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Litquake's Back

San Francisco's annual lit festival has gotten big, fast. Now a week long, it's filled with sponsors, panels, booze, music, film, and, oh yeah, lots of author readings.

A good friend of mine has on his refrigerator door cartoonist Ted Rall's classic "Everybody's Happy Nowadays," in which young, healthy, cheerful, culturally sensitive San Franciscans browbeat a skeptic until he caves in and says, yes, he also loves The City. Stories about San Francisco's Litquake festival in the local press often remind me of the Rall cartoon, with breathless writers on the verge of exhorting us, too, to say it: "We're literary! We're literary! We're splendidly literary!"

Two years ago, the first Litquake was, if you'll pardon the pun, no great shakes. The weekend get-together was mainly centered around a six-hour marathon of ten-minute readings from local authors stacked back to back to back.

This year, Litquake registers a lot louder, which is certainly not a complaint. The more people gather around and listen raptly to people who have dedicated themselves to the written word, the better. (Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh, pictured above, always draws a crowd.)

But consider this a note of caution. With Litquake's ballooning popularity and burgeoning schedule, plus the sponsors, masters of ceremonies, and associated hangers-on that events with momentum tend to accrue like barnacles, the danger is that more and more time will be spent discussing what a wonderful thing we're all doing here together -- a typically San Franciscan exercise in self-congratulation -- instead of just doing it. "It" being reading, writing, and talking about literature. (And drinking, as the Friday night pub crawl and Saturday night Edinburgh Castle reading encourage.)

The brainchild of writers Jack Boulware (San Francisco Bizarro) and vSan Francisco Chronicle columnist Jane Ganahl, Litquake now spans eight days, gathers more than a hundred scheduled authors and writers, and requires a small army of 50 volunteers.

The festival has even spread to other media. Three related radio shows co-produced by Litquake and KALW (91.7 FM) air before the festival starts (there was one show on Sept. 26; the two others featuring a discussion about the book business and a sampler of author readings air Oct. 3 and 7, respectively). And longtime David Lynch collaborator Barry Gifford will take to the venerable Balboa Theater Tuesday, Oct. 12 to break down the process of turning his novel Wild at Heart into a film. (A screening of the film is included.) There's music, too: the opening night party Saturday, Oct. 9 at the Cafe Du Nord features a battle of author-led bands, including, ahem, Bronte Saurus.

The music, radio and cinema are all preludes to what remains Litquake's raison d'etre: the fast and furious series of readings Saturday, Oct. 15 at the S.F. Main Library's Koret Auditorium. Over the course of five hours, authors such as Ellen Sussman, Diane DiPrima, Michael McClure, Tobias Wolff, and Tess Uriza Holthe will take the stage and read. No slide shows. No lighting design. Just words. This year there's spillover, with a three-hour Sunday session featuring Vendela Vida, Robert Mailer Anderson, Laurie Fox and Amy Tan. Other festival highlights include a late-night political throw-down, "America: What's That?" at the Edinburgh Castle, a panel dedicated to mystery writing, and a women's lit discussion at the Noe Valley Ministry.

So by all means, go. Pack a lunch or late-night snack. Don't let anyone sell you the official bottled water of Litquake. And if the people next to you prefer to talk on the cell phone or can't wait to network over cocktails, poke them in the ribs and tell them to spend less time talking and more time listening.

Litquake runs Saturday, Oct. 9 to Sunday, Oct. 17.