Reading Harvey Milk Live

Authors KM  Sohnlein and Alvin Orloff read from The Harvey Milk Interviews: In His Own Words edited by Vince Emery, on Tuesday June 19 at the Human Rights Campaign Store

They, along with Daniel Nicoletta, Larry Bob Roberts, Tommi Avicolli Mecca, Marke Bieschke and Kevin Killian made this an entertaining and educational event. This photo was purloined from Kevin Killian's Facebook page. We had free cookies donated by Hot Cookie and coffee from 18th Street Starbucks. And we raised a little money for the Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center.

ashley's picks

perfect for a day underneath a tree in the park, on a blanket in the sand, for a few hours squished on a plane, or whenever you feel like taking a pleasant literary journey, here are some recommendations for young adults, kids and kids at heart for the summer.



the future of us by jay asher & carolyn mackler
when two high-schoolers pop a cd-rom touting free access to AOL in their computer, a strange website appears where they are asked to ‘friend’ people and ‘like’ their comments.  the website address is equally confusing, with ‘facebook’ in the title.  but it’s 1996.  ‘facebook’ hasn’t been invented, yet there they are, profiles of themselves fifteen years into the future.  and even more mysterious, actions that they took that day oddly change their status as they return to this curious website.  what consequences will they face as they tamper with the knowledge of who they will become, and what, if anything, will make them happy that far into the future?  perfect for the neophyte technophile in your life.


the catastrophic history of you and me
by jess rothenberg
who knew that it IS actually possible to die of a broken heart?  on the surface it seems like your typical first-crush-ends-in-tragedy-and-then-a-return-from-the-grave-to-learn-the-shocking-truth-about-what-was-really-going-on-in-your-life-and-getting-revenge-seems-like-the-best-option-and-the-after-life-guide-assigned-to-you-is-kind-of-cute-but-you-would-give-anything-to-have-your-life-back story, but is it really?  san francisco provides the perfect backdrop and the five stages of grief provide a template for this heartfelt post-mortem love story.

the statistical probability of love at first sight by jennifer e. smith
she missed her flight by four minutes, to go to a wedding she didn’t want to attend with people she has bitter feelings for.  and if hadley thought her life was turned upside-down due to her parents recent divorce, she was in for a big surprise when she met oliver at the airport, who sits in 18c on the next flight. her seat? 18a.  mysterious and british, he helps her see that her own attitudes toward family and love could use a new perspective.  sweet, poignant and romantic all at once.


me and earl and the dying girl  by jesse andrews
greg and his foul-mouthed best friend earl worship the films of werner herzog.  so much so that they make their own films with a very loose understanding of plot, characterization and story (read: containing none of those things).  but when a childhood ‘acquaintance’ (read: one of his first attempts at having a girlfriend) is diagnosed with cancer and his mom forces him to be nice to her, all his preconceived notions of what is good and right in the world go out the window, especially when she expresses how much she likes those cacophonous visual montages he calls ‘movies’ and what they actually turn out to be in the end (read: a surprise for all).  

middle grade (8-12 years old)


13 gifts  by wendy mass
Tara just got herself into a heap of trouble at the end of the school year, the kind that gets her sent to stay with her aunt and uncle for the summer instead of madagascar like originally planned.  she soon discovers not is all that it seems in the sleepy little town, especially when she finds herself indebted (as in her eternal soul type of debt) to someone who may or may not be the oldest resident, who knows more than she should and offers her a chance to collect 13 items in exchange for her help (as in getting her eternal soul out of hot water type of help).      


alien on a rampage by clete barrett smith
“so, what did you do for summer vacation, david?”
“oh, nothing major.  i went to my grandmother’s and discovered her bed and breakfast is actually a waystation for vacationing extra-terrestrials!  i can’t wait to go back!”
(spoiler alert: little does david know that upon his return he will uncover a plot to destroy the planet!)


horten’s miraculous mechanisms by lissa evans
it all started when stuart’s parents decided to move to the seemingly sleepy little town of beeton, despite his sullen protests.  when he arrives, a mystery surrounding a long lost relative who just so happened to be a magician draws him into a delightfully charming adventure including some unbelievable happenstances and some rather odd neighbors in the form of triplets named april, may and june who just so happen to be remarkably good at, i mean investigative journalism.


merits of mischief: the bad apple by t.r. burns
the kilter academy for troubled youth prides itself on accepting even the most unruly, undisciplined and difficult of children and thoroughly...rewards them for mischievous behaviour?!?!  full of whimsy and clever twists and turns, a definite must-read manual for benevolent troublemakers everywhere.

last but not least, my favorite book this season (for all ages)


the one and only ivan  by katherine applegate
humorous and heartwarming, poignant and thought-provoking, and a whole slew of words that escape me but would be perfect to describe just how wonderful this book is.  ivan, a gorilla in captivity since he was a juvenile, offers his thoughts about his art (when he is tired of drawing he eats his crayons), his philosophy on patience (he counts the days in a continuous tally) and ruminates on his own misunderstood intelligence (“try knuckle-walking for an hour.  you tell me: which way is more fun?”).  this story will delight kids of all ages and perhaps the next time you get the feeling the animals at the zoo are watching you with curious eyes, you may be right.

