There are some things that only happen in San Francisco, and they can only happen there. Few cities can attract “start-up” entrepreneurs while also being a great place for outsiders and seekers. The books set in the city show the city’s creativity, convulsions, and freedom. Look no further for a list of books to read before or during a trip to San Francisco. If you’re just in the mood for literature that will help you get there, this is the list for you! Anisse Gross, a San Francisco writer, took us on a tour of the city’s literary history last week. People came to the city to live out the “limits of self-expression and identity,” she told us. Take a look at her blog. She has a lot of great suggestions for things to read, from the Beats to Tales of the City. Let us know if your favorite isn’t here.
The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth (1986)
This is how Seth’s book is written: in verse. It’s written in a type of sonnet called the Onegin stanza, which was invented by Pushkin for Eugene Onegin. It tells the lives of a group of yuppies in 1980s San Francisco. Marriages, divorces, existential crises, friendships, corporate jobs, self-reinventions, family – all the things that make up life – all come together in a beautiful way as the narration follows John Brown. At Stanford University, Seth was working on his thesis when he came across Pushkin’s classic novel in verse while doing research. He realized that this was the form he wanted to use for his “tales of California.” This is how you say it: In the opinion of supersplurk, this novel was very good at making San Francisco and the 1980s feel real. People like condison and Roopa Ganguli also said it was a good idea. In this example from San Francisco, a person says:
John thinks about the late September rains.
The blond hills around the bay have been coloured.
With a new color. This is what he thinks about:
They are in full bloom before winter. The way people speak
That when he was a child, he didn’t know what it was.
People in San Francisco are always moving.
He thinks about it now, as he walks through the park.
Old dunes were ripped apart by the westward wind.
To slow things down, the greenbelt pushes against them
During the Pacific swell, his steps move.
… but it’s late. The birds fly to their nests
Towards the sunset, and the arc of the sky.
Darkness spreads across the park.
The Mayor of Castro Street by Randy Shilts (1982)
One of the best political biographies of the 1970s, MrsBitch said. “Still the go-to source on the story of Harvey Milk,” she said. When Milk ran for office in California, he made history by becoming the first openly gay person ever to be elected to public office there. He was killed in a dramatic way almost a year later, in 1978. The rise of gay power in the United States still has a lot to do with him. His life has been the subject of many books, films, and documentaries. In book quotes:
I have never thought of myself as a candidate. When I was a child, I always thought I was part of a group, a candidate. I looked at the candidate’s movement.
There is no point in trying if there is no hope. This means that not only gay people will give up if there is no one to help them. People who feel excluded can move forward if you help them get elected to the central committee and other jobs. This gives them the green light to do so! If someone who is gay makes it, the doors will open for everyone. This gives hope to people who have given up.
Homeboy by Seth Morgan (1990)
NYC-born: Seth Morgan wrote his first novel, Homeboy, based on things that happened in his own life, like when he went to prison and learned about the drug culture in San Francisco. The book was praised when it came out. The New York Times called it “savagely funny and often brilliant,” and Morgan was called “a Joycean Hell’s Angel.”
Before and after his time behind bars, Morgan worked as a striptease club hostess in San Francisco. He was the boyfriend of Janis Joplin at the time of her death in 1970. On his last legs, he went to New Orleans and almost died by drinking. Instead, he wrote a book instead. After the book came out, he died in a motorcycle accident in 1990. He’d already agreed to write another book set in the Louisiana city. He was 41 years old. In fact, peninsularguy said, “He lived the life he wrote about, even as a strip club doorman in San Francisco.” Despite the fact that it has ties to San Francisco, this is a great book on its own. DJMC and Paul Moran also liked it. In book quotes:
You know what? All day, I haven’t thought about you once. Then, like a chill, it comes over me. Your voice is so hard but it’s soft on the inside. When you focus on things like tying a shoe or taking a shot, the tip of your tongue comes out.
Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon (2012)
San Francisco can’t be seen in isolation from the rest of the Bay Area, and there’s a whole different world on the other side of the bay, dancer123 reminded us. Most attention is paid to Berkeley and Oakland. The East Bay isn’t given as much attention. Jack London and Gertrude Stein were born there, as well as Credence Clearwater Revival, even though they live in a suburb of Berkeley called El Cerrito. Stein said: “There is no there there.” People haven’t paid attention to it since then. It’s now attracting new people, as hipsters are priced out of San Francisco by Google bus millionaires. It could be a west coast Brooklyn.
Michael Chabon’s new book, Telegraph Avenue, is a good way to learn about the Oakland-Berkeley border. The title refers to an avenue that runs through both cities. This is a multigenerational comic book that takes place in the mid-2000s. It talks about Tarantino characters and challenges American attitudes about race. In book quotes:
Finally, he was done with being the last one standing, the last coconut hanging from a palm tree on a little atoll that was being hit by a huge wave of late-modern capitalism.
