The problem of course has been that four three of our four events, the featured title has been a sequel, and that has left me with the dilemma, knowing it is almost impossible for me to read two books by an author in advance of an event, of whether to read the original title or jump right into the sequel. Fortunately my Moore reading started with Sacre Bleu, which was a stand-alone. I should offer a caveat—my Moore reading actually started with Coyote Blue years ago, but that was not in conjunction with an event.
For The Serpent of Venice, I decided to jump right in and read the sequel to Fool, much like I will often read the newest mystery by an author instead of starting from the beginning. Very Shakespearean and a lot of fun, but I did feel like I was missing something. And that’s why for our upcoming event for Secondhand Souls, I decided to go back and read A Dirty Job, especially because a customer recently told me it was her very favorite Christopher Moore title. I also believe it was also the book tour of Moore’s first visit to Milwaukee, back in 2006.
Do you know the setup? Charlie Asher runs his family’s second-hand store in San Francisco. His wife Rachel is pregnant with their first child. After a visit, Charlie happens to come back to the hospital room to bring her a CD and spots this mysterious and very tall African man dressed in green in the room, and when Charlie asks what he’s doing there, the guy is in shock because he’s not supposed to be visible. And well, Rachel has died due to childbirth complications.
And after that, things start to get weird, because Charlie slowly figures out that he is a death merchant, charged with taking the soul vessels of the dying and passing them on to their next recipients. And if that isn’t enough to contend with, he gets caught up in this plot by some Celtic death demons who want to take over the world. Oh, and his new daughter seems to be able to kill people by saying Kitty.
There’s about ten other twists and I don’t want to give anything away. Like all Christopher Moore novels, it’s one part quest, one part philosophical treatise and the rest is just nuts. One can say that there is sort of a Moore-esque hero. Certainly Lucien Lessard of Sacre Bleu and Charlie Asher have a lot in common—well meaning, a bit awkward, romantic, horny, and generally up for the challenge of what life may throw at them, even if that happens to be fighting evil. And the books are truly laugh out loud funny.
But there’s something else that makes A Dirty Job special; it’s a true love letter to Christopher Moore’s adopted home of San Francisco. Charlie Asher and his posse, his sister Jane, his daughter Sophie, employees Ray and Lily, fellow death merchant Minty Fresh, and so on, seem to find themselves all over the city, from the Mission to the Tenderloin, to the Castro and The Haight. And it turns out that the story is interconnected with Moore’s vampire novels, particularly You Suck and Bite Me.
Reading A Dirty Job got me thinking about great San Francisco novels – if someone was visiting the Bay Area, I’d definitely suggest reading this. But of course San Francisco is one of the most literary cities out there. Of course people have been reading Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series for over thirty years. And more recently, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore had a long run on the paperback bestseller lists. But what else is out there?
I wrote to Pete Mulvihill at Green Apple Books and asked him what they recommend, since I figure they get a lot of tourists, and he showed me this list from Buzzfeed. Of course! Jack London, Jack Kerouac, Dave Eggers are on the list, as is one of my favorite books of all time, Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate. What a coincidence that two of the folks with books on the list, Michelle Tea and Ali Liebegott, actually appeared at Boswell some years ago.
One novel that Pete recommended that was not on the list was The Dead do not Improve, by Jay Caspian King. "Quirky and Fun," he told me. The Boston Globe called it "loopy, hilarious, neo-noir" while Milwaukee's own Crimespree Magazine praised it as "tragically hilarious and darkly uplifting."
I was wondering if there were other books out there. The Guardian list has The Golden Gate listed at #1, plus a few titles not on the other list.
And here’s another list that includes Amy Tan’s classic, The Joy Luck Club, plus another book that I read, Carter Beats the Devil. I didn’t remember the setting!
In The Wall Street Journal, Armistead Maupin recommended Andrew Sean Greer’s The Confessions of Max Tivoli. I am also a big fan of the also very Sf-y The Story of a Marriage. Did you know that his last novel, The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, was meant to take place in San Francisco, but he changed the locale after getting a residency in New York.
7x7 recently posted a list of 75 books about San Francisco. They obviously drew on the Buzzfeed list (or vice versa) as there is a lot of overlap in their top ten. But I was thrilled to see A Dirty Job finally listed, at #34. Was Oh, the Glory of it All on the list? Yes it was, but I'm focusing on fiction here. Telegraph Avenue? Check, though I might say that was more of an Oakland book. But what was Anne Tyler doing there with The Amateur Marriage? She set a book in a city besides Baltimore? I went back and looked at my copy and I would say that Haight-Ashbury is a bit player.
But all this is gravy. We’re talking about Christopher Moore’s San Francisco, where demons live in the sewers and Franken-squirrels are given orders from the Zen Center. Where used book and record, and cloth store owners are actually doing vital work collecting souls and redistributing them. And how dated is A Dirty Job? The dead show up in Charlie Asher’s notebook as if like magic. Now they’d show up on his phone or tablet, and it wouldn’t seem like magic at all.
One more thing about A Dirty Job. Underneath the craziness, it’s a heartfelt book about dealing with death. Through it all, characters are confronting the end of the lives of themselves and those around them, and it’s actually got some beautiful and yes, zenlike meditations on the subject. And if your dream is to inhabit a Franken-squirrel, that’s also an option.
You can't see all the skeletons in the display window, due to the glare. As we were putting this together, I customer complained, "Isn't it too early for a Halloween display?" but we assured him that we just had all the skeletons because the featured book was about a death merchant. "Oh, OK, was his reply."
Got a San Francisco book suggestion? Comment here! And see you at our event for Christopher Moore on Wednesday, September 9, 7 pm. $29 ticket gets you admission and a signed copy of the book. There’s a gift card option on the day of the event. And you can buy your tickets on the Brown Paper Tickets site.