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‘The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories From My Life,’ by John le Carré

Thu, 29 Sep 2016 22:23:03 UT

The son of a con man, a former low-ranking member of British Intelligence and perhaps the premier novelist of espionage in the past half century, the man born David Cornwell has spent his life trading in obfuscation and make-believe. First comes the imagining, then the search for the reality. Even though members of the public and the press presume he has access to some treasure trove of super-secret tradecraft, le Carré has always taken pains to downplay his reputation as a firsthand master of espionage. While he admits that there are aspects of his three years as a young diplomat stationed at the British Embassy in Bonn that he can’t or won’t discuss, he makes clear that his job consisted largely of overseeing the entertainment of visiting dignitaries and escorting groups of Germans to London for cultural exchange. Once the phenomenal success of “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” crests, however, le Carré finds that he can enjoy access to a more elevated range of celebrities, especially as the Cold War wanes. In “The Pigeon Tunnel,” le Carré describes these encounters with his characteristic eye for the telling detail, capturing some of the ambiguities inherent in these outsize personalities. From the time of his literary breakthrough, le Carré has enjoyed interest from television and film productions, and “The Pigeon Tunnel” offers glimpses of how heady — and frustrating — that attention can be. Le Carré’s friend Alec Guinness, George Smiley in the BBC versions of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and “Smiley’s People,” receives a fond remembrance as both a brilliant actor and a dependable professional. Stanley Kubrick, attempting to secure the rights to “A Perfect Spy” under an assumed name, makes a cameo appearance, as does an elderly, half-blind Fritz Lang, confident that he still wields enough power in Hollywood to green-light a screen adaptation of “A Murder of Quality,” le Carré’s slight second novel. Ronnie Cornwell is a monster, but a charming one, endlessly self-confident, capable of grand bouts of self-delusion, inspiring loyalty even from those he has harmed the most. The title of this memoir comes from le Carré’s recollection of a shooting range in Monte Carlo, where birds captured on the casino roof were sent down a pitch-dark tunnel, emerging into the Mediterranean sunlight, where they would promptly encounter men with shotguns.

Recommended reading, Oct. 2

Thu, 29 Sep 2016 19:26:28 UT

The Wonder Fans of Donoghue’s best-selling “Room” will appreciate the author’s latest novel, a claustrophobic sickroom visit set in the dark dregs of Irish history. Carousel Court Set in a Los Angeles subdivision beset with wildfires and foreclosures, McGinniss’ raucously inventive second novel journeys through an American dream veering into nightmare. A Truck Full of Money Random House; 259 pages; $28 Kidder’s expertly reported book tracks the rise of unconventional software executive Paul English. The Huntress The Adventures, Escapades, and Triumphs of Alicia Patterson Pantheon; 357 pages; $28.95 The dramatic history of Newsday’s founder is matched by the authors’ sparkling storytelling.

