Monday, October 10, 2011

LITQUAKE 2011: Only in San Francisco... A Tribute to Chris Adrian

This is how the event was billed:
“The Great Night” in Buena Vista Park

October 9, 2011, 4:00 PM

Buena Vista Park Summit
Buena Vista Ave. at Upper Terrace

Co-presented by Booksmith, Buena Vista Neighborhood Association, San Francisco Recreation & Park Department, and San Francisco Parks Alliance

You are cordially invited to a picnic party in Buena Vista Park to celebrate Chris Adrian’s novel The Great Night, with fairies, maypoles, and twinkle lights. Pack a basket, bring a blanket, and join us for magic and revelry at the summit overlooking the city below.

Featured readings and performance by Great Night author Chris Adrian, author Andrew Sean Greer, and emcee Daniel Handler, with fairy-inspired merriment provided by Booksmith’s Literary Clown Foolery troupe, and a dreamy string quartet to set the mood. Signed books will be available for sale at Booksmith, but not at the actual event.

Please note: This is a party en plein air; layered clothing and warm coats suggested.
First, do you see any warnings that great exertion will be needed to reach the location of the event?  Do you see where it says, "Bring your asthma inhaler"?  Yeah, me neither.  All I'm saying is, it's a hike to reach the summit of Buena Vista Park, and straight up altitude-wise.  No wonder I've never ascended it before.  It's definitely the hardest I've ever worked to attend a reading, but of course it was totally worth it in the end, as I knew it would be.

Now, a little background...  Chris Adrian is (as you surely know) a literary novelist who was last year anointed one of the "20 under 40" most talented writers by the New Yorker.  In addition to being a member of that elite group, here's a snippet on Chris's education from his Wikipedia page:
Adrian completed his Bachelor's degree in English from the University of Florida in 1993. He received his M.D. from Eastern Virginia Medical School in 2001. He completed a pediatric residency at the University of California, San Francisco, was a student at Harvard Divinity School, and is currently in the pediatric hematology/oncology fellowship at UCSF. He is also a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop.
I have a theory that people this brilliant and talented are actually a different species than the rest of us.  I call them Human 2.0. 

The Great Night is Chris's third novel, published this past April.  Despite my best intentions, I have not read it yet.  But it received rave reviews, such as this one in Library Journal:
“William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night's Dream deals with illusion—in particular, the illusion that things can be set aright, as if by magic. This riff by New Yorker 20 Under 40 author Adrian (A Better Angel) is a whole lot darker, declaring that no magic can take away the memory of suffering and that in our self-serving scramble we disdain the pain (and indeed the goodness) of others. On the summer solstice in San Francisco, the fairies come out from under their hill in Buena Vista Park to celebrate Great Night. But this year there will be no celebration, for Oberon has vanished and Titania is thoroughly undone by the death of her Boy, one of the many changelings brought to her by Puck--no mischievous sprite but a malevolent spirit. Even as a rowdy bunch rehearse a play aimed at exposing the mayor's crimes against the homeless, three people are trapped in the park by the fairies’ madness: uptight Molly, lovesick Will, and gentle, obsessed Henry, who still misses decamped lover Bobby and whose tragic past and connections to other characters unfold tantalizingly. Verdict: Inventive and scarily beautiful, this could wipe out casual readers, but it is an extraordinary novel.”—Library Journal (starred review)
With all that said, there's very little more I can say to explain the event that follows.  All I can say is that it's very San Francisco-y, and that everyone in attendance had a fantastic time!  The event was MCed by the ubiquitous Daniel Handler AKA Lemony Snicket, with the assistance of my friend Andy AKA novelist Andrew Sean Greer.  (Yes, they are wearing fairy wings.)  Say what you will about Mr. Handler (and I've said many things about him), the man is entertaining. He made some introductory remarks, followed by a song:

Next it was Andy's turn to take center stage. What can I say? I find this man charming. I enjoyed his silliness and reminiscences. And he gave those present a very, very special treat. He read from his unpublished and highly-anticipated novel, Other Worlds. (After the event, I asked Andy when the book would be out, and he told me that he hasn't even submitted it to his editor yet, so it's still at least a year off--making this an even more special treat.) And he followed his reading with, yes, another song:

Finally, it was Chris Adrian's turn to take the stage for his own reading from The Great Night. First, his introductory comments and a set-up for his reading:

This is unforgivable, but about a minute after Chris started reading, my batteries died! Here's the very beginning:

I located and changed batteries as quickly as I was able, but there is a gap in his reading. Don't try to make sense of it, just start listing again. On the plus side, this interruption allows me to post a warning that there is adult content following. I'm not joking. It was kind of funny, seeing as how there were lots of families with little kids in attendance. I commented on it to Andy later, and I think the organizers of this event--geared towards adults--were surprised by all the kids. Only after the fact did they realize that "Lemony Snicket" is a kid magnet. In any case, the kids I saw were little, and weren't paying the slightest attention to the content of the reading. But they probably enjoyed the dog costume:

And finally, to close the proceedings, and by popular demand, a reprise of the opening fairy song:

After it was over, I told Andy that he's the bravest person I know. He replied, "Oh, I'm not ashamed of anything I've done. That I remember." He was like, "That was weird." But I assured him that everyone in attendance had an absolute blast--and we did! It was such a good, wacky, perfect San Francisco event! It's for days like this that we choose to live in this crazy city. I don't know if any of that translates through my weak video footage, but I'm happy to share this truly fun, joyful event with you.

Kudos to Litquake, the Booksmith, and most of all to Daniel Handler, Andrew Sean Greer, Chris Adrian, and the MFA students for a rousing good time!

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