Archive for October, 2008

Books: Upcoming Events, November 1st-6th

Tomorrow is Saturday, November 1st, and lots of things are happening that day alone:

First, NaNoWriMo begins. Sharpen your pencils, rev up your laptops, and get ready to create a work of highly dubious quality. Write-ins are being planned all over the city right now: join up on NaNoWriMo and register with the San Francisco cohort on the forums to receive updates. The truly ambitious and impatient can even begin tonight at midnight, before changing out of the costume, or even sobering up much. Just think: an army of inebriated, sexy nurses and vampires, typing their first lines. Yes.

Next up, the Alternative Press Expo is open at the Concourse the whole weekend, from 11-7 Saturday and 11-6 Sunday. This year’s Expo features comic-book superstar Chris Ware. His latest offering, Acme Novelty Library #19, has just been printed up by the truckload, and Ware plans to sign at least a goodly handful of them at the Drawn and Quarterly booth from 4-6 Saturday. On Sunday from 12:30-1:30, he’s got the spotlight panel, in conversation with Eli Horowitz (AKA the “other” McSweeney’s guy), with more signing of Novelties to follow.

After that (as we previously reported), the Cartoon Art Museum is hosting a reading at 8:00 PM. It features Jesse Reklaw (of Slow Wave fame) and many others. Go here for details.

On Sunday, November 2nd, there’s the aforementioned Chris Ware panel at the Alternative Press Expo.

Not much happening Monday, November 3rd, apart from a poetry reading at 7:00 PM by Genine Lentine and Brian Teare, followed by an open mic at Bird & Beckett in Glen Park.

Tuesday, November 4th is ELECTION DAY. So cast your ballot before doing anything else. But in the evening, if you’re not absolutely glued to the TV — or figure the votes’ll be counted whether you’re watching or not — you might head over to Borderlands Books at 7:00 PM and meet up with Ann and Jeff Vandermeer, who edited the smart anthology Steampunk, just out from Tachyon Publications. The question on the table: Steampunk: What Is It?

Wednesday, November 5th brings Michelle Tea’s monthly Radar Reading series at 6 PM at Main Library, Lower Level, in the Latino/Hispanic Community Meeting Room. This month features Stephanie Kuehart, Pilou Miller, Danny el Lute Levesque and Marriage. You don’t need a link from me: just go.

Finally, on Thursday, November 6th at 6:00 PM, the Mechanic’s Institute presents Jonathan Hennessey, whose graphic novel, The United States Constitution, explains just how the dag-blasted thing is supposed to work. With pictures! For We, the Laggards in the Back Row. Details here; free to members, $12 to the public.

[Thanks to Kemble Scott, Borderlands, and D&Q.]

District 3: Don’t Vote For Just a Name

I was walking back from the David Chiu headquarters, from Polk Street & Bush over Russian Hill, through Chinatown to North Beach, basically diagonally across the district, and looking in at shops and chatting with tourists, I realized my greatest fear this supervisor election: that people who don’t know the issues will vote for a name that they know, Alioto. He’s not a bad man, but I feel he’s out of touch.

I wrote up a comparison on all of the nominees, if you’re interested in the issues. Basically, David Chiu takes the bus, wants the plywood gone, and has a serious plan on crime (as an ex-prosecutor). His parents were working the phones when I stopped by, and they’re adorable.

p.s. my iPhone camera is on the fritz, but in a funky way

Books: NaNoWriMo ’08 Set to Begin, in SF and Worldwide

In 1999, Chris Baty had the harebrained idea to write an entire novel in a single month. The reasoning was simple: if you could write about seven double-spaced pages a day, for thirty days, you’d end up with about 215 pages. And how hard could that be?

Baty told all his friends and enemies about his plan, and somehow, he got twenty other people to join him on the journey. They had a lot of fun and talked about doing it the next year, in November (“to more fully take advantage of the miserable weather,” as he writes in this detailed history). And that is really where the whole thing should have ended.

