Translation, Best Friends, Greek Politics and Free Wine and Beer

Open Letters Books. Credit: Nathan Furl.
How I Killed My Best Friend

Amanda Michalopoulou, one of Greece's leading authors, has written short stories, a children's series, and five other novels, along with her latest, How I Killed My Best Friend. And she'll be at The Book Club of California this Friday, doing a reading followed by a conversation with her translator, Karen Emmerich about this latest book, which Gary Shteyngart (author of Super Sad True Love Story and the memoir Little Failure,) called " flawlessly translated." He went on to say she uses the backdrop of "Greek politics, radical protests, and the art world to explore the dangers and joys that come with BFFs. Or, as the narrator puts it, 'odiodsamato,' which translates roughly as 'frienemies.'"

In How I Killed My Best Friend, Michalopoulou writes about, Maria, an African immigrant to Greece, who becomes friends with Anna, a transplant from Paris. The two girls navigate grade school in the '70s, in post-dictatorship Greece.

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Small Press Event: [PANK] Magazine Invades San Francisco


[PANK] Magazine started as a web journal in 2006 and has developed into an influential part of indie/small press literary culture; providing an important place for experimental writing, it's a magazine that is partially responsible for the current generation of writers who are taking bigger risks and stretching their creativity.

[PANK] started a print series called Tiny Hardcore Press in 2011, and are about to publish their ninth title, Beside Myself by Ashley Farmer.

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An Interview with Daniel Alarcón: At Night We Walk in Circles

Adrian Kinloch

Daniel Alarcón's profound and profoundly readable new novel, At Night We Walk in Circles, was published at the beginning of this month. In the book, a fledgling actor gets the opportunity to help revive his hero's legendary play, which, upon its premiere fifteen years before, resulted in charges of terrorism. The revival consists of a tour through rural Andean towns, which constitutes the plot of the novel. Journalism and art intersect in a meditation on the substance of culture, as relayed by a mysterious narrator whose own story becomes increasingly central to the novel.

Alarcón, whose first novel Lost City Radio won the 2009 International Literature Award, was nice enough to answer some questions by phone.

I want to talk about mixing journalism and fiction; you do that really well. You once said this thing about how cultures often have certain routines even after they don't make sense anymore, so that there's this kind of echo. It seems to me that you're capturing that echo, and I was hoping you might talk about that.

That's interesting, I hadn't ... what echo do you think I'm capturing?

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Lost & Found: Davy Rothbart Comes to San Francisco & Shares Your Trash

Found Magazine

One person's trash is another person's meal ticket.

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Road Trip Recreation for 75th Anniversary of The Grapes of Wrath

20th Century Fox
Henry Fonda in his Academy Award nominated performance as Tom Joad in the 1940 film version of "The Grapes of Wrath"
Reaching 75 years is a momentous accomplishment and has to celebrated in a grand manner-- even if the thing being celebrated is a novel.

John Steinbeck's classic Pulitzer-Prize winning 1939 American novel The Grapes of Wrath is reaching it's diamond anniversary in 2014, and to ring in the milestone of the book that has become a staple in most high schools and universities in the United States, The National Steinbeck Center is recreating the journey of the Joads -- literally.

Well, not down to the exact details, but the center has enlisted the help of three artists in conjunction with other cultural and educational organizations to follow the Route 66 path of the fictional Joad family through real American towns in the Southwest beginning in Sallisaw, Oklahoma, and continuing through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and finishing in Bakersfield, Calif.

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Michael Chabon on Becoming Bored and Briefly Amusing Your Children

photo courtesy of Michael Chabon
I first met Michael Chabon at last year's Notes & Words event, a big blowout party at the Fox Theater that brings together authors and musicians to benefit Children's Hospital Oakland. He told a story included in his collection of nonfiction, Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son, about the first time he spoke with his kids about smoking marijuana. He told the tale with as much candor as he'd shared with his children; Chabon is very charming and often quite funny, and spoke with wisdom and eloquence about being a parent.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author is doing a benefit for Oakland's Park Day School this Wednesday night, and was kind enough to talk by phone. When I brought up the story, he laughed, responding: "I forgot about that one. I had no idea, man. That was just a little tiny appetizer of a conversation at the start of a long and often surprising banquet." His kids had taken him off guard, of course, and he'd handled the situation as best he could.

Chabon and wife Ayelet Waldman have four kids, the oldest of whom is a freshman in college; their youngest, ten, attends the K-8 Park Day School, where the other three are alumni.

If I were going to talk with kids I wouldn't even know how to address their relationship with literature right now. I feel like it's changed -- how they're engaging with it must have changed so much since I was in elementary school; can you talk about that?

