As Howard and I wandered the streets of San Francisco last month, we stumbled upon City Lights Bookstore — a 60-year-old bookstore nestled among the cafes and coffee shops of Little Italy. For us bibliophiles, City Lights Bookstore is the perfect sanctuary where one can nestle in among the tall oak shelves and become lost within the stories of great and ordinary people. If I had it my way, Howard and I would have spent our entire vacation rummaging through the two story bookstore. While Howard did convince me to buy the other three books at home — “Babe, we still have to travel home and your suitcase is already jammed full” — I simply couldn’t put down “Tales of the City,” a book deemed by the New York Times as “An extended love letter to a magical San Francisco.”
And that is exactly what it was.
The book is the first in a series of six novels that were adapted from Armistead Maupin’s San Francisco Chronicle column “Tales of the City.” The novel follows the intersecting stories of a group of men and women living at 28 Barbary Lane. There is Mary Anne, the naive girl from Cleveland; Micheal, a hopeless romantic looking for love among within SF’s thriving gay community; Mona, Micheal’s best friend who is forever on the search for something she cannot yet define; Anna Marigold, the motherly, yet mysterious, land lady who has her fair share of stories and marijuana pots; Brian, the permanent bachelor looking to bone anything that moves; and the City.Each chapter is told from a different characters’ perspective as they attempt to find their ways through love, heartbreak, suicide, deceit and friendships. Published in 1978, the novel was one of the first works of fiction to have a gay protagonist and through the stories of Michael, gave insight into the life of a single gay man living in San Francisco during the 1970s.
As a reader, I felt myself invested in the outcome of each character’s story. I wanted them to find warmth and comfort and security. Each character, though entirely different from one another, held a small quality I could relate to, and left me riveted till the end of the novel. For me, “Tales of the City” was a much needed reminded that often the best adventures are those we never saw coming.