Daniel Handler recalls the quirky literary madness of Litquake 

click to enlarge Daniel Handler (AP file photo) - DANIEL HANDLER (AP FILE PHOTO)
  • Daniel Handler (AP file photo)
  • Daniel Handler (AP file photo)

Litquake is to the literary world what South by Southwest is to the music industry or Sundance is to independent film: an overwhelming, exciting, boisterous week brimming with too much talent and too little time.

Starting Friday, literati from far and wide will convene in San Francisco for more than 80 events crammed into one week. Some 850 authors are booked, including big names like James Ellroy, Anne Enright, Jeffrey Eugenides, Chelsea Handler, Ishmael Reed and Jane Smiley.

Lit Crawl, a wacky, whirlwind night of 450 author readings across the Mission, is the finale, on Oct. 15.

“I remember when I first did the Crawl,” says San Francisco writer Daniel Handler. “It was a ramshackle marathon of readings as opposed to the display of literary fireworks that it is today.”

Handler, who moonlights as children’s author Lemony Snicket and has participated in Litquake since its early days, hosts two events this year.

His advice for Crawl virgins is blunt: “Don’t drink too much until the end because it’s hard to find a bathroom. The venues get overwhelmed, so save your overwhelming for your mind and your soul and not your bladder.”

Handler emcees a sundown soiree in Buena Vista Park on Sunday to celebrate Chris Adrian’s new novel “The Great Night,” which is set in the Upper Haight park and inspired by Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The evening features readings from Adrian and Andrew Sean Greer, fairy entertainment from a clown troupe, and a string quartet.

“Shakespeare is like sex; he turns out not to be overrated,” Handler says. “Chris Adrian’s book is rich and strange and creepy and wondrous, which more or less describes its setting, Buena Vista Park.”

He adds, “The biggest thing on my mind is what I’m going to wear. I once played Oberon in high school, but I’ve mislaid my costume, which, if memory serves, was a leotard, a cape, and some antlers.”

The event seems quintessential Litquake: unusual, inspired, and like San Francisco, unconventional.

“I think San Francisco has a profound intellectual enthusiasm, which is why there are so many smart, interesting people here,” says Handler. “If you’re a writer, it’s nice to be in a city that is not a center of publishing. The City is not obsessed with publishing gossip but with artistic output.”

Despite cries that real books are obsolete in the digital age, Litquake has grown since it began in 1999, standing out in how it engages readers, and nurtures relationships with authors and publishers and allows audiences to invest in an experience of live literature.

“Litquake has been ahead of the curve,” says Handler. “But I think that more cities have found a way to center fantastic nights around literature, so that it can take its place alongside the other fun participatory arts rather than just staying among the quiet, soul-enhancing arts.”

IF YOU GO

‘The Great Night’ in the Park

Where: Buena Vista Park, Haight Street at Buena Vista Avenue, San Francisco

When: 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: Free

Contact: (415) 863-8688, www.booksmith.com, www.litquake.org

Litquake from top to tail

9 Days of festivities, from Friday to Oct. 15

13,748 Attendance in 2010

450 Writers participating in Lit Crawl

398 Writers participating in main festival readings, performances, discussions and workshops

85 Events in main festival

80 Events in Lit Crawl

11 Artists honoring Ishmael Reed at Barbary Coast Awards night

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Lauren Gallagher

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