Every time she felt angry, Gwen thought of it as a bad thing for the first time. She used it to power her engines and fund her stake in the American dream, but now she thought of it as a bad thing. As tragic as it is. There was no way to eat it and not pass it down through the generations.
John Barleycorn by Jack London (1913)
John Barleycorn, Jack London’s most personal book, was a fictional look at his alcoholism and a look at how society allows people to drink. In the book, the title of which was based on a British folk song, London talked about how much he loved alcohol. He also used it as a warning about the dangers of addiction (he was highly influenced by the suffragettes he had met in New York). One of the best-known authors in the United States at the time, London’s book would be used in campaigns for prohibition. DJMC told me to buy it.In book quotes:
There are two main types of drinkers. There is a man we all know who is stupid, unimaginative, and whose brain is bitten numbly by numb maggots. He walks with wide-spread, tentative legs, falls often in the gutter, and sees blue mice and pink elephants at the end of his ecstasy. A person like him is the type that makes the jokes in the funny paper.
This strength John Barleycorn gives is real strength, not a fake strength. real power: Isn’t it made from things that are strong? Then it must be paid for with interest at the end of the day.
Whores for Gloria by William T. Vollmann (1991)
Whores for Gloria is a novel about a Vietnam veteran who becomes an alcoholic and spends all of his money and time looking for a prostitute he once loved and who may or may not be real. It’s a fascinating look at San Francisco’s notoriously shady Tenderloin district. People in the New York Times said that the strength of Vollmann’s novel was the way he wrote about prostitutes, transgenders, and pimps on the streets of the Tenderloin district. The New York Times said that. What a group of crooks it is. CarlRusso told me about it.
In book quotes:
As if you were looking out of smoked windows on the front of your skull-house, the world is quieter and safer. You are inside and the world is outside, and the world can’t see inside of you. Mirror sunglasses make the glasses even more protective.
To build our own worlds, we must be brave or dreamy, as long as we can protect ourselves from the rain by building a beautiful wall.
San Francisco Noir: The City in Film Noir from 1940 to the Present by Nathaniel Rich (2005)
One about the city’s huge role in film history couldn’t be missed. It has been used in a lot of movies, and peninsularguy says the book is a “absolute delight from start to finish,” which is true. The number of noirs set in San Francisco is mind-boggling, from The Maltese Falcon to Point Blank through Vertigo and Basic Instinct. There are also a lot of interesting details, like how Vertigo and Basic Instinct share a wardrobe. There are a lot of movie facts here for you if you want to learn a lot about them.
If you want to learn more about how Hitchcock used the city and the Bay Area in his movies, check out Footsteps in the Fog!
All Over Coffee by Paul Madonna (2007)
The artist and writer Paul Madonna started publishing All Over Coffee in the San Francisco Chronicle in 2004. It was a mix of comics, poetry, and art that he put in there. The “strip,” as he called it, is a comic strip without the comic. It shows the city and its people in a unique, thoughtful way, and it’s all in a book. Architect Dave Eggers says that the architecture of residential San Francisco is full of “wilful eccentricity,” “almost rococo” lines, and a “steadfast devotion to art for its own sake, and beauty as its own reward.” All of these things and the whole city are important to Paul Madonna’s work. In doing so, he shows us why this is one of the world’s most beautiful cities “block-by-block and view-by-view.” It’s a good idea from hureharehure.
This article has content that is on assets.tumblr.com. Cookies and other technologies may be used by the provider when you use this site. We ask for your permission before anything is loaded. To see this content, click “Allow and go.”
The Bridge trilogy by William Gibson
Virtual Light (1993), Idoru (1996), and All Tomorrow’s Parties (1999) are the three books in William Gibson’s “Virtual Light” trilogy (1999). It starts with an earthquake in California that would split the state in two, and it looks at how technology like cyberspace and nanotechnology have changed. Its name refers to the Bay Bridge, which is abandoned in the story and becomes an improvised home for people who need to stay somewhere safe. It also takes place in Tokyo. It was told to me by Cheryl Morgan. In book quotes:
In the end, they spent all day looking at media and talking about it, but nothing ever seemed to get done. — In all of Tomorrow’s Parties
Some things you could get there: A burrito and a lotto ticket. Batteries and tests for different diseases. You could do voice mail, send emails, or send faxes with this tool, as well. Laney thought that this was probably the only store for miles that sold things that people needed. The other stores all sold things that Laney couldn’t even think of wanting. —Idoru
Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas by Rebecca Solnit (2010)
A “sublime” book, says aerialmeg, Infinite City is “a collaborative atlas of San Francisco that includes essays and maps on everything from Monarch butterflies to Hitchcock’s films to blues clubs.” It’s also a “great guide map to the city’s possibilities,” says writer Anisse Gross.