Except, it didn’t. The next year, when Baty enlisted his friends, they enlisted theirs, and 140 people signed up for the ride. The same kind of thing happened the next year. Except: instead of 140 people, five thousand people signed up, overwhelming Baty and those who had agreed to help him manually process the signups. (They learned how to automate things in a hurry.) And those numbers have grown larger every year: last time around, there were more than 100,000 participants, and there’s no reason to expect any fewer this time. In fact, the contest has attracted so many participants that Baty and his colleagues have been able to build an ambitious nonprofit organization around it: the Oakland-based Office of Letters and Light. In addition to NaNoWriMo, the organization sponsors a script-writing event and a youth-oriented version of each contest.

Tens of thousands of people have met the basic challenge — technically, you must tell a complete story in at least 50,000 words to win — but more than two dozen of those winners have gone on to achieve something a little tricker: publication of their manuscripts by commercial publishers. Unbelievably, one of those, Sara Gruen, wrote a book that actually became a New York Times #1 Best Seller (after much revision, I’m sure): Water For Elephants.

However, the best thing about NaNoWriMo is that it’s not about publication; it’s about being creative and having as much fun as possible. And that can mean getting to know your fellow “novelers.” If you sign up on the website to participate, you’ll have access to the regional forums, where people are already planning “write-ins” (group writing sessions) all over San Francisco and the East Bay. Maybe I’ll see you at one of them.

The contest begins Saturday, November 1st, and participation is free. Happy noveling!

Saturday night at the Cartoon Art Museum

Come to the Cartoon Art Museum at 655 Mission St. on Saturday Nov. 1 at 8 pm for a reading/showing by cartoonists:
Jesse Reklaw
Keith Knight
Hellen Jo
Olga Vólózóva
Julia Wertz
and David King.

Click on the image for a full poster for the event!

Film: "In a Dream" at SF DocFest

In a Dream, which screens at SF DocFest over the next few days (details below), is a film about the mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar, who has become an icon in South Philadelphia for the massive scale and extent of the mosaics he has created there. They include, by his description, about “a hundred murals” and “seven buildings, top to bottom, inside and out.” His best-known work is Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, which represents the transformation of two derelict buildings into a labyrinthine complex that covers half a city block with winding mosaic-covered passageways and sculptures.

Zagar’s mosaics are bright, colorful, and complex, rich with a celebratory spirit towards physicality and sensuality. But the surface cheerfulness of these mosaics belies the deeper obsession and the narcissism that makes such vast, intricate works possible in the first place, and Jeremiah Zagar — the director of the film and the artist’s younger son — uncovers that darkness here with unrelenting economy. All the father’s past secrets rapidly come out in the open, culminating when one of his most shameful episodes plays out right in front of the camera: his self-centered pursuit of “passion” with his assistant, which ends with a brief separation from his wife Julia, right when their oldest son is separated from his own wife and having drug problems.

Jeremiah describes the moment: “I went home to film my parents as they picked my brother up from rehab. The stress from the situation boiled over, and my father suddenly admitted [the affair] to my mother and me … that same night, my parents separated for the first time in 43 years.” Isaiah’s admission is made directly into the camera, and it’s a moment of remarkable drama. Amazingly, Jeremiah retains his composure — he coughs and the handheld camera shakes for an instant, but that is all — and he goes on to capture every instant of what ensues. “I shot 16 hours that day and hated myself for every minute of it,” he writes. Fortunately, Isaiah realizes he has made a big mistake quickly enough. Soon afterward, he goes to stay with his assistant and, as he confesses, “within minutes, my whole being started to rebel. My whole being.”

In the end, he reconciles with Julia, and the film has a brief epilogue, highly effective in its simplicity, that shows how, after a time of healing, the two simply picked up their life together and continued on into the next adventure.

