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Litquake 2005

Booze & Books

Like books? Enjoy the unsolicited intimacy of crowded rooms? Want to take intrusive, ill-timed flash photographs of some of your favourite local authors? Simply have a drinking problem? Then you'll be glad to hear that on October 7th, Litquake is back for its fourth year -- this time bigger and more literary than ever before.

Since its inception in 2002, the Litquake festival has grown from a sizeable local mini-fest to a burgeoning literary phenomenon. In 2001, they had fifty authors signed up -- now they have over two hundred. While, the original festival lasted a weekend, this year's comprises seventeen events over nine days. Throughout these notable changes, Litquake's website has stuck firmly to this nugget of deadpan self-analysis: "A San Francisco Literary Festival", which, I suppose, about sums it up.

It's about the books. And -- almost as important -- it's about San Francisco. Because, behind the sleek website and extensive list of participating authors (think Daniel "Lemony Snicket" Handler, think Lawrence "City Lights" Ferlinghetti) there's a genuine grass-roots message. Litquake is primarily about cultivating literariness and getting everyone writing. It's a call to pens.

And pencils. And crayons. Because Litquake is not only for adults. After the opening night (which commemorates the 50th anniversary of Allen Ginsberg's first reading of his epic, satirical poem, Howl), Kidquake starts at 2pm on the 8th. Featuring Bay Area children's writers and workshops designed to "help build the magical imaginations of kids aged 5-10", Kidquake reinforces the creative ethos behind the whole festival.

And then, as if to allay any fears that Litquake's gone soft, and to calm the shaking hands of the alcoholics among us, the drinking starts. At noon on the 8th, Savoring the Page: A Celebration of Wine and Food Writing provides a calm segue to the day's closing event, Drugschool: Writers on Pills, Powders, Plants and Pints, which is held at the Edinburgh Castle Literary Pub and is for over 21s only. Presumably, theories on the creative benefits of alcohol abuse will be posited and tested in real-time.

The booze theme remains consistent throughout, with many events being held at bars across San Francisco. These represent mere stepping-stones to the festival's cocktail-fuelled climax -- the infamous Lit Crawl -- where you drink a skinful, stagger from bar to bar and hear a variety of authors reading. This year the crawl takes in 25 venues along Valencia Street, encompassing "queer, Latino, San Francisco Stories, travel, spirituality, erotica and other writing", and ends in 12 Galaxies, where writers from The Grotto will tackle the subject of parents under the distinctly Larkinesque title They Make You, They Mold You, They Mess You Up. Contributors include New York Times bestseller Po Bronson and Emmy Award-winning producer Xandra Castleton.

The intervening days of the festival are peppered with other great events: On the 9th, there's a chance for unpublished authors of interest to read their work in Under the Radar, held at the Latin American Club. Humor Me is an exploration of comic literature, held at the Purple Onion Comedy Club on the 11th. For the Trekkier clientele, there's Science is Sexy on the 12th and the furtive-eyed voyeurs will like the sound of True Confessions on the 13th -- readings from the new anthology Single Women of a Certain Age (over 21s only). If you like a bit of music with your poetry, try Word/Play on the 14th, featuring much acclaimed duo Pireeni Sundaralingam and Colm Riain (A.K.A. Word and Violin) at The Noe Valley Ministry.

In all, it's a packed nine days of general bookishness and literary fetishism, and much of it amid the haze and buzzing neon of some of San Francisco's best pubs. There's something for most literary tastes, whether they're poetic or prosaic, fictive or factual. Check out litquake.org for more details.

Litquake runs from October 7th through October 15th. Many events are free of charge.