What the kids are reading these days, literally

SF's public schools let out on May 25, so it seems like a fine time to check in on what the kids are reading this summer.  To that end, here are Green Apple's top ten books for young adults and for younger readers.

Young Adult/Middle Grade:

  1. Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  2. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
  3. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
  4. Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
  5. Serpent's Shadow by Rick Rioirdan
  6. LEGO Ninjago: Rise of the Snakes by Tracey West
  7. LEGO Ninjago: the Golden Weapons by Tracey West
  8. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
  9. Enchantress by Michael Scott
  10. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Young Readers/Picture Books:
  1. Oh, the Places You'll Go by Dr. Seuss (a perennial graduation gift)
  2. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (Slide and Find edition) by Bill Martin, Jr. and Eric Carle
  3. The Monster at the End of This Book by Michael Smollin
  4. All Around the World by Geraldine Cosneau
  5. Inside Freight Train by Donald Crews
  6. Pierre, a Continuous Tale in Five Chapters and a Prologue by Maurice Sendak (RIP)
  7. Hug Time by Patrick McDonnell
  8. The Feelings Book by Todd Parr
  9. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle 
  10. The Boy Who Cried Ninja by Alex Latimer
As always, we're here with suggestions for kids of any age!

Your Mother Should Know now, if you got her a subscription to the Apple-a-Month Club for Mothers Day last month. So now we can tell you all about May's (topical) subscription book, which was The Book of My Mother by Albert Cohen, translated by his wife and published in a lovely new edition by Archipelago Press. 

 Albert Cohen's The Book of My Mother defies classification, as a tribute to the complexities and depth of familial love should. Part memoir, part novel, and written originally as a collection of richly narrative and descriptive essays, the book is both the story of Cohen's relationship with and loss of his mother (who died shortly after he had left France for London to escape the Nazis during World War II) and a meditation on grief, family, exile and isolation. While you should probably keep tissues handy, there's great joy here, too -- Cohen, who once claimed that his true homeland was the French language, relays his often playful love for his mother in what seems to be a love affair with the sentence itself, each remarkably crafted and full of wit and wonder. Both a timely and timeless read for the month of Mothers Day.

Which brings us to the here and now, which is, in a happy coincidence (er, Hallmark scam, or whatever) the month of Fathers Day. If you're still looking for a gift for your old man, the Apple-a-Month-Club might be just the thing (though, as far as we know, there isn't a "Book of my Father" coming out this month, except this one, which is of course very serious and hard-hitting non-fiction and therefore disqualified.) In any case, imagine the look of delight on any loved one's face when they see this:

Subscribe, or just stay tuned for next month to find out what we send out in June (bearing in mind, of course, that what makes mail better than blog posts is that, uh,  it comes in the mail.)

Question your teaspoons: an interview with Daniel Levin Becker

Daniel Levin Becker, San Francisco resident and Believer magazine reviews editor, is the author of a recently published study of the Oulipo, Many Subtle Channels. For those unfamiliar, the Oulipo--an acronym for Ouvroir de littĂ©rature potentielle, which translates into something like the "Workshop for Potential Literature"--is a predominantly French group whose members explore and expand the possibilities of literature by employing various formal constraints. These constraints range from the simple (for example, the procedure n+7 involves replacing every noun in a text with the 7th following it in the dictionary, a process that often yields inspired results) to the elaborate (see this list of some of the rules followed in the composition of the uber-Oulipian Life A User's Manual). All constraints serve to extend the boundaries of literature and bypass the old Romantic saw of "writer's block."

It's likely that you've read work by a member of the Oulipo, perhaps without being aware of it. Italo Calvino is a member (once a member, always a member), as are Georges Perec, Harry Mathews, and Raymond Queneau--one of the group's co-founders, in fact, as well as author GAB favorite, the irrepressible Zazie in the Metro.

Daniel, who was inducted into the Oulipo in 2009, kindly agreed to answer a handful of questions about his book, the history of the Oulipo, what the group can do for you, and some of the books that have had a lasting impact on him.


