literary hot spots

Author and editor Jordan Rosenfeld (Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time) pays tribute to San Francisco’s “literary hot spots” in this article for Writer’s Digest. Jordan mentions the historic Caffe Trieste (this is the place that local writer Junvenal Acosta, among others, sometimes refers to as his office), the Mission-district watering hole The Makeout Room (home of the Progressive Reading Series), and Vesuvio. While Caffe Trieste and Vesuvio are in North Beach, Jordan’s pick for the most beloved bookstore is Green Apple (see my “found at Green Apple” posts) on Clement. Living as I do in the Richmond district, Green Apple is my neighborhood store. (I couldn’t help but give it special mention, gnome and all, in my new novel!)

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Get thee to Green Apple

Green Apple Books is practically giving away books, people. Actually, the ongoing Warehouse Clearance Sale is coming to an end. All used books are now $2.98 or less. That’s a dollar less than a gallon of gas. A more on-point comparison: $2.98 is just a few cents over half of the five dollar penalty for bringing a book back to the library eons late. Which means it’s probably cheaper to buy it at Green Apple, because really, despite all your good intentions, how often do you take a library book back on time? All paperbacks are $1.49. Where: 248 Clement, just down the street from the Green Apple storefront.

Green Apple’s book of the month, by the way, is Siri Hustvedt’s The Sorrows of an American. The Green Apple promise for their book of the month: “We guarantee this book 100% (and discount it 20% to further entice you to trust us).”

Oh, and one more thing I wouldn’t know if I didn’t subscribe to the Green Apple newsletter: Richard Bausch, author of The Last Good Time; Good Evening, Mr. and Mrs. America, and All the Ships at Sea; In the Night Season; and other works of fiction has a new novel out, Peace, which involves three soldiers on a snowy night during WWII. I’m a big fan of Bausch, whose stories and novels are marked by quiet intensity admirable subtlety.

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On Memory

Ryszard Kapuscinski on Herodotus as the first journalist, in Travels with Herodotus.

His task is complex: on the one hand, he knows that the most precious and almost the only source of knowledge is the memory of those he meets; on the other hand, he is aware that this memory is a fragile thing, volatile and evanescent–that memory has a vanishing point. That is why he is in a hurry–people forget, or else move away somewhere and one cannot find them again, and eventually they die.

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Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name

At five p.m. on December 16, my mother called me into her study. I waited until she said my name twice, so I didn’t appear too eager.

There is something quietly heartbreaking in these words, spoken by the narrator of Vendela Vida’s lovely second novel, Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name. Some years before the opening action of the novel, Clarissa’s mother disappeared, and a number of the brief, impressionistic chapters are devoted to the mercurial woman whose absence has left its melancholic mark on Clarissa. In one scene, Clarissa’s mother asks her young daughter how she looks, and Clarissa’s one-word reply is “Beautiful.”

It was true, but I regretted saying it. I was lovesick.

The lovesickness of the abandoned child permeates this book. Reading this passage I thought of my young son, who stood before me at two a.m. a few nights ago while I was changing his diaper. In his half-awake, wobbly state, hair askew and eyes watery with sleep, he pointed at me and said in a tone that was utterly guileless, “I love her.” Books abound about the love of parent for child. In many ways, this is a book about the love of a child for a parent.

Despite the fact that the book begins with a death–that of Clarissa’s father–and a jarring revelation about the narrator’s own identity, the writing is lively and often very funny. I found myself laughing out loud at one point when the concierge at Clarissa’s hotel in Helsinki ducks into a Diesel store and announces, upon his exit, that he has “picked something up.”

I tried to think what it could be–a hat? a vest? a better-looking sweater?

“They give out free condoms there.” He opened his hand like a magician at the end of a trick, displaying his surprise.

In addition to providing a provocative look at identity and its meaning, Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name captures the feeling of travel to a strange place with its surprising familiarities. At one point Clarissa remarks, “Travel is made for liars. Or liars are made by travel.” At which point I tried to remember lies I’d told while abroad, and realized it was startlingly easy to come up with examples.

The Exercise: Write about a lie you told while traveling.

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steve katz, + notebook nirvana

Again, in honor of EWN’s short story month: 43 Fictions, by Steve Katz. Published by Sun & Moon Press, 1992. I picked this up at Green Apple a couple of years ago. This snappy compilation contains very short stories from several of Katz’s previous published collections. A sampling from the story “Parcel of Wrists:”

In this morning’s mail I received a parcel postmarked from Irondale, Tennessee. It was wrapped in heavy, glazed brown paper, like butcher paper. The box was of even dimensions, two feet high, two feet deep, three feet long, and it was packed from top to bottom with human wrists.

I love Steve Katz, and I think probably not enough folks read him. My husband Kevin took a writing class from Katz about 20 years ago in Boulder, Colorado, and to this day Kevin still has the reader Katz compiled–says it’s the best reader of any class he ever took, and it introduced him to several writers he’d never heard of.

And here’s Susan Ito on the writer’s notebook:

It is very left brain-right brainy. The notebook is the intuitive side, the curious and playful side, that asks all the questions, and plays around and tries things out. The narrative, the typed sentences, is the side that tries to produce what the notebook is asking for.

When I got serious with my current novel-in-progress, I started using these spiral notebooks by Chronicle Books, $9.95 at Green Apple or The Gables on Geary. Nice thick covers make for a firm surface; smooth, thick pages; good spiraling so that both sides of the page can be used; subtle, pretty cover patterns; just the right thickness to make me feel that I can eventually actually fill one up and move on to the next. I’m on my third at the moment. My first two notebooks for this novel were retro school composition books from the five-and-dime in Laurel Village–one has a horse on the cover, the other has a puppy. What’s your idea of notebook nirvana?

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