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Arts & Culture

Best Books About San Francisco

November 19, 2012 11:00 AM

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City Lights

photo: James Irwin/CBS San Francisco

San Francisco is one of the most literate cities in America: home to City Lights, host of Litquake and birthplace of the beat generation. The city itself captivates imaginations and acts as muse to countless stories, both real and imagined. It’s truly impossible to create a definitive list of the best books about San Francisco. However, the following list is a good starting point to dive into the rich and riotous landscape of the bohemian city.
armisteadmaupin2 Best Books About San Francisco

(credit: Peter Kramer/Getty Images)

“Tales of the City”
Armistead Maupin

The classic series is an endearing tribute to San Francisco. First commissioned by the San Francisco Chronicle, the entire “Tales” series covers a span of over 30 years to the present through eight novels and weaves many different storylines amongst its ensemble cast of deviants, bohemians, outcasts and elite. “Tales” was very topical and notable for highlighting the AIDS epidemic as it was first coming to media attention. This very popular literary work spun off into a serialized television show in both the UK and the US and was even turned into a musical.

“Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas”
Rebecca Solnit

This piece is a re-imagined atlas that both disorients and clarifies the place of San Francisco. A collaboration between cartographers, researchers, artists and writers, this inventive tome is the winner of the Northern California Book Award. Turn the pages to roam the social as well as geographical terrain of seven-by-seven miles by the bay. Thoughtfully designed as well as thought provoking, it’s a creative alternative to the standard tourist map.

Related: Best Cookbooks from San Francisco Chefs

“Valencia”
Michelle Tea

San Francisco has long been a mecca for outsiders and outliers and this includes being home to a vibrant gay, lesbian and transgender community. This autobiographical tale chronicles a year in the life of local literary celebrity Tea as she navigates streets and lovers in the Mission during the 1990s. Readers see a vivid snapshot of youthful discovery and city living through a series of journal-style entries. “Valencia” earned the Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Fiction in 2000.

“The Diary of a Teenage Girl: An Account in Words and Pictures”
Phoebe Gloeckner

Disturbing, difficult and memorable: these words aptly describe the sophomore graphic novel by underground comic-book artist Phoebe Gloeckner. The disputed memoir encapsulates the grit and cultural velocity of 1970’s San Francisco through the eyes of a 15-year-old girl. Gloeckner is well known as a contemporary of other noted San Franciscan cartoonist R. Crumb. Most striking is that the artwork and cover of the novel have not aged like the rest of the city.

Related: Best San Francisco Beatnik Hangouts

“The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill: A Love Story . . . with Wings”
Mark Bittner

Better known as the sleeper box-office hit, the story of a former “Dharma Bum” and how his life changed with the discovery of a local landmark is also a novel. The roots of this autobiography are in San Francisco’s counter-cultural heyday of the 1970s, but the heart of the story is very contemporary and accessible. Bittner became a local celebrity known as the Birdman of Telegraph Hill for his close relationship with the wild parrots in the area. He attracted a lot of local attention, including some from filmmaker Judy Irving who created the hit documentary of the same name.

Lollie Hopper loves to drink deeply from the well of culture. If it’s beautiful, interesting or timely, this Bay Area native wants to cover it. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.

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