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“A neighborhood without a bookstore is a sad place,” fiction writer Charlie Jane Anders tells me. “Everything else feels grayer and less like a real neighborhood.”
Anders is an accomplished writer and novelist, known for her inventive science fiction. Her latest novel is titled “The City in the Middle of the Night,” about a young girl who lives in the precarious world known as January, a realm that is eternally split into day and night.
Anders also organizes and hosts Writers With Drinks, a lively monthly reading series in San Francisco that has featured the likes of Mary Gaitskill, Armistead Maupin, W. Kamau Bell, Amy Tan and Jonathan Lethem.
She is lauded for her colorful introductions of nightly performers, which are always outrageous and, yes, also fictionalized. The performers represent a rich variety of genres, from science fiction and fantasy to comedy and erotica. The result is a curious stitching of minds that is often both hilarious and absurd. In this way, Anders has become the figurehead of a cherished fixture within the San Francisco literary scene.
Of course, COVID-19 has since severed these vestiges of warmth and community. However, Anders has supplied a substitute.
Concerned about the state of local bookstores in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Anders organized a series of virtual events featuring writers in conversation. Each event benefits one Bay Area bookstore through name-your-price ticket sales and donations.
“We tried to focus on stores that were at risk of closure and also vitally important to their local communities,” Anders explains. “Bookstores are a low-margin, high-cost business, and they really depend on their communities to support them. We wanted to help provide a way for people to step up and support their local stores.”
The latest beneficiary was Dark Carnival, a bookstore in Berkeley dedicated to science fiction, fantasy and mystery titles. Featured authors included Sarah Gailey, John Scalzi and Michael Zapata, who discussed the gravity of the current social sphere and produced delightfully animated answers to audience questions.
On the nature of conversation among writers right now, Anders responds, “I think a lot of authors are thinking about ways to address systemic injustice and structural oppression in our work, but also ways to offer a hopeful vision of the post-COVID future.”
It’s true, the absurd social landscape generates fascinating insight among fiction writers, especially those who dabble in science fiction. All the more reason to tune in and support your local purveyors of wit and wisdom.
Through her organization of this valuable series, it is clear that Anders understands the necessity of independent bookstores within a vibrant literary community.
Bookstores offer knowledge, imagination, and subversion in a digital society that is overrun by data mining and algorithmic manipulation. Furthermore, they provide an experience, one that Amazon’s Jeff Bezos simply cannot match.
“Independent bookstores are still the best places to find your new favorite author, as well as connect to a whole community of book-lovers and authors and booksellers,” Anders says. “They’re my favorite places to hang out, and I miss browsing more than I can possibly say.”
Anders’ favorite Bay Area bookstores
* Don’t miss Anders’ next online event to benefit Point Reyes Books, featuring Rachel Khong, R.O. Kwon and Cathy Park in conversations with Evan Karp at 12 p.m. July 15. Register and buy tickets at Eventbrite.