Literary guide

Thu, 29 Sep 2016 19:24:40 UT

Literary guide The Best of Travel Writing, Volume 11 7 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. Douglas Kearney “Buck Studies.” 5 p.m. City Lights Bookstore, 261 Columbus Ave., S.F. (415) 362-8193. Elisa Kleven “The Horribly Hungry Gingerbread Boy: A San Francisco Story.” Books Inc., 1491 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley. 5 p.m. Books Inc., 3515 California St., S.F. (415) 221-3666. Nisi Shawl “Everfair.” 2 p.m. Borderlands Books, 866 Valencia St., S.F. Elaine Miller Bond “Running Wild.” 7 p.m. Books Inc., 1491 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley. Eowyn Ivey “To the Bright Edge of the World.” 7 p.m. Books Inc., 74 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto. 7 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. Roger Penrose, Dr. Roger Blandford “Fashion, Faith, and Fantasy in the New Physics of the Universe.” 7:30 p.m. Kepler’s, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park. Saving the Whole Wide World and Brown’s “Lucy & Andy Neanderthal.” 6 p.m. Books Inc., 1344 Park St., Alameda. 7 p.m. City Lights Bookstore, 261 Columbus Ave., S.F. (415) 362-8193. The Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy John Joseph, Karen Joy Fowler, Charlie Jane Anders, Liz Ziemska are featured. 7:30 p.m. Kepler’s 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park. Stephen Coles “What’s the Use of Fonts in Use?” 6 p.m. S.F. Library, Main Branch, Koret Auditorium, 100 Larkin St., S.F. Julian Guthrie “How to Make a Spaceship.” 7:30 p.m. Book Passage, One Ferry Building, S.F. (415) 835-1020. Eowyn Ivey “To the Bright Edge of the World.” 6 p.m. Book Passage, One Ferry Building, S.F. (415) 835-1020. Mark Jacobsen “Sensing Light.” 6 p.m. S.F. Library, Main Branch, 100 Larkin St., S.F. Josefine Klougart “One of Us Is Sleeping.” 7:30 p.m. Green Apple Books on the Park, 1231 9th Ave., S.F. (415) 742-5833. Grace Lin “When the Sea Turned to Silver.” 6:30 p.m. Mrs. Dalloway’s, 2904 College Ave., Berkeley. 7 p.m. Copperfield’s Books, 775 Village Court, Santa Rosa. Elizabeth Rynicki “Chasing Portraits.” 7 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. Nourse Theater, 275 Hayes St., S.F. (415) 392-4400. Patti Smith In conversation with Dan Stone as well as a musical performance by Lenny Kaye. 7:30 p.m. Nourse Theater, 275 Hayes St., S.F. (415) 392-4400. Susan Wolfe “Escape Velocity.” 6 p.m. Books Inc., 74 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto. Sherry Amatenstein “How Does That Make Your Feel.” 7 p.m. Redwood Shores Library, 399 Marine Pkwy, Redwood City. James Gleick, Alexis Madrigal “Time Travel.” Amy Kurzweil, Malena Watrous Kurzweil’s “Flying Couch: A Graphic Memoir” and Watrous’ “If You Follow Me.” 7 p.m. Books Inc., 74 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto. Greg Marcus “The Spiritual Practice of Good Actions.” Lucinda Scala Quinn “Mad Hungry Family: 120 Essential Recipes to Feed the Whole Crew.” In conversation with Dan Stone. 7:30 p.m. Nourse Theater, 275 Hayes St., S.F. (415) 392-4400. An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders. 7:30 p.m. Kepler’s, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park. 7 p.m. Kepler’s, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park. Aviya Kushner “The Grammar of God.” 7 p.m. Jewish Community Library, 1835 Ellis St., S.F. 6 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, 50 Mark West Springs Rd., Santa Rosa. An American History in Haunted Places. 7 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. GMOs and the Threat to Our Food, Our Land, Our Future.

‘Eyes on the Street: The Life of Jane Jacobs,’ by Robert Kanigel

Thu, 29 Sep 2016 19:22:56 UT

Jane Jacobs has had more influence on how we think about cities than anyone else since World War II, or at least since 1962, when her book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” made a case for the messy vitality of old-fashioned neighborhoods at a time when clean-slate urban renewal was all the rage. [...] notions as the value of shops and apartments along a city sidewalk are treated as holy scripture by devotees, or fodder for checklists used by earnest planners and cynical developers alike. “She was social activist, gadfly, rogue, and rebel,” writes Robert Kanigel in Eyes on the Street: Kanigel sets out to chart the evolution of a physician’s daughter in Pennsylvania coal country into a Greenwich Village working woman and then a lay author of startling originality. [...] the author strikes a conversational tone throughout that tries too hard to be engaging. When Jacobs works for the Office of War Information in the 1940s, Kanigel gushes that “her talents, her bristling intelligence, were plain to see” but then frets that “she was still invisible to the great world of literature and ideas.” Another path in — the heretical one that I recommend — is to skip the masterwork and instead read “Downtown Is for People,” one of 37 articles, speeches and ephemera in the new collection Vital Little Plans: The piece appeared in 1958 in a surprising venue, Fortune magazine, and it maps out the terrain she would explore much more fully in “Death and Life.” The “ultimate expert” on urban conditions can be you or me: “What is needed is an observant eye, curiosity about people, and a willingness to walk.” There’s plenty more of value in “Vital Little Plans,” which ranges from a 1936 piece for Vogue on New York’s jewelry district to an excerpt from the book Jacobs was working on at the time of her death 60 years later at age 89. In small doses it may be beneficial, says the woman who can be seen as having (figuratively) paved the way for the trend, but there’s a tipping point where “so many people want in on a place now generally perceived as interesting … that gentrification turns socially and economically vicious.”

