Sometimes I wish James Baldwin were still alive, so he could help me make sense, through his writing, of a complicated, frustrating, and messy modern world. Alas, he died a long time ago. Luckily, his books remain the fodder for book clubs, like this month's discussion of Another Country hosted by Oakland Queer People of Color Book Club. In other news, earthquakes, bombings, and modern day ghost towns. This month's authors bring turn it up on disaster, both human-caused, natural, or a little bit of both.
Tuesday, March 22: Elizabeth Percer at City Lights Booksellers, SF
Earthquakes. For the California born-and-bred, the threat of the big one is like a constant low-grade hum in the back of the brain. It's annoying, but eventually you get used to it. Except for occasional moments of fear, like say, you are driving across the Golden Gate bridge and you suddenly realize the Big One could happen right then and there, and your heartbeat races a tiny bit, and the little hum becomes a roar of Not Right Now, Please Dear God, Just Let Me Get Across This Damn Bridge. All Stories are Love Stories, the new novel from Bay Area writer Elizabeth Percer, takes the catastrophic earthquake scenario and runs with it. On Valentine's Day, two huge earthquakes hit San Francisco, all in the same hour, leaving behind ruin and devastation. Three survivors - Max, Vashti, and Gene - must navigate the rough physical and psychological aftermath.
*Elizabeth Percer will also appear at Books Inc., Palo Alto on March 29
Wednesday, March 23: Daniel Clowes at Green Apple Books, SF
Enid and Rebecca, the two teenage girls at the heart of Ghost World, Daniel Clowes' cult-hit graphic novel published in 1997, were like the penultimate '90s teens. Angsty, semi-goth, disaffected, and alienated, they captured a zeitgeist that we didn't even know was happening at the time. Looking back, it all makes sense. Clowes, a legend in the alt-comic world with such a distinctive style "Clowesian" can be used as an adjective without batting an eye, hasn't published a graphic novel in five years. Now, he's back with Patience, a 180-page, full color graphic novel billed as a "psychedelic science-fiction love story." Sounds promising in a Flaming Lips sort of way. Details here
Friday, March 25: Karan Mahajan at Kepler's Books, Menlo Park
The Association of Small Bombs, the new novel from Stanford University graduate Karan Mahajan, opens, no surprise, with a bombing. "A flat, percussive event that began under the bonnet of a parked white Maruti 800, though of course that detail, that detail about the car could only be confirmed later. A good bombing begins everywhere at once." The bomb takes the lives of Tushar and Nakul Khurana, two Delhi schoolboys who happen to be in the market to pick up their family's television. The boys don't survive the bombing, but their friend Mansoor Ahmed does. From there begins an exploration of the lasting effects of the bomb on the surviving families, Mansoor, and the actual bomber. Adam Johnson has praised the book as "urgent and masterful," and its making the rounds of the "most anticipated novels of 2016" lists across the internet. Mahajan will be in conversation with Ruth Galm, whose book was reviewed at KQED last year. Details here
Monday, March 28: Another Country Book Club at Diesel Books, Oakland
For a long time, my absolute favorite book was Another Country. James Baldwin was most definitely my literary crush. Still is. Set in Greenwich Village, Harlem, and France, Another Country is a sweeping, stunning look at racial and gender tension in America and beyond. Sponsored by the Oakland Queer People of Color (QPOC) Book Club, the event holds promise for a thoughtful and energizing discussion of the book's radical themes and gorgeous sentences. For added bonus points, read The Weight of James Arthur Baldwin by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, a beautiful exploration of Baldwin's legacy by one of the most brilliant essayists writing in America today. Details here
Friday, April 1: Brooks Roddan on Mare Island, Green Apple Books, SF
If you've never traveled to Mare Island, I recommend going there. It's a strange space, to say the least. Strange in the way of all places that were once inhabited by humans, movement, society - but are no longer. A feeling like it's just been emptied out, but that everyone will return soon. Mare Island was the first U.S. naval base to open on the Pacific Ocean, on a peninsula in Vallejo, 23 miles northeast of San Francisco. Once the workplace to over 50,000 people, it was shuttered by Congress in 1996. Mare Island, the new slim volume of prose and photos from Brooks Roddan, explores a place abandoned by people, government, and commerce. "The Stonehenge of the American empire," as Roddan describes it. Details here