Palo Alto Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - August 9, 2013

Big book bash

Litquake brings 40-some authors to Palo Alto for readings, discussion and mingling

by Rebecca Wallace

A translator who falls down the stairs and loses her native language. A man who skips town with his dead brother's dog. A spirited pair of San Francisco defense attorneys. These people may not actually be in Palo Alto on Aug. 18, but their creators will.

On that afternoon, 40-some Bay Area authors will gather at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center for Litquake Palo Alto, a free festival of literary salons and readings. Undoubtedly, more than a few of their characters will be there in spirit.

The day is an offshoot of Litquake in San Francisco, back in Palo Alto for the second year after last year's event attracted more than 2,000 people, said Ronit Widmann-Levy, the JCC's cultural arts director.

"Our authors recognize the Peninsula as a true book-loving community," writer Jane Ganahl, the co-founder of Litquake, said in a press release.

Crafters of fiction and nonfiction alike will be speaking, some in individual conversations and others taking part in panel discussions with various themes: "Crossing Cultural Borders," "Thrilling Tales with Jewish Characters," "Jewish Humor & Wisdom," Russian authors, memoirs, short fiction, emerging authors, sex and romance books, and food writing.

Authors scheduled for individual, more in-depth talks include: Jane Smiley ("Thousand Acres," "The Man Who Invented the Computer"); Daniel Handler, also known as Lemony Snicket ("A Series of Unfortunate Events," "Why We Broke Up"); Ellen Sussman ("The Paradise Guest House," "French Lessons"); Deborah Perry Piscione ("Secrets of Silicon Valley: What Everyone Else can Learn from the Innovation Capital of the World"); and Andrew Sean Greer ("The Story of a Marriage," "The Confessions of Max Tivoli").

Many of the authors have local ties. Sussman is a longtime judge in the Weekly's short-story contest, and Piscione is active in organizing Silicon Valley's professional women for networking and building opportunities for women in the valley.

Palo Alto author Keith Raffel will moderate the "Thrilling Tales" panel, with participating writers including Sheldon Siegel of the popular legal-thriller series starring defense attorneys (and exes) Mike Daley and Rosie Fernandez. Ann Packer ("The Dive from Clausen's Pier," "Songs Without Words," "Mendocino and Other Stories"), a Stanford native and the daughter of two Stanford professors, will be part of the panel on short fiction.

The emerging-authors panel will introduce attendees to three newer authors: Nina Schuyler, whose July novel "The Translator" follows a translator who can speak only Japanese after an accident; Amy Franklin-Willis, whose "The Lost Saints of Tennessee" protagonist leaves his hometown with only a dog and a book after personal tragedy; and Tracy Guzeman, whose "The Gravity of Birds" is a tale of two lost sisters.

Litquake Palo Alto begins with "fireside readings" from 2 to 2:20 p.m., followed by a Jewish women's theater reading from 2:25 to 2:45. The literary salons — panel talks and individual discussions — follow from 3 to 6:30 p.m.

Wrapping up the day until 8 p.m. is "Blues, Booze & Schmooze": a free-form, 21-and-over, no-host party for the authors and attendees. The Gaucho gypsy-jazz sextet will perform, and cocktails with literary themes will be served up.

Info: For a detailed Litquake Palo Alto schedule and for more information, go to paloaltojcc.org or call 650-223-8605. The Palo Alto Weekly is one of the event's sponsors.

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