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Lit Picks: Evan Ratliff of The Atavist, Krys Lee, Lindsay Hatton, Melanie Gideon, and more

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Evan Ratliff.  (Photo: Jonathan Snyder)

Wednesday, July 27: Get Lit at Corkscrew Wine Bar, Petaluma

Rodriguez-620x620Daniel Riddle Rodriguez has said that he writes about the “gritty things” of life: sex work, petty crime, drug abuse and more. Just take a look at his short story “Lemonade,” which ran in Prairie Schooner and is narrated by a Demerol-swigging narrator who’s tasked with looking after his very old grandmother. Like the writing of Riddle Rodriguez’s literary hero Amy Hempel, the story is built of swift, tight sentences and lots of juicy subtext. Another story, “Even the Ostrich,” which was published at Gulf Stream, has a bang-up opening sentence that dares you not to keep reading.

So I was sitting on the front porch, chewing on my nail beds, thinking about nothing, when black Kelly from up the street asked did I want to flirt with crime.

Rodriguez lives in San Lorenzo, but he’ll make the trek up to Petaluma to read at this month’s Get Lit alongside fellow Bay Area writers Hilary Zaid and Michelle Cruz Gonzales; the former wrote The Spitboy Rule, which I reviewed earlier this year. Details here.

Thursday, July 28: Evan Ratliff in conversation with Jennifer Kahn at the Alamo Drafthouse, SF

51aQkbKtoNL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_I’m a big fan of Evan Ratliff. And not just because he’s cute, wears cool shoes, and loves cats. For one, he’s a co-host of the Longform Podcast, which has allowed me to nerd out on meandering conversations about the nuts-and-bolts of feature journalism with the likes of Kathryn Schulz, Mac McClelland, and Margo Jefferson. Secondly, as founder of The Atavist Magazine, he ushered in a new era of digital long-form journalism – at a time when most argued that bite-sized nuggets were all that readers could handle. Five years and 50 issues later, there’s no denying that the internet can support (with readers if not dollars) The Atavist’s uniquely designed storytelling. The online magazine has been nominated for eight National Magazine Awards — and was the first all-digital publication to win in feature writing, for “Love and Ruin” by James Verini, a story of romance and dedication in Afghanistan. A new print anthology Love and Ruin: Stories of Obsession, Danger, and Heartbreak from The Atavist Magazine, edited by Ratliff, collects 10 of the best stories to date. The anthology is worth the purchase price alone for Leslie Jamison’s “52 Blue,” in which we learn about the loneliest whale in the world and the significance of 52 hertz. The rest of the stories aren’t so bad either. Details here.

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Tuesday, Aug. 2: Krys Lee at The Booksmith, SF

How mu9780670025688ch do you know about North Korea? I’ll be the first to admit that I know embarrassingly little about a country that’s constantly in the news cycle. Thank goodness for fiction as a path to learning: In her debut novel How I Became a North Korean, novelist and professor of creative writing Krys Lee draws on her real-life experiences as a humanitarian helping North Korean refugees to inform her gripping story. It follows the lives of three characters that live in the Chinese territory bordering North Korea. Yearning to build better lives, they individually hatch plans to escape, eventually meeting each other and forming an adoptive family. At the Booksmith, Lee appears in conversation with Adam Johnson, who won a Pulitzer for his novel The Orphan Master’s Son, which also featured North Korea. Details here.

Thursday, Aug. 4: Lindsay Hatton at Bookshop West Portal, SF

9781594206788_custom-bb3923eeaffa02f7f6cb6d21375c275a7823f663-s400-c85You’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but man, do I love the  turquoise-washed jacket design of Lindsay Hatton’s debut novel Monterey Bay, out this month. Luckily, the story inside lives up to its design’s promise. This holds especially true for anyone with a Steinbeck or Cannery Row fascination. Born and raised in Monterey, Hatton is well-familiar with the town that inspired Steinbeck’s oft-assigned novella. The book takes place in 1940, as 15-year-old Margot Fiske arrives in California with her father. Through a dark turn of circumstances, she ends up working as a sketch artist in the lab of Ed Ricketts, a biologist and the basis for the “Doc” character in the Steinbeck novel. Emotional mayhem and controversial choices ensue.

From the finely crafted opening paragraph:

When he’s fifty years dead, she dreams she’s gone back. Back to the small white house in the neighborhood that splits the difference between Monterey and Pacific Grove, back to the streets where the cannery workers used to live. She dreams of rising from the horsehair sofa in that bruised hour when the sky is still dark and the bay is still black. She dreams of the place where the old Monterey still exists, or at least the Monterey that’s found its way into stories: the last quarter mile of the bike trail – the one that starts in Seaside and then moves up slightly from the coastline before running parallel to Cannery Row – where there’s an odd, untended bit of land marked with the broken shell of an old steel storage cylinder. And here, in the weeds and ice plants, in the rusty metal that smells salty in the sun and bloody in the fog, she dreams of everything that has slipped away, everything that will never come back.

Details for Bookshop West Portal here. Hatton also appears at Towne Center Books in Pleasanton on Aug. 5.

Friday, Aug. 5: Melanie Gideon at Copperfield’s Books, Santa Rosa

9780345539281When I was young, time travel was my jam. My obsession started with Time Bandits, grew wings with Back to the Future, and took flight with Quantum Leap. If a TV show or book featured time travel, I was all in. I had my own time-traveling fantasies, mainly involving a return to the olden days where I would live like Laura Ingalls, churning butter and running across the prairie in a calico bonnet and pinafore. A girl can dream. After reading Valley of the Moon, the latest novel by Melanie Gideon, I’m pretty sure she had similar fantasies.

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Here’s the premise: It’s 1975 in San Francisco, and Lux Lysander is an underpaid, overworked single mom who’s about to lose it. But then she takes a solo trip to Sonoma Valley, where she magically stumbles on Greengage, an idyllic community that appears to be from another era. Turns out, the farming village has been marooned in time — the early twentieth century, to be exact — ever since the 1906 earthquake, which somehow left its residents trapped in a time warp. Anyone who tries to leave gets offed by a killer fog… except for Lux. Will she stay with her new (old) friends, or will she return to a harried, unrewarding life in the modern world? Stay, Lux, stay! Details for Copperfield’s Books here. Gideon also appears at Books Inc. in Palo Alto on Friday, July 29.

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