Bay Area Bound: Books out this month by local authors

Thu, 29 Sep 2016 19:11:20 UT

Bay Area Bound: The Jungle Around Us, stories by Anne Raeff (University of Georgia Press; $24.95) A Thin Bright Line, a novel by Lucy Jane Bledsoe (University of Wisconsin Press; $26.95) “All the Real Indians Died Off”: And Other Myths About Native Americans, by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker (Beacon; $15) Frank Lloyd Wright and San Francisco, by Paul V. Turner (Yale University Press; $65) Chefs and the Stories Behind Their Tattoos (With Recipes), by Isaac Fitzgerald and Wendy MacNaughton (Bloomsbury; $24) Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas, by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro (University of California Press; $29.95)

‘The Huntress,’ by Alice Arlen and Michael J. Arlen

Wed, 28 Sep 2016 18:54:33 UT

The protagonist of “The Huntress” shot a leopard in India, a water buffalo in the Cardamom mountains and any number of quail — all before her 30th birthday. Patterson was expelled from a fancy boarding school for reading “Anna Karenina” on the sly, never went to college, and set speed and distance records as an aviator. In 1939, when she learned that the SS St. Louis, carrying 900 Jewish refugees, was turned away from U.S. ports, she led a campaign to change immigration quotas for Jews. After two brief, failed marriages to men her father chose, she shocked her WASP upper-crust family by marrying a Jew — even though that Jew was diplomat Harry Guggenheim, scion of a wealthy mine-owning family. The paper was housed in a former car dealership, and there was no space for a city room, so the reporters shared cramped offices with two ancient printing presses. The prescient Patterson banked on the postwar housing developments that would transform rural Long Island into a desirable bedroom community for New Yorkers who would desire a quality local newspaper. “The face of the Berliner is the most terrible part of Berlin, even more terrible than the ruins,” Patterson wrote, braving conditions so rough that Schiff returned to New York without setting foot in the isolated, war-ravaged city. When the chief sponsor, the powerful supermarket chain Grand Union, threatened to cancel the broadcast because another panelist was accused of belonging to a Communist organization in his youth, Patterson condemned its “hasty, unexamined decision” on air — a risky move because Grand Union was also a substantial advertiser in Newsday. In addition to secret meetings in the governor’s mansion and various luxurious hideaways, the two traveled together to the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War. Patterson’s series for Newsday, accompanied by photos taken by her teenage niece Alice, did not adhere to prevailing anti-Soviet prejudices but focused on advances in science and opportunities for women. The Arlens describe the atmosphere “in the days before those once shambly, sweaty, smoky, loosey-goosey political assemblies became sanitized and tightened up for television, when convention floors, hotel rooms and corridors provided an unscripted, often rowdy, garrulous mass of delegates of mostly print reporters on the prowl for stories, not sound bites.” How Runaway Slaves, Suffragists, Immigrants, Strikers, and Poets Shaped Civil Liberties in California.

‘Carousel Court,’ by Joe McGinniss Jr.

Fri, 23 Sep 2016 18:32:59 UT

Set in a Los Angeles subdivision beset with wildfires and foreclosures, Joe McGinniss Jr.’s raucously inventive second novel, “Carousel Court,” journeys through an American dream veering into nightmare. Determined to make a fresh start, Nick finds a job in California, and they move to a Carousel Court subdivision rental, only to find that Nick’s promised job doesn’t exist anymore, gutted by the economy. Phoebe works for a pharmaceutical company, selling antianxiety drugs, all the while ramping up her drug habit, the endless miles on her car and her unhappiness. Debt sends their troubled marriage to the brink, and the only way out that Nick can see is to cheaply rent out vacant houses to all the desperate people who can’t afford anything better. With a burner phone that can’t be traced to him, and a contract unofficially scribbled on scraps of paper worth about as much as a napkin, Nick rents houses he doesn’t own, on a month-to-month basis, knowing full well that the only money he might collect from his tenants is the first deposit. McGinniss’ gorgeous prose captures the agony of the “moaning winds and anguished cries coming from the bone-dry hills” as well as the rare beauty of a day when “everything pops: the colors, the people, the thick, warm aroma of coffee, the bright sunlight.” [...] he’s also a master at character, juxtaposing shallow Millennials with Phoebe and Nick, pointing out how the younger generation has “a margin for error” that Phoebe and Nick simply can’t afford at their stage in life.

