Series," poet Alli Warren's first book is anthemic, both wry and full of wonder, colloquial and lyrical and glittering with revelations.

Highbrow: Upends contemporary syntax for the sake of self-expansion, moving seamlessly between edification and amused, tongue-in-cheek condemnation.

Lowbrow: "If you are in the country then I cannot lick your asshole / And everything that is throbbing and heaving and sopping / Will not throb and heave and sop"

Language Portrait Figure Form (Sept. 20)

Dean Rader's new chapbook is an entertaining and strangely accessible examination of the parallels between visual and verbal art. Titles include "The Poem Chooses Its Own Adventure" and "Self Portrait as Wikipedia Entry."

Highbrow: This book scores a high meta factor: Can talking about art still be art? And enjoyable? Rader says yes.

Lowbrow: There's a Frog and Toad poem in this book. Another title: "Poem in Which the Reader Selects the Most Appropriate of the Following Titles."

Yokohama Threeway (Oct. 15)

Beth Lisick's collection of "small shames" is a laugh-out-loud series of short, revelatory confessions propelled by curiosity and an acute desire to experience the world.

Highbrow: It is not now and perhaps never will be quite in vogue for people to share their shames, but Lisick does it with aplomb and even exuberance.

Lowbrow: Lisick has had a lot of shocking and even unbelievable experiences and tells them as one neighbor to another, as though gossiping about herself.


Uzodinma Iweala: Mills' Contemporary Writers Series hosts Iweala, one of Granta magazine's 20 Best Young American Novelists and author of Beasts of No Nation. Sept. 10,

Tom Barbash: Author of the story collection Stay Up With Me, which Dave Eggers called "one of the most satisfying cover-to-cover short story collections I can remember," Barbash will draw a rowdy crowd. Sept. 12,

Michael Chabon: The bestselling and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and, most recently, Telegraph Avenue, Chabon is as fun in person as he is on the page. Sept. 12,

Junot Díaz: Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and This Is How You Lose Her in conversation with Campo Santo Theatre's Sean San Jose in a special 11 a.m. program. Sept. 16,

Aleksander Hemon: Two-time finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, Hemon's The Lazarus Project was also a finalist for the National Book Award and was New York Magazine's No. 1 Book of the Year. Sept. 18,

Omnidawn Night: The Bay Area's premiere publisher of experimental poetry presents a sextet of talent: Martha Ronk (L.A.), Donald Revell (Las Vegas), Daniel Tiffany (L.A.), Sara Mumolo, Robin Clarke (Pittsburgh) and Dean Rader. Sept. 20,

Jonathan Lethem w/Daniel Handler: Two distinct personalities and down-to-earth literary god-dudes talk shop to celebrate the paperback release of Lethem's Dissident Gardens. Sept. 27,

xo Orpheus: 50 New Myths: Three contributors to this compilation of retold myths will read: Anthony Marra (A Constellation of Vital Phenomena), Karen Tei Yamashita (I Hotel), and Zachary Mason (The Lost Books of the Odyssey). Sept 30,

Sherman Alexie: An intimate evening with the author of The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. Alexie's won an American Book Award, a National Book Award, and a PEN/Faulkner Award, and will read from Blasphemy, a collection of new and selected stories. Oct. 1,

Peter Orner and Yiyun Li: Two true masters of fiction and beautiful prose, Orner and Li are a combo not to be missed. Orner's new book is Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge and Li's is Gold Boy, Emerald Girl. Oct. 3,

Margaret Atwood: One of the most celebrated fiction writers of our time, Atwood's more than 50 books span many literary genres, including science fiction, speculative fiction, poetry, children's literature and nonfiction. She is brilliant and personable, and this City Arts & Lectures event is a sure thing. Oct. 3,

Lucy Corin and Robert Antoni: Two wildly innovative fiction writers will read from new works in an evening co-hosted by their publishers, Akashic Books and McSweeney's. Antoni is in town from New York. Oct. 8,

Alice Notley: A resident of Paris, Notley's been a significant voice for decades and is widely considered one of the most engaging and challenging writers alive. Her visit last year was the first in more than five years and was unforgettable. Oct. 10,

Litquake: The unclassifiable, yearlong phenomenon largely responsible for the Bay Area's literary diversity and community organizing started with an annual festival that now runs for nine days and features more than 600 authors of every imaginable kind. Oct. 11-19,

Yusef Komunyakaa: The Louisiana poet has won just about every major award possible, including the Pulitzer Prize and the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award for Neon Vernacular: New & Selected Poems 1977-1989 (1994), the Wallace Stevens Award in 2011, and the Ruth Lily Poetry Prize. Oct. 17,

The Moth: In celebration of its first book, the mother of live, true, told-without-notes storytelling series takes over Zellerbach Hall for one night only. In conjunction with the Bay Area Science Festival. Oct. 28,

Alli Warren: Warren celebrates the publication of her first book — the 10th in City Lights' prestigious Spotlight Series — at the legendary bookstore. A poet you simply must know, her work has wide appeal and her readings are unforgettable. City Lights ought to be proud of this one. Oct. 29,

Garrison Keillor: Perhaps best known as the radio host of Prairie Home Companion and from the Lake Wobegon stories, Keillor's humor, insight, and masterful use of language will be on display for O, What A Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic and Profound, a new book of poetry. Nov. 17,

Mary Oliver: She won the Pulitzer for American Primitive and the National Book Award for New and Selected Poems Volume One. Her attention to the natural world is a national point of pride. Nov. 20, Nourse Theater,

About The Author

Evan Karp


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