In Tents 

Dark carnie-core at the Stork

FRI 5/20

Upon first wash, Curtis Eller's American Circus seems like a band out of time. With Eller's yodeling ways, shirtsleeves, banjo, and Fuller brushtache, and his fixations on Buster Keaton, snake handling, P.T. Barnum, Amelia Earhart, and Coney Island (soon to be turned into a mall, we've heard), you might expect a nasal troubadour with a pocket full of jokes about Aunt Hyacinth's cabbage roses and "Sweet Violets." But he has a foggy croon, a foul mouth, and a hankering for the dark side -- executions, scars, and sin. On the NYC band's latest release, Eller is accompanied by tuba, upright bass, accordion, pedal steel, and rattlesnake rattles. And though the step can be lively -- the band even rocks sometimes -- the American Circus is definitely a bar band. "They play more waltzes than any other band I know of," says an anonymous fan on the group's Web site, "but nobody ever seems to feel like dancing." They play Friday night at the Stork Club (2330 Telegraph Ave., Oakland) with Tippy Canoe (solo) and Uni and Her Ukulele. Cover charge is $5. Info: Stork ClubOakland.com, 510-444-6174. – Stefanie Kalem

5/18-5/24

Lit Happens

She's a grandmother of four and a Zen abbess. Diane Rizzetto, author of Waking Up to What You Do: A Zen Practice for Meeting Every Situation with Intelligence and Compassion, gets all mindful at Borders Emeryville (Wed., 7 p.m. ). ... Divinity has gender issues too: Graduate Theological Union professor Rosemary Radford Ruether discusses her book Goddesses and the Divine Feminine, a study of ancient female figures of worship, at Black Oak (Wed., 7:30 p.m.). ... Funds raised by the Oakland Public Library's Bookmark Bookstore (721 Washington St.) have helped win longer hours at all branches, after-school programs for kids, renovations and retrofits, and more. Celebrate the shop's tenth birthday with a party and panel discussion featuring finger food and local authors Kem Nunn, Ann Cummins, Samina Ali, and Mimi Albert (Thu., 6 p.m.). ... California is unwieldily large; it should be cut into three or four pieces and the Bay Area should become its own state, posits Songs of the Simple Life author Tim Holt, who discusses this downsizing dream in the Community Room at the Berkeley Public Library's Central Branch (Sat., 2 p.m.). ... Break out the succulents, the high humidity, and the Yucatecan hammocks with In a Mexican Garden, a colorful new book whose lush photographs make a case for going south. It's a fiesta at Mrs. Dalloway's with author Gina Hyams (Sun., 3 p.m.). ... Oy, don't call it a dead language just yet. Fartaytsht un Farbesert is a two-day conference in UC Berkeley's 3335 Dwinelle Hall with experts discussing Yiddish literature in and out of translation. Info: 510-643-2995 (Mon., 9 a.m.). ... A former nun becomes an artist's model in Susann Cokal's new novel Breath and Bones, set in the late 19th century and featuring polygamy, cross-dressing, dynamite, and of course love. Meet Cokal at Cody's Telegraph (Tues., 7:30 p.m.). -- Anneli Rufus

FRI 5/20

Good Odds

They call themselves a "drinking man's four-piece indie-rock band," but that describes half the men over 25 in the West Bay. But with their guitars all a-glisten, a drummer from Blood on the Saddle, and two members of Joe Buck, SF's the Morning Line pops and shines like a mournful, West Coast Luna, fronted by a ragged, smoky Elvis Costello type. It's got clouds and silver linings, guitarist Stephen Smith sings, it's got beds we've made to lie in/Staten Island's best-kept secret is your room. They play the Plough with the Cowlicks and Joe Rathbone Friday. StarryPloughPub.com, 510-841-2082. -- Stefanie Kalem

5/21-5/22

Mountain Moods

Dance, music, food, antiques, and crafts from Tibet, Nepal, India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Mongolia -- enjoy the 22nd annual Himalayan Fair this weekend in Berkeley's Live Oak Park. Your admission fees (free for 12 and younger, $8 for one adult, $15 for two, $20 for three) go to humanitarian grassroots efforts in the Himalayas. HimalayanFair.net, 510-869-3995. -- Stefanie Kalem

FRI 5/20

Up-Chuck

One thing for sure: Palahniuk has guts

Raised in a motor home in Washington State, Chuck Palahniuk, the ex-diesel mechanic and ex-hospice worker who is now a cult phenomenon and whose name isn't pronounced the way it's spelled (say "PAUL-uh-nick") has brought writing about gross stuff to new and rhapsodic heights. Blood. Guts. The butchering, cooking, and eating of buttocks. In his first published novel, Fight Club, guys beat each other to pulp, over and over. Later excursions included the best-seller Choke, about a guy who hangs out at sex-addiction recovery meetings and pretends to choke in restaurants, and Lullaby, a chilling tale of sudden infant death syndrome and lethal poetry. Palahniuk began that book as a form of self-therapy after his father was violently murdered and, in 2001, the killer was sentenced to death. Rumor has it that dozens of fans have fainted during Palahniuk's public readings of a certain short story involving masturbation, a swimming-pool suction device, and intestines. Among other panoramas, the tale features an image of "this soup of blood and corn, shit and sperm and peanuts, floating around me" -- and it is now included in his new novel, Haunted, which finds a group of hapless scribes thrown together at a writers' retreat where hopes and wishes dissolve like ... well, like eyeballs in acid. The writers'-retreat concept is a rather transparent gimmick tying together 23 funny-gross stories, each told by a putative participant, that might make even androids have to heave, but in a good way. Palahniuk reads from Haunted at Berkeley's First Congregational Church (2345 Channing Way) at 7:30 p.m. this Friday. Tickets are $10, or free with purchase of the book. -- Anneli Rufus

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