Saturday, January 25, 2014

My reading at Green Apple Bookstore

My reading at the legendary Green Apple bookstore in the Inner Richmond neighborhood went really well. It was held in Granny Smith Room. It's a narrow, longish, cozy place, so with 20+ people it gave the feeling of a packed room. In attendance were mostly friends and neighbors, writers such as James Warner and Sarita Sarvate, translators such as Peter Frentzel, poet Cesar Love, and musicians Patrick O'Maley and Sean Barnett. My editor friend Robynne Weaver and close friends like Nikki Bengal, Ramon Calhoun, Ijaz Syed, Jim Torrens and Galina graced the occasion. My boy Amar and Galina's son Lev entertained themselves with books in the humor section downstairs, and my lovely wife Amna and our younger son Arman flitted in and out of the Granny Smith Room. At one point I spotted Arman in Ijaz Syed's lap.

I thanked those who had made the time to come and hear me read from my new collection Cafe Le Whore and Other Stories, silently missing those who couldn't come, many due to parental duties, a few due to non-parental commitments.
Before I began to read from the first story in the collection, I talked a little about the story since it was the first story I ever wrote, its humor, its light-hearteness, how it had acquired layers upon layers over the years, loss of early innocence of the tone, its debt to Salinger.
I finished the story by pointing out that despite its humor and mild sarcastic tone, the story does get a bit blue towards the end.
The next story I read was one of my favorites in the collection, Film Librarian. I explained to the audience due to my connection with libraries I had always wanted to write a story that took place inside and around this wonderful institution as an homage to those who give their best years to serving the cause of knowledge and imagination, not to forget their unconditional attention to those whom no one wants in our society, including, in some cases, their own families.
Film Librarian deals with a homeless old lady and a book she must possess all the time, a film book that has a movie still of an 'unidentified' female actor sitting at a bar with two known male actors. The old lady wants to know the name of the actress. The librarian has her work cut out for her, as the actress has disappeared without a trace. The librarian's own life is about to take a complicated turn, for better or worse as she finds herself caught between two lovers, one a filmmaker, the other a novelist.
Finally, I read from the title story Cafe Le Whore. I talked a little about the story and what triggered the imagination to produce it. Many readers have confided to me that Cafe Le Whore is my best work so far. Only time will tell. I am glad to have written it and I thank you for reading it. 
No reading is complete without the Q&A session. The questions included issues about projecting personal problems into the stories and coming out with solutions, attempting supernatural as in the case of Cafe Le Whore where the mother of the protagonist has come back from the dead as an out/miscast and is living in the grungy neighborhood of Tenderloin district of San Francisco.
There was a comment ( a subtle question) about how my writing has moved away from what is generally perceived as typical of South Asian writing in America.I explained that that was a conscious effort as I felt that many South Asian writers fall into the market trap and write what the agents/editors and general readership expect of their writing. I would like to belong to a group of South Asian writers who have made America their home, for better or worse, and would like to impose a lens on the issues which affect us and our children here, and of course the larger world.
It's always gratifying to see friends and readers lining up with your book in hand for an autograph and intimate conversation.
Before I walked out, I thanked the wonderful crew of the store, especially Ashley and Danielle. The world of the independent bookstores is a complicated one. The partnership between the independent writer, the independent publisher and the independent bookstore is not a natural one. The key factor is the readership which is still being influenced by the media. So when a person decides to support an independent bookstore and walks in to buy a book, it is usually to buy what has been reviewed in a major newspaper or an established source. Rarely do the local newspapers of a major city bother to review local, independent writers whose writing aims for something away from the highway 101.
So when an independent bookstore goes out of its way to promote a local writer, it is in the true spirit of what literature is all about, offering an alternative, encouraging people to hear a different voice.