‘The Wonder,’ by Emma Donoghue

Thu, 22 Sep 2016 17:27:57 UT

Lib Wright is an English nurse, one of the 19th century “Nightingales” who worked alongside Florence and adopted the Lady of the Lamp’s rigorous, scientific approach to her profession. Ireland itself shocks her; it is a world of idiocy, where backward people cling to religious beliefs to soothe the pain of poverty and the country’s brutal history of famine. Fortunately, Donoghue excels at the microcosm, and her obsessive interest in rooting out the truth makes for a compulsive read. A war is being waged in Anna’s tiny bedroom, and its combatants stand for sides not narrowly confined to the Victorian era: science versus faith, progress versus tradition, rich versus poor. Yet it’s nearly impossible to pick a side, not because they are both studied with trenchant insight, but because the characters are so wounded and full of hubris. Midway through the watch, a young journalist named William befriends Lib and weasels his way into a private interview with Anna. The full-time watch may have interfered with a secret food supply (“manna from heaven”), and now Anna is genuinely dying of hunger. The spare story provides nuanced levels of horror, from the disgust of people dying in peat bogs to the revolting details of a young girl’s physical deterioration. Lib’s clinical view of Anna softens, allowing Anna’s hyper-religiosity to slip away and reveal the terrible, underlying facts. Compassion is the only exit from this nightmare, the only good response to a world where science and religion, hating each other so much, will gladly go to war over a young girl’s body, not caring whether it costs her life.

‘A Truck Full of Money,’ by Tracy Kidder

Thu, 22 Sep 2016 17:17:06 UT

English grew up in Boston’s West Roxbury neighborhood, the second-youngest of seven children born into a turbulent working-class family, where as a tall, skinny tween he got into more than his fair share of fights, often skipped his homework and once used the money he earned on a paper route to start a small-time pot-dealing business, which he ran for about a year at an “astonishing profit.” In 1976, as a seventh-grader at Boston Latin, the country’s oldest public school, English joined the computer club, where he promptly hacked the school’s attendance software, winning the affection of a truant classmate nicknamed “Psycho.” When his brothers and sisters lost interest in the new gadget’s games, English took possession full time and began teaching himself to code. According to Kidder, the machine provided a refuge for English. “Upstairs, all the emotions of a big family were swirling around — arguments, many competing sorrows — and there was nothing he could do up there to change what worried and upset him,” Kidder writes. [...] he could always figure out how to tell the computer to do what he wanted, and it didn’t argue back or ignore him. After graduation, he landed a job with a former professor at a company called Interleaf, which made software that helped create huge, complex electronic documents like aircraft manuals. During an emergency hospital visit, a neurologist diagnosed English with bipolar disorder. “A Truck Full of Money” gives us a sensitive and vivid portrayal of bipolar disorder, often capturing English’s manic stages in long, colorful quotes that careen riotously from topic to topic. The book also takes us inside the software venture capital world, the absurdity of which Kidder — whose books include “Home Town” and “Mountains Beyond Mountains” — lays bare in short, cogent sections, unencumbered by entrepreneurial buzzwords. [...] he’s never been entirely comfortable with money, and Kidder artfully devotes several sections of “A Truck Full of Money” to touching and intimate stories about English’s attempts to use his money to help those less fortunate than him.

Recommended reading, Sept. 25

Thu, 22 Sep 2016 17:16:12 UT

Doubleday; 197 pages; $24.95 McEwan’s fantastically entertaining novel offers a delightful twist on “Hamlet” — as told by unborn baby boy. Soul at the White Heat Inspiration, Obsession, and the Writing Life Arguably a kind of almanac, this indispensable collection showcases Oates’ critical vision: never sacrificing complexity, relentless, acute, compassionate. A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis What has become the memoir of the political moment addresses the festering anger of the white American working class. Lelyveld’s well-told tale provides details of the momentous challenges facing Roosevelt in 1944 and 1945.

