Yes, I’m Bi-Coastal

7 01 2009

I interrupt this “I Heart SF” week with a bit of New York love, or, rather, I remark on a fabulous proof that my two favorite American cities are inextricably linked, making each even more lovable. and so…

New York

I must report that this Friday evening Bohemia is back in all its glory with a celebration of, Herbert Huncke, who inspired the word “beat” of the Beat Generation and then inspired Beat greats from Kerouac to Ginsberg to Burroughs. January 9, 2009 would be Huncke’s 94th birthday, and in order to celebrate his friends, fans, and fellow writers will be gathering at Bowery Electric for a tribute to Huncke and his own lyrical and poignant writing. Show starts at 8pm but doors open at 7:30pm. It promises to be a fantastic and enlightening event.

San Francisco

It’s a New York event, yes, but the heart of the beats truly lies in San Francisco. Though Huncke and his friends all met in New York City, it was San Francisco where most of their mayhem took place, and it is still San Francisco that is a tribute to the Beats and their fabulous legacy. And so, in keeping with the week’s theme, some of the best places to keep a San Francisco Beat (pardon the pun).

  1. City Lights Booksellers. 261 Columbus Ave. It doesn’t get much more Beat than this. Not only is the store, which takes up a block of Columbus Avenue, one of the few independent bookstores left (thanks Barnes), it is truly a “Literary Landmark,” both for the alternative culture it sanctions and for its 50-plus year history of commitment to progressive ideas. It was the nation’s first all-paperback bookstore, and its three floors house a vast selection of books, including many “harder-to-find” titles as well as a poetry room. Oh, then there was this little poem called Howl, and the man who caused quite a stir by publishing it.
  2. The Beat Museum. 540 Broadway. It’s just across form City Lights and features everything from Beat letters to Kerouac bobbleheads.
  3. Vesuvio. 255 Columbus Ave. It’s in Kerouac Alley. What more needs to be said?




Short List: Forgotten Fourth Passion

26 03 2008

How on earth could I—with the completion of MA in literature and the madness of December’s paper writing (which, frazzled though I was, I must admit I oddly enjoyed) in my so recent past—forget a fourth, and oh-so-important passion in my About page?

I can’t really figure it out actually, but I neglected to note a lifetime obsession with books, which ranks (gasp!) even above my love of shoes. The bookshelves in my tiny apartment as well past the point of being overstuffed with books and that’s to say nothing of all those that were left behind at my parents’ house. And yet I still enjoy trips to the bookstore whenever possible. Bookstores are actually, in my opinion, a key aspect of travel. Many cities have famous or historic bookstores that are just as important as churches and more conventional landmarks.

So because I haven’t done a list in a while, a short one featuring my top three bookstores in great destinations. (And no, Barnes and Noble has not made the cut.)

  1. City Lights Booksellers in San Francisco is a North Beach mainstay and the icon of an era. Founded by Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti in 1953, the bookstore and publishing house earned notoriety in 1956 when Ferlinghetti was caught up in (and won!) an obscenity trial for printing Allen Ginsberg‘s Howl & Other Poems. Since then City Lights has been a San Francisco institution. It stands proudly on the corner of Columbus and Broadway as a memory of the tumultuous and controversial Beat writers and all the great literature that has followed.
  2. New York’s Strand is a booklover’s heaven. It takes up most of a the block of Broadway and 12th St. in the East Village (with another location downtown) and boasts 18 miles of books. As if this weren’t enough, the books are cheap. The Strand has a huge selection of used books, but even most of the new ones are discounted. I know I’m a nerd, but I could spend hours there.
  3. El Ateneo (the Santa Fe location) in Buenos Aires has retained the architecture it had in its former incarnation as the Grand Splendid Theater. Its four stories of books, music, and movies are as exciting and lovely as the ornate theater in which they reside. There is something remarkable about having a coffee where the stage once was (and Carlos Gardel once performed), but I may just prefer cozying up with Neruda in a box seat.

And last, since I’ve already established that my talents (and passion) don’t lie in counting, I’m throwing in a bonus, since I just happened upon it again the other day: McNally Robinson Booksellers in Nolita, a cheery independent bookstore that is as much about edifying as entertaining. It’s a friendly community space that alternates its front displays based on community and progressive statements, not bestsellers. I had the pleasure of wandering through again and didn’t want to leave, especially when I found a small table with a set of beautiful books I have never seen before. It seems Penguin has a series called Great Ideas, with reprints of books that have “changed the world,” from Thomas Paine’s Common Sense to Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, all in pocket-size with simple but lovely covers.

All this book thought gave me a great idea of my own. I hereby start a new Around the World in Gold Stilettos category: book reviews. For EuroCheapo’s blog I regularly posted reviews on books relating to Europe, books that gave a sense of culture or history, so I’m reinstating that on my own blog (starting tomorrow).