There's no doubt it's really in flux right now. I think everybody's relationship to the printed word is in flux right now. And I don't think anybody really has a good handle on just what it all means; I certainly don't. But it's my impression that our kids are definitely increasingly digital entities; parents, even younger parents, still tend to be analog, at least to a certain degree, and parents I think tend to have a strong relationship with books, printed books on paper. I think at least through the earliest years when it's story time -- when kids are being exposed to texts -- they're still being exposed to picture books and their parents read to them from books. I'm sure there are plenty of parents who are reading to their parents from iPads, but even so they're reading them eBooks, which is just a digital form of the same thing, with illustrations and words on the page. So, I think kids' initial exposure to literature is still more or less what it has been for a while now. I think as they start to hit the fourth grade, fifth grade and into middle school -- that's when it might start to get a little more confusing, from the point of view of an old person like me, but by then I think there has been a foundation laid for a relationship with books and literature.

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We Talked About Fight Club: Our Interview with Chuck Palahniuk

Shawn Grant

Chuck Palahniuk is best known for his novel Fight Club, and for public readings that are so intense his fans occasionally pass out. But in certain underground circles, he's also known as one of the more famous members of the Cacophony Society, those former purveyors of cultural mayhem who did so much to help create Burning Man, SantaCon and Flash Mobs.

Palahniuk became a member of the Portland chapter of the Cacophony Society in the early nineties, and is coming to San Francisco on Monday to participate in a Commonwealth Club discussion about the group. He also wrote the introduction for their recently released book Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society.

SF Weekly caught up with Palahniuk via email in the week leading up to the event, to discuss his connection to the Cacophony Society, writing methods, and why a story should be like hot tantric sex. And yes, we did talk about Fight Club.

See also: Whither the Tricksters? A Sort-Of Reunion of the Cacophony Society Occasions a Reflection on the Evolution of Troublemaking

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A Giraffe in the Jungle: One Woman's Quest to Right the Scientific Wrongs in Picture Books

Art by Katy Castronovo

When Kristine Duehl announced she was having a son, the biology Ph.D. candidate was showered with special-interest picture books. But then Duehl cracked the books, and an alarming trend popped out.

"I started noticing all of the scientific errors in the books," the 33-year-old recalled. "We're talking order-level differences."

Like a true scientist, Duehl did some digging and formed a hypothesis: that for many kids, the errors contained in picture books cause gaps in scientific understanding that stick into adulthood. She enlisted fellow mom and illustrator Katy Castronovo, and the pair created the Budding Biologist series, a set of children's books that seek to right the wrongs. Where do I live?, the second work of Duehl's , came out mid-June, and attempts to explain the concept of biomes in a manner both fun and scrupulously correct.

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Peter Orner on Being Proud and Finding the Weird

When San Francisco-based author Peter Orner released his second novel, Love and Shame and Love, two years ago, the press marveled at how he is "overlooked by the general reading public. If he lived in Brooklyn," said ZYZZYVA managing editor Oscar Villalon, "he'd be the type of guy who'd be feted by The Paris Review, The New Yorker. His work is that good."

Mostly, it seems natural that a writer of Orner's caliber would not be embraced by the average reader; while enjoyable, his work is serious business. His sentences don't have fat on them and his stories don't so much invite participation as demand investment.

But Love and Shame and Love became a New York Times Editor's Choice Book and won the California Book Award. Orner's first novel, The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo, won the Bard Fiction Prize and was a Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. But most of all, his debut story collection, Esther Stories, is considered a classic; about that volume, the NYT said "Orner doesn't just bring his characters to life, he gives them souls."

That may seem hyperbolic, but it does give you an idea of the stakes at hand. Orner is not playing games, and as he is set to release his second volume of stories, Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge, this Tuesday, the author was nice enough to answer some questions by email.

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Author Marcus Ewert talks Beats, Guns, and Transgender Kids

copyright/courtesy of Danny Nicoletta

"What's your sign?"

The first thing Marcus Ewert uttered during our hour-long lunch at Starbelly Café, home of the crispy, falafel-esque pea fritters and bacon-jalapeño ice cream, was a question about myself. I replied that I was a Sagittarius; the round-faced 42-year-old grinned from ear to ear and told me I was in the right profession. "Sagittarius is all about traveling the world, telling stories," he said. "That's awesome for you."

Not exactly a traditional interview approach.

Then again, Ewert has ignored tradition for most of his life. The Georgia native dropped out of Columbia University his freshman year to pursue romantic relationships with renowned beat writers Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs, snagged them both, and has enjoyed a zig-zaggy life ever since, holding jobs in fields from special education to animé web-cartooning and toy design.

Several decades after his beat adventures, Ewert has nestled into a cozy Victorian to write children's books. First published in 2008, his breakout picture book 10,000 Dresses depicts the artistic awakening of a transgender child, and with issues of LGBT rights and gender identity reaching critical mass in public discourse, it's high time the book got noticed.

[The following has been edited for length and clarity. Also, the author asked the interviewer a ton of questions about herself, all of which she omitted.]

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