Literary guide

Thu, 22 Sep 2016 17:15:38 UT

Literary guide Karma Bennett “Beyond Facebook.” Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. Michelle McKenzie “Dandelion and Quince.” 11 a.m. A Great Good Place for Books, 6120 LaSalle Ave., Oakland. Omertapalooza Poetry and music with David Meltzer, Julie Rogers, Bill Crossman, Zan Stewart. 7 p.m. Bird & Beckett Books & Records, 653 Chenery St., S.F. Amy Stewart “Lady Cop Makes Trouble.” 4 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. Courage, Resistance, and Existential Peril in the Nuclear Age. 2 p.m. Books Inc., 1491 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley. Ayesha Curry “The Seasoned Life.” Marines Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter St., S.F. $10-$55. 7 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. Elizabeth Lesser, Isabel Allende “Marrow: A Love Story.” Commonwealth Club, 555 Post St., S.F. (415) 597-6705. Lynne Cox Swimming in the Sink: An Episode of the Heart. 7 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. Commonwealth Club, 555 Post St., S.F. (415) 597-6705. 6:30 p.m. Marines Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter St., S.F. (415) 597-6705. 7 p.m. Diesel, 5433 College Ave., Oakland. Amy Stewart “Lady Cop Makes Trouble.” Zyzzyva No. 107 Celebration Featuring Christopher Adamson, Heather Altfeld, Ann Cummins, Lori Ostlund and Austen Leah Rosenfeld. 7 p.m. City Lights Bookstore, 261 Columbus Ave., S.F. (415) 362-8193. David Arnold, Jandy Nelson Arnold’s “Kids of Appetite” and Nelson’s “I’ll Give You the Sun.” 7 p.m. Books Inc., 74 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. Donna J. Haraway “Staying With the Trouble.” 7 p.m. City Lights Bookstore, 261 Columbus Ave., S.F. (415) 362-8193. Stories From the Life of a Migrant Child. 7:30 p.m. Commonwealth Club, 555 Post St., S.F. (415) 597-6705. Tracy Kidder “A Truck Full of Money.” 7 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. 10 p.m. Books Inc., 301 Castro St., Mountain View. The Society For Conventional Correspondence 7:30 p.m. Green Apple Books on the Park, 1231 9th Ave., S.F. (415) 742-5833. Lynne Cox “Swimming in the Sink.” 7 p.m. Octopus Literary Salon, 2101 Webster St., Oakland. Steven Grasse “Colonial Spirits: A Toast to Our Drunken History.” Nate Jackson “Fantasy Man: A Former NFL Player’s Descent Into the Brutality of Fantasy Football.” Tracy Kidder, Becky Worley “A Truck Full of Money.” Commonwealth Club, 555 Post St., S.F. (415) 597-6705. Amy Stewart “Lady Cop Makes Trouble.” 7 p.m. Books Inc., 74 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto. 6 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. 6 p.m. Diesel, 5433 College Ave., Oakland. First Congregational Church of Berkeley, 2345 Channing Way, Berkeley. Confronting America’s Pornpanic with Honest Talk about Sex. 7 p.m. Books Inc., 74 Town & Country Village, Palo Alto. 7 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. Rad Women Worldwide 7:30 p.m. Green Apple Books on the Park, 1231 9th Ave., S.F. (415) 742-5833. 1 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. Plots and Subplots in the Novel Jessica Levine examines “Room With a View” and “The Great Gatsby.” Modern Senegalese Recipes from the Source to the Bowl.

