In San Francisco on January 11, a handful of authors and more than 300 readers gathered at A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books to raise $10,000, enough perhaps to make it safe for Emily Dickinson to buy books on the production of methamphetamine if she wanted to.

Trust me. This made sense at the time. After all, Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket, not only masterminded but emceed the author-studded event to benefit Denver's Tattered Cover, currently embroiled in a First Amendment legal battle to keep its customer records private.

Where does Ms. Dickinson fit into this? Handler used a bit of creative license when describing the details of the case, in which Colorado law enforcement agents descended on the bookstore asking for the book-buying records of a suspected drug offender. By substituting said suspect with, say, Emily Dickinson, he showed the universal threat such actions have on civil liberties.

Since Handler first heard of the Tattered Cover case, he's been steamed about it. He contacted Tattered Cover owner Joyce Meskis and Chris Finan, president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, which has helped the bookstore extensively and spent $40,000 on the case. (The ABFFE and the store are awaiting a decision from the Colorado Supreme Court.)

Handler also went to his neighborhood bookstore, A Clean Well-Lighted Place, and hatched the idea for a fundraiser with Wendy Sheanin, the store's events coordinator. Soon they found authors willing to participate and publishers willing to donate proceeds from the sale of books sold that night to the Tattered Cover/ABFFE legal coffers.

Authors gave of their time—and posed for pictures at $1 a pop (all for the cause). A Clean Well-Lighted Place owner Neal Sofman hoped the event would be more than an author reading but a celebration of ideas.

And so it was. Dorothy Allison likened a bookstore to a church. "This is a place where we're safe, or should be," she said. She entertainingly emphasized the need to keep book sales private, "because you bought something you don't want your mama to know you bought, much less John Ashcroft or the government."

Of course, with so many authors on hand, the audience wanted some readings. Allison read from Trash, and, since it is out of print, brought along copies from her own barn to sell for the benefit.

Michael Chabon read what he called a "blooper" chapter that didn't make the final cut for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. (Hint: if you wondered what it would be like to take Joe Kavalier to school for show and tell, this story is not to be missed.)

Speaking of McSweeney's, Dave Eggers arrived with a pan of homemade brownies and auctioned the two t-shirts (also homemade) off his back. Among other authors lending a hand that night were: Gail Tsukiyama, Ayelet Waldman and Susie Bright. "Paper or plastic?" asked Chabon as he bagged purchases at the front counter.

ABFFE's Finan was cheered by the turnout. "It's nice to see so many faces and to know that they support First Amendment rights," he said.

The Tattered Cover's Meskis said she was thrilled, too. "The kitty was dry," she said.

The kitty may need more replenishment. If the Colorado Supreme Court decides against the bookstore, ABFFE is prepared to take the fight as far as it can go. "We're in for the long haul," said Finan.

In addition, three similar cases have developed since the Tattered Cover's ordeal started in April 2000. "This is a problem that is going to continue until there is a more definitive ruling by the courts," said Finan. Moreover, not long ago ABFFE spent $100,000 defending Kramerbooks when Kenneth Starr subpoenaed records connected with Monica Lewinsky.