by Lucy Schiller
If you haven’t looked around in a while, please do so. What you’re seeing is a glorious
city full of tilting houses and wonderfully crazy people, huge trees and huger hills, and
the highest number of restaurants per capita in the country, a glorious portion of which
sell burritos or dumplings (or, perhaps most gloriously, Chinese food and doughnuts at
the same time). San Francisco is an inspiring place to be. For that reason, it’s been the
setting for many a piece of fine literature. The works listed below are books any self-
respecting San Franciscan should read, and not for cocktail conversation. These are books
that will fundamentally change the way you see our beloved 49 square miles, open your
eyes to its multifaceted history, and get you to reexamine your own place in the scheme
of things. Glasses on!
Oh, the Glory of It All by Sean Wilsey
A mammoth of an undertaking, you’re bound to get admiring looks toting this 500-
page behemoth around. Count yourself lucky, though, for having that many pages to get
through: Sean Wilsey’s painful coming-of-age-in-1980s-San Francisco-high society story
is searing and fascinating. The son of a butter industry magnate, Wilsey lusts after his
cruel stepmother, jaunts off to Russia with his hippy-dippy real mother, and falls in love
with skateboarding. It’s heartbreaking, a revenge-fueled memoir juicy with big SF names
and the excesses of 80s life around the Bay.
Infinite City by Rebecca Solnit
Solnit’s atlas of SF delivers layer after layer of what it means to live and work in the area.
Beautifully illustrated, it serves up tidbits on several themes, demarcating everything
from the Bay’s butterfly habitats to particular sites of black history to independent movie
theaters. You’re not going to find a more thoughtful, shimmering guide to San Francisco
history or culture.
Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
Buckle up. Maupin wrote eight novels in this SF-centric series chock-full of revolving
characters loosely adapted from real life. Maupin has a major following, and for good
reason: his novels are hilarious little windows into the climate of San Francisco post-
1969 and into an era of open homosexuality and parties, parties, parties.
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
A huge experiment of a memoir, AHWSG follows Eggers, now a literary scion in SF for
his work establishing McSweeney’s and 826 Valencia, on his emotionally fraught journey from Illinois to the
Bay. Eggers sets up shop with his younger brother Toph, wandering SF and Berkeley,
auditioning for the Real World, starting a magazine, and writing for pages about the
beauty of Frisbee.
Roughing It by Mark Twain
Twain’s journey West during the middle of the 19th century is hilarious for its mishaps
and even funnier for the wit of its narrator. He takes a long, bawdy time making it out
West, stopping to wonder at the beauty of Lake Tahoe (and starting a forest fire there
by accident). Twain’s descriptions of SF in the 1860s ring true to anyone who has ever
walked down Market Street in 2012.
Valencia by Michelle Tea
Tea’s whirlwind memoir goes from lady love to lady love in the Mission of the 1990s.
This is a book to read for its spirited protagonist but its absolutely necessary window into
a very recent San Francisco. The Gen X queer world in SF, dotted with bars and crazy
hookups and zines, contributed boundless energy to SF. Still does – Tea now helps run
Sister Spit, a local queer spoken word collective.
Ready to get your read on? Stock up on local books and get a sweet deal by using your deal at Alley Cat Books, one of our fave local bookstores. Or check out more awesome book-buying spots to find one near you.