Books for the younger reader

Thu, 22 Sep 2016 17:14:27 UT

A coastal Northern California town is the setting for this unsettling but ultimately uplifting graphic novel about the impact of serious illness on a family. Cat’s little sister Maya has cystic fibrosis and a breathing tube. Turns out ghosts are out around the Day of the Dead, allowing locals to reunite with ancestors. Cat is wary, but Maya is eager to find out more, keenly aware of her own mortality, especially after being hospitalized. Creator of the best-selling “Sisters,” “Smile” and “Drama,” San Francisco’s Telgemeier again demonstrates virtuosity. Full-color cartoon cells easily accommodate nature, domestic life and the supernatural. Snappy speech bubbles further cultural context, humor and pathos. Twelve-year-old Archer Magill narrates, recalling first grade through sixth — from his stint as ring bearer for a family friend’s wedding (train wreck) to his role as best man for his uncle (much better). In between, the charmingly clueless Archer deals well enough with bullies, friendship, growing up and a death, thanks to terrific role models — his own dad (a vintage car enthusiast), his grandfather (architect in their Midwestern town), Uncle Paul (all-around good guy) and Mr. McLeod (the hunky science teacher intern). The historical record is full of holes. Reading and writing were crimes. Here, an award-winning author-illustrator draws on an actual estate sale appraisal from 1828 to create first-person free-verse narratives for 11 Carolina slaves. Names, ages and market value. [...] the barest information inspires richly imagined lives — for example, Jane, an accomplished seamstress; Stephen, a master carpenter; and John, the boy treated as their son. African origins, the Atlantic crossing, family separation, brutal punishment and bleak conditions merge with hopes for education, sanctioned marriage and freedom. Two pages are laid out on the vertical to emphasize the grandeur of Half Dome, a sequoia and the power of his images to extol America’s beautiful landscapes and speak to their preservation. Elegantly elongated figures lightly populate the dusty, golden pages of this fictionalized account of her childhood, spent in a desert village, close to the land but not close to water. In this affecting tale, Gie Gie awakens early every morning to trek miles with her mother to fill jugs with “earth-colored liquid,” play with friends at the well, then carry the heavy load back home. Like water activist Badiel herself, Gie Gie dreams of something better, raising issues of political will, equity, public health and opportunity. Silliness rules in this sequel to the popular picture book “Duck on a Bike.” Bright art fills every page with motion and merriment as Dog, Cow, Pig and Pig, Chicken, Mouse, Goat, Horse, Cat, Horse and Sheep come on board, one by one. In town, they drive by a diner, and the wide-eyed customers and staff are a study in hilarious caricature, including the police officer (an Al Roker look-alike) and Farmer O’Dell, who finally recognizes his own tractor.

Litquake guide, 2016

Wed, 21 Sep 2016 23:56:53 UT

Litquake runs Oct. 6-15 and begins with an opening-night gala celebrating 400 years of Shakespeare, with poet Gary Soto, harpist Shelley Phillips and a special performance by San Francisco Shakespeare Festival. One-Star Reviews of Best-Loved Books is a sure thing, with the likes of Kelly Anneken and Na’amen Tilahun, and “Gonzo: 50 Years of Hunter S. Thompson” celebrates 50 years since the publication of “Hell’s Angels,” with Alan Rinzler, Pia Hinckle, Juan Thompson, Gary Kamiya, Cintra Wilson and Susie Bright, as well as the Bay Area premiere screening of “Gonzo @ the Derby.” Sunday: A free, all-day arts festival in the Mount Tamalpais amphitheater features readings by Dana Gioia, Jane Hirshfield, Kim Stanley Robinson, Alejandro Murgía and many more, as well as music by Classical Revolution and dance by Anna Halprin; conversations between Michelle Tea and Daniel Handler, Arisa White and Robin Coste Lewis; the popular Barely Published Authors series; a table reading of Robert Mailer Anderson’s new play “The Death of Teddy Ballgame”; Latina Fiction: Politics, Social Justice, and Sexuality; an LGBTQ spotlight in the Castro, with Rabih Alameddine and Meliza Bañales; a literary biking tour of San Francisco; and Equality or Progress: Emma Cline reads from and discusses her much-talked-about debut novel, “The Girls,” and Word for Word presents staged performances of verbatim excerpts from Maxine Hong Kingston’s “Woman Warrior” and “China Men,” directed by Eugenia Chan. At the Make-Out Room, Adobe Books, Alley Cat Books, Dog Eared Books and Modern Times Bookstore Collective come together for music and readings in celebration of their common interests in the historic Latino Cultural District. Litquake presents its inaugural brown-bag lunch, featuring Stanford Professor Roland Greene speaking on the Renaissance and Baroque worlds of Miguel de Cervantes. “Writing Indigenous Experiences” features Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Dina Gilio-Whitaker, Alison Owings, Kim Shuck, Lindsie Bear and Greg Sarris, and “Who’s Laughing Now? A Night of Funny Females,” co-presented by SF Sketchfest, features novelist Jade Chang, comedians Phoebe Robinson (2 Dope Queens), Karinda Dobbins, and Caitlin Gill and Beth Lisick. Stephen Elliott and Tom Barbash will be in conversation, and poets Chinaka Hodge, devorah major and RyanNicole will join Afro-futurist jazz trio Broun Fellinis at Doc’s Lab.

