Around our city, the country, the entire world, there is a resounding sadness: our old lives lay dormant in the before.
For the luckiest of us, shelter in place has still been a massive pill to swallow, leaving even the most fervent introverts feeling bitter and nostalgic. Sadly, no amount of puzzles, banana bread, or mindless scrolling can bring back what we’ve lost. We all collectively miss our neighborhood haunts, our evening drinks with friends, our favorite barista, and the unbridled freedom of waking up to a city full of possibility and wandering.
In my time spent sheltering in place, I’ve grown broody and lusty over the thought of my favorite bookstores, the smell of yellowing paper and the matte sheen of dust jackets in my hands. The promise of a new book is ineffable, so pure. Compounding this nostalgia is the fear that many of our favorite independent booksellers won’t be able to weather this storm. To help abate this problem, several of our favorite local bookstores recommended their preferred San Francisco-centric literature to help Bob Cut readers pass the time. Check out their selections below, and be sure to support these wonderful businesses in any way you can. With our support, they’ll be waiting for us when we (finally) break free.
A Haight-Ashbury institution since 1976, The Booksmith prides itself on bringing top-notch literature and events to the San Francisco Bay and beyond. Its events have featured Pulitzer-Prize winning authors, local literary gurus, and everything in between. With its longstanding history in the famed Haight, The Booksmith has also pulled beloved counterculture musicians into its fold for events, including band members from The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and The Doors.
Wite Out: Love and Work by Linda Norton
“Inspiration for living a morally justifiable life even in the toughest of times, Linda Norton’s second book Wite Out: Love and Work combines memoir and poetry, blending the intimate and personal with sweeping social observations rooted in both community and history. Pulling from her journals, which span from her move from Boston to Oakland in 1997 to the protests of November, 2016, Norton provides an honest look at a brilliant mind striving for meaning in an unfair world. A divorced single mother, the Oakland-based writing consultant, instructor and collage artist moves toward what she knows to be right – it’s not a linear path, and the book is no blueprint, but the journey is one of great ups and downs that might offer courage through the clarity and burdens that come with isolation. Just out from Hanging Loose Press, Wite Out is available from Booksmith or through Small Press Distribution.”
Recommended by Evan Karp, Bookseller, The Booksmith
// Keep up with The Booksmith through their newsletter, and order from their online store here.
City Lights Bookstore is, in essence, the immortal beating heart of the San Francisco literary scene. Founded in 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin, the store and publishing branch immediately served the growing literary community in the city, and have done so ever since. The literary landmark that essentially pioneered the Beat movement, and still serves as its eternal headquarters. Back in the day, City Lights was the first all-paperback bookstore in the United States. Now, it’s sprawling three floors contain all sorts of literature (hardback included), staying open late into the night for wanderers to peruse the shelves. We can’t wait until the day we can do so again. In the meantime, enjoy this recommendation from City Lights and check out their fundraising page.
The Wig Diaries by Mary Ladd
“Pink ribbon pins be damned. With candor and dark humor, Mary Ladd tells us about living with and surviving cancer, and her process of reinvention aided by a number of divine wigs.”
-Recommended by Stacey Lewis, Director of Publicity and Marketing, City Lights. Mary Lad is a San Francisco Resident; The Wig Diaries is published by Wig Industries.
// Make Ferlinghetti proud — Support City Lights through their Go Fund Me campaign here.
Green Apple Books
Because no one puts it more perfectly than Green Apple themselves, we’ll cite this lovely little story from the store’s website: Richard Savoy founded Green Apple Books in 1967. He was 25 years old, had done a tour in the Army and worked as a radio technician for United Airlines, but he had little business experience. With a deep love of the written word, some savings, and a credit union loan, he got a lease in a pre-1906 Richmond district building near the corner of Clement Street and Sixth Avenue, next door to a shoe repair business. His stock of used books, comics, and National Geographic magazines attracted a following in the neighborhood, one that continued to grow over the next 52 years.
Today, we’re fans of Green Apple’s unwavering dedication to literature, as well as their adamant mission to keep bookstores alive across the city. Recently, Green Apple has taken over ownership of the beloved Pacific Heights gem, Browser Books. By ordering from their shop, you support three phenomenal bookstores who have steadfastly served our San Francisco.
Cool Gray City of Love: 49 Views of San Francisco by Gary Kamiya
“There have been many histories written about the transformation of San Francisco from a muddy hamlet of 800 people in 1848 into one of the world’s great metropolises. What makes this one special is Kamiya’s synthesizing of the personal memoir with a walking tour of the historic, the geographic and the geologic, all rolled together in a witty and accessible style. Kamiya not only obviously spent countless hours deep in the library stacks doing diligent research, but he must also have worn out several pairs of shoes walking the far-flung corners, alleys, dirt paths and hills of San Francisco. Along the way he points out the little remnants of the past–buried stream beds and old trails that became our modern roads; local characters past and present; spots where the old has been replaced by the new without being completely erased. Even if you think you know all you need to about this cool gray city of love, Gary Kamiya will surprise you with his passionate mash note to San Francisco.”
-Recommended by Kevin Ryan, Bookseller, Green Apple Books
Why We Swim by Bonnie Tsui
“Why We Swim is a great read for any water lover. It explores so many aspects of swimming: biological, psychological, historical, spiritual, and more. Tsui’s love of swimming shapes and infuses the book as it covers so many aquatic stories: heroic survival swims, the role of swimming in war, and a culture of women who free dive for sustenance. Dive into this lively, compelling book on how and why we move through water.”
-Recommended by Pete Mulvihill, Owner, Green Apple Books
// Support Green Apple Books by ordering online here.
Russian Hill Bookstore
This cozy spot operating in Russian Hill is popular with local Bay Area artists, designers, writers, and art collectors at large. Catering to their neighborhood dutifully since 1974, Russian Hill Bookstore sells both new and used books, and also offers a book buying program for patrons interested in selling back great reads. In addition to its extensive inventory, Russian Hill Bookstore is also beloved for their outstanding cards and toy selection. Reach out to this special spot for a book recommendation (they’re currently filling orders weekly!) or support the store via their GoFundMe page.
Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City
“During the shelter in place mandate, I’ve primarily done two things: read and worry about how San Francisco will never be the same. Most recent on my reading list was Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City. The six-volume series was originally serialized in the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Examiner between 1975 and 1989. The humorous tales follow a group of (initially) young transplants who live together in a building on San Francisco’s Russian Hill as they navigate life in the big city through the AIDS crisis and the Raegan era. The tales are individually laugh-out-loud cultural commentaries, and shine in their totality as deep, extended studies of character and place. The San Francisco portrayed in the tales is at once distant and dramatically current, a reassuring reminder that San Francisco has been through several changes in the past and always remains true to itself.”
-Recommended by Max Blue, Bookseller, Russian Hill Bookstore