Read This! Writers' Edition

"I'd thought San Francisco as a huge playground. Mystery lurked around every corner and the city twinkled with enchantment.

Walking along hilly streets, I'd gaze up at the drawn curtains of apartment blocks to imagine vivid tableaus of glamour and excitement insidesoignée cocktail parties, beautiful people involved in torrid love affairs, avant gardists founding new schools of art. Gradually, the ever-increasing pall of death replaced these fantasies with visons of bedridden young men whose eyes stared into the next worlds."

Alvin Orloff photo
Alvin Orloff


Alvin Orloff

What’s a good memory you have about libraries?

 I grew up in a small New Jersey town where packs of nasty, thuggish bullies roamed the streets terrorizing nerds and sissies. I fell into both categories and thus was constantly getting chased, humiliated and beaten up. The one place bullies never, ever set foot was the public library. I think they considered an interest in books to be unmanly or something like that. Since it was a bully-free zone, the library became my sanctuary. Fortunately, I much preferred reading to “real” life and was perfectly content to hide out there for extended basically my entire childhood.

Are there stories you'd like to see written that aren't out there right now?

I believe absolutely everyone should be required by law to write a memoir. The permutations of human perspective are so vast there’s really no other way for literature to adequately reflect the diversity of human experience. Sure, if people really don’t want to, they should be allowed to apply for conscientious objector status. Otherwise, let’s hear from everybody!

What book/s made you cry? What book/s made you laugh?

A Horse Named Sorrow by Trebor Healey made me burst into tears thirteen times (I counted). It’s a boy-meets-boy-meets-death love story set in San Francisco at the height of the AIDS crisis. As for laughing: Highland Fling by Nancy Mitford, The Male Cross-Dresser Support Group by Tama Janowitz, Prater Violet by Christopher Isherwood, Resentment by Gary Indiana, Youth in Revolt: The Journals of Nick Twisp by C.D. Payne or Lost At Sea by Jon Ronson (the last title is a collection of investigative reporting on wackos, cults, extremists, and bizarre anomalies like the town of North Pole, Alaska where it’s always Christmas and the children are being driven quietly mad).

Tell us something special you love about San Francisco.

I love how incredibly haunted it is! Even if ghosts aren’t exactly “real” in a scientific sense, they’re all over the place. Wander the city on a moonlit night, and you might hear lamentatious wails from the Ohlone coming from the Mission Dolores, bump into Beatniks at City Lights Books or see Wobblies on the waterfront. Visit the upper Haight and you might encounter the spirits of runaway Flower Children. Roam South of Market and you’re apt to meet the good-time gals of the Barbary Coast bawdy houses. I’ve never encountered a Spanish explorer or a Gold Rush forty-niner, but I do share my flat with a phantasm who looks as if he might have expired sometime in the 1880s, back when my building was a hotel for itinerant working men.

What can we do to support writers and bookstores at this time, and where can readers buy DISASTERAMA!?

Helping writers and bookstores is easy… just buy books from them! I’d recommend ordering Disasterama! from for the simple and utterly self-serving reason that I work at Dog Eared, and have for twenty-one years. If there’s another indie bookstore you’d like to help out, visit

What’s on your quarantine booklist or playlist?

Because of their relevance to current events I read Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation, a wonderfully disturbing novel about a woman who doesn’t leave her apartment, and Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, which imagines a fascist sympathizer in the White House.

Have you always made up words?

Absolutely! The number of potential human thoughts is infinite, so it only stands to reason that an infinite vocabulary would be necessary to express them all. With that in mind, I believe that inventing new words is not only an inalienable human right, but also a duty.

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