A word with the author: Mauro Javier Cardenas at Litquake

Wed, 21 Sep 2016 23:53:00 UT

Born in Ecuador, Mauro Javier Cardenas planned to return home after receiving an education in the United States, with the intention of changing the political environment there. Antonio, one of the principal characters in Cardenas’ debut novel, “The Revolutionaries Try Again,” does return to Ecuador. Summoned by a childhood friend with whom he had catechized the poor, in order to run for office and help save the country from corruption, Antonio struggles with the decision, after 10 years, to leave San Francisco. Ultimately, he is compelled by the allure of their youthful idealism, as though by some mysterious force he wants to but cannot deny. Told in winding sentences propelled by interjections and an almost manic energy, “The Revolutionaries Try Again” (Coffee House Press; $16.95) is both ambitious and irreverent, its language as suffused with childhood jest as with profound, urgent questions of purpose. Sponsored by The Chronicle, Litquake will present an immense range of topics by roughly 800 authors at 200 events, from conversations between the likes of Michelle Tea and Daniel Handler to readings by first-time novelists Yaa Gyasi and Emma Cline, and panels that range from New Normal: At a coffee shop in Hayes Valley, wearing all black but for a colorful T-shirt and scarf, and holding a motorcycle helmet, Cardenas looks like a bohemian rock star. Because there are roughly 10 Litquake events a night, the festival often receives complaints that there are too many options — for instance, Cardenas is also reading as part of Global Fiction: [...] there are a lot of people who bounce around from job to job, and are kind of bohemian in their outlook on what a career path should be, or what their long-term goals are. Litquake co-founder Jane Ganahl added that although they have tried to scale back the festival, “each year there are more organizations that want to be part of it; each year there are more authors.”

‘Nutshell,’ by Ian McEwan

Wed, 21 Sep 2016 20:10:21 UT

There aren’t many writers who can keep surprising us decades into a career that’s already produced multiple tours de force, including “Amsterdam,” “Atonement” and “Saturday,” but Ian McEwan has done it again. A master of the miniature powerhouse, McEwan pulls all this off in under 200 compact pages that span two momentous days. In place of Shakespeare’s moody young Dane out to avenge the murder of his father, McEwan’s hero is an unborn baby boy, two weeks from term, “reeling off the walls of my castle, the bouncy castle that is my home.” Sight unseen (of course), he detests this whistling, “dull-brained yokel” who batters him with every sexual thrust and has usurped his father’s rightful place in the dilapidated but still highly marketable Cairncross family mansion in St. John’s Wood. Not only do we get a prenatal infant’s alarming perspective on sex and childbirth, this is a fetus who hears everything and understands most of it. Nurtured on a steady stream of talk radio and podcasts, he’s extraordinarily well informed about world of “self-loving nationalism,” global warming, “the urinous tsunami of the burgeoning old” and the “less than united kingdom ruled by an esteemed elderly queen” into which he’s about to be born, a world in which “teenagers phone in with problems that would stump a Plato or a Kant.” Unlike Shakespeare’s depressive Prince of Denmark, McEwan’s not-so-innocent prenatal princeling is wired for optimism: I’ve heard enough of such talks to have learned to summon the counterarguments. McEwan clearly has fun putting these characters through the paces of a murder plot that hinges on a toxic smoothie, of all things. The baby’s father, John Cairncross, is a financially strapped poet and small-press publisher who has bored his wife with one too many recitations. Beyond its “bounded in a nutshell ... king of infinite space” epigram from Shakespeare, McEwan’s clever novel is seeded with sly references to Hamlet, including Danish takeout (there’s a concept) and even a clock “ticking in thoughtful iambs.” McEwan’s playful tragicomedy is one more smart reason for not shuffling off this mortal coil just yet — despite the unending stream of distressing news. In addition to The Chronicle, Heller McAlpin reviews books regularly for NPR, the Los Angeles Times, Barnes & Noble Review and the Washington Post.