For all the darkness that Jeremiah reveals, it’s an affectionate film. He shot his footage over the course of seven years, filming “whenever something significant happened,” and he describes the result like this: “what started as an exploration of my father’s life has exposed the secrets of our entire family. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing. … We know now how imperfect we really are, but also how much we need and love each other.”

The film is highly recommended. In a Dream screens at the Roxie this Sunday, October 26th at 2:45 PM, and Tuesday, October 28th at 9:30 PM. It will also screen at the Shattuck next Sunday, November 2nd at 2:45 PM.

Books: Upcoming Events

Saturday October 25th, Modern Times Bookstore will have its 37th birthday party at 3:00 PM. Food and fun times for all. [via Mission Mission]

Then at 7:30 PM, the Booksmith on Haight will present Christian Lander, who is promoting Stuff White People Like; a category that presumably includes his book.

Monday the 27th, the Commonwealth Club, 6 PM: Frank Rich, Michael Tomasky, Thomas Powers, Martin Kettle & Bob Silvers will talk politics, live on stage. If you just can’t wean yourself from the New York Times Opinion Pages, you won’t want to miss this.

But if you’ve had enough opinion for the moment, go see David Sedaris read at the opera house instead, at 8:00 PM. Tickets here. His last book was more somber than usual, but still pretty damn funny.

Tuesday the 28th at 7:00 PM, Books Inc. in Opera Plaza (601 Van Ness) presents poet Mari L’Esperance, winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry, reading from her collection The Darkened Temple.

On Wednesday the 29th, go to Stacey’s on your lunch break at 12:30 PM, and hear Antonia Juhasz read from her book, The Tyranny of Oil: The World’s Most Powerful Industry, and What We Must Do to Stop It.

Finally, on Thursday the 30th, you might join me in North Beach and hear the world-famous DJ Spooky at City Lights at 7 PM. He’ll read from and discuss the book he edited, Sound Unbound: Sampling Digital Music and Culture. Said book includes a “groundbreaking mix CD,” according to the publisher’s description, which features “Nam Jun Paik, the Dada Movement, John Cage, Sonic Youth, and many other examples of avant-garde music. Most of the CD’s content comes from the archives of Sub Rosa, a legendary record label that has been the benchmark for archival sounds since the beginnings of electronic music.” The book also features an introduction by Steve Reich and a foreword by Cory Doctorow, which might give you an idea of the contents. (Awful pun intended!)

As for Friday October 31st — wait a minute! That’s Halloween! What the hell are you doing with a book in your lap? Go to a party already, you anti-social bookworm!

[Unless otherwise noted above, all events via Kemble Scott.]

Film: Charlie Kaufman Interview on

[Image courtesy Sony Pictures.]

Charlie Kaufman is now well-known as the writer of Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but he may soon be better known as the writer-director of Synecdoche, New York (say it out loud: sih-NECK-duh-kee). At least that’s the opinion of Curbed SF blogger Jimmy Stamp, who interviewed Kaufman a short while back for his architecture blog, Describing the film as “sublime” and “a piece of work so beautiful, yet so incredibly terrifying that it becomes even more beautiful,” he goes on to liken it to “the ocean seen from the edge of a cliff.” It’s about Caden Cotard (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman), a 40-year-old local theater director in Schenectady, New York (say it out loud: skuh-NECK-tuh-dee) whose marriage and health are rapidly deteriorating. He fears that he will die before accomplishing anything important in his life. But then! He receives a MacArthur Grant, and uses the money to create a massive theater piece — an all-consuming Great Work that will rival life itself in its vastness, complexity, and heartbreaking truth.

Not surprisingly, the interview takes its most interesting turn when they begin discussing the architectural aspects of Kaufman’s work:

Stamp: In your movies, but especially in this one I think, there are these broader architectural and spatial ideas but then you also have these smaller set pieces—the burning house in Synecdoche, the 7 1/2 floor in Malkovich, the Montauk house in Eternal Sunshine. Are these just designed to convey a sense of place, or a mood, or do you always intend them to have deeper, metaphorical meaning?