Green Apple Books: Throughout the book, you offer several definitions of the Oulipo. Are any of these definitions more apt than others? Have you formulated your own response to the (this) inevitable question of "What is the Oulipo"?

Daniel Levin BeckerI usually go with some variation of "a research group of writers and scientists whose collective subject of inquiry is the literary potential of mathematical structures." Sometimes--okay, often--I replace "research group of writers and scientists" with "bunch of nerds."

GAB: Can you tell us a little about how the Oulipo is constituted? How does one become a member of the group? How does one avoid becoming a member (or remaining a member after one is inducted)?

DLBOne becomes a member first by attending one of the Oulipo's monthly meetings as a guest of honor and presenting whatever it is of one's work that dovetails with oulipian interests, then by being unanimously elected by the group. One can avoid becoming a member very easily: by asking to be a member and thereby becoming permanently ineligible for membership. After one is inducted one cannot quit or be kicked out; the only official way to leave the group is to commit suicide for no purpose other than to leave the group, and to do so in the presence of a notary. A few people have distanced themselves from the group's activities by just sort of ceasing to participate, but they're still officially considered members, just inactive ones. This includes dead members.

GAB: You make a pretty sustained case in the book as to how and why an admittedly obscure French literary group has relevance to more than a coterie of like-minded enthusiasts. Can you briefly sum up this argument and tell us what an awareness or appreciation of oulipian methods can offer the "average reader"?

DLBIt's not mine to make, but I buy pretty wholeheartedly into the argument that creativity thrives on rules and constraints, and that there are rules and constraints in virtually everything we do--so there's potential for organized play, i.e. games, all around us. For me the games usually have to do with language, and are usually pretty momentary--but what's cool about this line of thinking is that (a) it can be anything with rules and (b) it doesn't have to be momentary, that you could use those rules to build something much bigger if you were so inclined. Consider La Disparition [Georges Perec's e-less novel, translated as A Void].

Irredeemably nerdy example of how this plays out: I passed someone on the street the other day wearing a muscle T-shirt that said "FUCK SLEEVES" and immediately (well, after thinking "that is awesome") thought of the band Fuck Buttons. And I got a few moments of joy from the contrast of those two structurally identical but culturally different phrases: why is it that on a T-shirt "fuck" reads as a verb and in a band name it seems like a functional attribute (i.e., "just press the fuck button")? What if you switched those roles and made "fuck buttons" a chant among rioting zipper industry workers, and "fuck sleeves" a really crude name for fishnet stockings? You could go pretty far with that little game (although I think it's probably pretty obvious why I let it remain momentary in this case). That's the "potential" part. 

Anyway, I think the idea of potential is mostly just that structures are there for you to play with in whatever way makes you happy and creatively productive. It's not just about creativity, though, for me and for most of the people in the book: to some degree we like games because there are rules and we're not faced with the complete uncertainty of the real entropic world, and by the same token there's something existentially reassuring about the idea that there are solutions to be found, the way there are solutions to math problems, even (or maybe especially) if you're only solving problems you set for yourself. 

I promise this is all explained more eloquently in the book. 

GAB: What's your favorite book by an Oulipian?

DLBIn an effort to be unpredictable, I'm going to say Calvino's t-zero. It's not actually very oulipian, just nerdy and brilliant. Ask me tomorrow, of course, and I'll probably have a different answer.

GAB: What are you reading now?

DLBI'm a ridiculously sidetrackable reader these days, but I just read Gianni Rodari's Lamberto Lamberto Lamberto (tr. Antony Shugaar) and I have open and active dossiers on Jennifer Dubois's A Partial History of Lost Causes and Sergio de la Pava's A Naked Singularity.

GAB: And, if the answer is different from the above, which oulipian book has had the biggest effect on you?

DLBIf you'll permit me the mischievous technicality of interpreting "oulipian book" as "book in the oulipian mode" rather than "book by a member of the Oulipo," I'll go with Nabokov's Pale Fire, thanks to which I discovered that the structures surrounding the apparent story--the paratexts, as I would later learn to call them thanks to the extraordinarily dense book by that name by GĂ©rard Genette--could be just as interesting and dramatic, if not more so. 

GAB: Finally, if you could have a Staff Favorite at the store, what would you pick?

DLBIs it too late for [John D'Agata's] The Lifespan of a Fact? I geeked out on that book hard.

GAB: It's not too late. We geeked out on that pretty hard too.


N.B. -- An extended interview will soon be available on Writers No One Reads.