Back to the future with Litquake’s ‘Less Than Zero’

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Why is Litquake better than Christmas? Because it happens all year long! Outside the annual festival, events all over the city are held each month to celebrate great books and authors, such as master classes for writers and would-be writers and themed events where your inner costumed child can cavort in style. There’s always something shaking at Litquake.

One of the most recent events was “Less Than Zero: An Homage to ‘80s Lit, Big Hair, and Distressed Denim,” held late last month on a warm night at the Verdi Club. Appearances by Tom Wolfe, in the form of Eddie Muller, author and self-proclaimed “noirchaeologist,” and Carrie Fisher, played by Holly Hardy, author of “How to Take a Bullet and Other Survival Poems,” gave a layered evening of literary impressions. Hardy read from Fisher’s tell-all drugs-and-sex memoir, “Postcards from the Edge.” Wolfe showed up in his trademark white suit and read from “Bonfire of the Vanities” while Fisher went for even more throwback than the event called for by appearing in costume as Princess Leia.

Alia Volz, recipient of a 2014 SF Weekly award for “Best San Francisco Writer Without a Book” read from the brat-pack classic “Slaves of New York.” Volz said candidly afterward that the author Tama Janowitz had cultivated a dumb-but-pretty happy-hooker persona to promote her work in the ‘80s and that she herself was quite happy that female authors have gained a different position in the last 30 years. The reading from “Slaves” was the raciest of the night, touching on the the workmanlike quality of prostitution undertaken to support a habit. Anyone who calls the ‘80s the good old days has some reading to do.

Other bright spots were a reading from the unforgivable “The Official Preppy Handbook,” written by Lisa Birnbach and read in preppy drag by an eye-rolling Michelle Tea, author of “Mermaid in Chelsea Creek” and current contributor to XOJane. Each author tried to channel his or her assigned or chosen work as much as possible to give the audience a window to the tubular past and show us how rad it was. Joshua Mohr, author of “Fight Song,” even donned a pair of eye-piercingly yellow pants to read us the cocaine drones of Bret Easton Ellis.

They broke up the readings with performances by a dance troupe called Sparkle Motion in headbands and mallrat clothes, writhing like sexual poltergeists of the MTV era to the big hits of the big-hair decade. DJ Toph One spun songs like Berlin’s “Sex,” to facilitate maximum hip-thrusting. Grandmaster Flash’s classic “White Lines” inspired linear snorting choreography that got the audience hooting about the good old days of consequence-free coke addiction among the literati.

The funniest part of the night came courtesy of the master of ceremonies, Litquake’s own Jack Boulware. In addition to introducing each author-as-author by their titles and accolades, he made a ticklishly ironic choice. He read a one-star review for each book from Goodreads, highlighting its perceived weaknesses from the point of Mary Sue the literary critic. These brought the house down and helped dissolve tension for the readers before they went on. They also made light of the democratization of literature and the rise of the book troll. In a room full of writers and readers, reviews are hilarious and soul-rending all at once. Hearing brat-pack classics panned in this setting while the master of ceremonies mocked the iPad was a riot.

Litquake hosts ongoing events all over San Francisco. This year’s festival takes place Oct. 10 to 18, but you don’t have to wait that long. Litquake Palo Alto is Aug. 17 and features events for all ages of book lovers. Missing out on book events like this ‘80s extravaganza makes you look, like, totally lame.


Contact Meg Elison at [email protected].

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