Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Jack Kerouac died forty years ago today. On Saturday, I was in San Francisco, at City Lights Bookstore, and snapped this photo just outside, where a bilingual plaque marks his contribution to letters and to the culture of San Francisco.
When I lived in San Francisco, I used to go to its bookstores seeking inspiration, comfort, old friends, etc. I've collected lots of treasures from City Lights over the years--some Nietzsche, hard to find Poe, and Levi Strauss. I imagine there are readers all over the world who do the same thing. I didn't really dare imagine that my book would ever be on the shelves here.
I love the fact that the store preserves an area dedicated specifically to the Beats. So many wonderful independent bookstores are closing; I hope City Lights is able to stay open for a long, long time.
And, well, you can imagine how shocked and thrilled I was to see my book sitting up on shelf, facing out to the public, in between John Wray (who is a wonderful writer, and who wouldn't remember me, but who I met this spring) and Luis Urrea (who I met at Bread Loaf this summer, and who is also a fantastic writer). There's a Ferlinghetti sign hanging in the background. I signed my books and was even allowed to use the special employees only toilet. I also picked up a City Lights onesie--in black!
Later, I went to the Green Apple Bookstore in the Richmond District of San Francisco. When I moved to SF, years ago, I specifically chose an apartment near Clement Street because it was within walking distance of the Green Apple. My love of the Green Apple has been documented elsewhere; like City Lights, I think of the Green Apple as a friend and as a place that kept me going when I was lonely or discouraged, which writers often are.
I also visited a new shop that I absolutely loved--Bookshop West Portal. It is a friendly place, with a wonderful selection of new and old books, lovingly arranged and displayed. Back in New York, I told my husband all about West Portal--we talk from time to time to permanently relocating to San Francisco. And I think this bookstore, and the neighboring cafes and the movie theater across the street that presents Met opera simulcasts--would be reason enough for me to live here.
And, again, what a lovely surprise to find my book staring at me on the shelf. The gracious staff let me sign my copies, and we all had a nice visit. It was tempting to browse--and my mother did pick up a new book to read--but in the end, our visit was all too short.
There were other visits that day--Keplers, Book Inc, Bookshop Santa Cruz. And while I have enjoyed my readings, I have to say that in some ways, I liked visiting the bookstores even more. For one thing, they really are my friends; most of the shops have been nourishing to me in one way or the other over the years. But I also just like book people. I'm a book person. I'm a reader, and so are book people, and it is fun to share the miracle that is a book with people who care and understand this kind of accomplishment.