Kaufman: Yeah. It’s all of that. I find myself really interested in spaces, actually. I tend to think about environment early on in writing. I’m doing it now, actually. I find myself going back to houses or buildings as environments environments for my stories — you know, odd buildings or very specific types of spaces. I don’t know why… a Jungian scholar was in here talking about houses being representations of the self. I think that’s what it was, anyway… you know, I tend to write intuitively and I don’t really know why I do certain things, but they resonate or they feel funny or they feel sad. Um, you know, I have my ideas about why Hazel lives in that house but I don’t really explain that because I want people to be able to bring their own metaphor to the experience. That’s kind of the biggest goal I have — to put something out there and let people individually interact with it. So I try not to say “this is what it means” or “this is not what it means” or “this is what it means to me.”

And check this out from later on:

Stamp: In [Paul Auster’s] book, The Music of Chance, this eccentric millionaire hobbyist builds a model of what he calls ‘The City of the World.’ It’s a condensed depiction of his entire life that includes all the important places and pivotal events that made him the man he is— including the construction of the model. So in the model, he’s building himself building the model…

Kaufman: Wow. That sounds great, but I haven’t read that. It does remind me of an idea I had though. I wanted to build a casino in Las Vegas called Las Vegas, Las Vegas. Like the idea of Paris, Las Vegas (the real life casino) is that you don’t have to actually go there — their campaign is something like ‘all the best of Paris without the French people.’ So then (with Las Vegas, Las Vegas,) there’s the idea that you don’t actually have to go to Paris, Las Vegas either because there’s a replica of all of Vegas—including Paris, Las Vegas—within this other casino. So you get even more safe by not having to go out into the strip at all. I thought that would be a pretty successful resort.

Say, aren’t they already planning to do something like that in Dubai?

Anyway. Full interview here; provoked by the trailer for the film, Stamp also wrote this interesting article back in September, on the notion of infinitely-repeating cities.

Synecdoche, New York opens November 7th at the Embarcadero, the Shattuck, and the Piedmont.

Breaking News: Alleged Members of MS-13 Gang Arrested in Raids

The SF Gate story begins:

Federal immigration authorities raided more than a dozen locations in San Francisco, Richmond and South San Francisco today, arresting several alleged members of the notorious MS-13 street gang, authorities said.

Authorities said the investigation targeted a San Francisco-based faction of the violent group, also known as Mara Salvatrucha, which started in Southern California with roots in El Salvador.

“This is a major take-down,” said Northern California U.S. Attorney Joe Russoniello, adding that the investigation dealt with alleged drug trafficking, gun running, terrorism and extortion activities of the group. He declined to provide further details about the raids.

Full story here.

Jackson West surfaces at Lifehacker

Blogger Rachel Kramer Bussel reports that blogger Jackson West, formerly of Valleywag, has surfaced at Lifehacker, where a nice recent post is Maximize your influence in the election.

I asked West what it was like to go from Valleywag to Lifehacker — both Gawker Media properties — and he wrote back that he was impressed at “how smart the site and its readers are.” He added that he hoped soon to report on the G1 “Google phone” and on audio, video and image editing. “And it’s only a matter of time before I drop in a reference to the Church of Bob Dobbs.”

Meanwhile fellow Valleywag castoff Nicholas Carlson has landed at Silicon Alley Insider.

Mashups of Shepard Fairey’s "Hope" Poster

Check out this page of 84 parodies of Shepard Fairey’s iconic poster (original above left), taken from around the web. It’s pretty funny, overall; some are pro-Obama, others are not. Be warned: many are outright offensive — racist, sexist, what you will. This post is NOT an endorsement of the entire collection behind that link! However, several are worth saving. My favorites are the two above; other good ones are POPE, MIME, TYPE (which features Mavis Beacon) and perhaps best of all, CHOPE: Where Change Meets Hope.

I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to a little chope this fall myself.

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