City Lights, one San Franciscan told me, is like a church. It's a shrine to the Beat poets whose work it markets and publishes so well, among them the 94-year-old Lawrence Ferlinghetti, co-founder of the store more than sixty years ago and happily still around; it's a place of public worship to the Beat Generation; it's a shard of the counter culture which has become mainstream (the original store was the small shop front on the left, it's now taken over most of the block). Happily, I like churches, though I don't worship in them ... I adore good bookshops .... I relish places with a connection to past movements and times ... I read Kerouac avidly as a teenager, though I've not turned back to him out of fear that I might discover that something so important to me is insubstantial ... And I really like Ferlinghetti's poetry.
So for a book store, it doesn't get much better than City Lights.
Well, actually it does. And in San Francisco too. For obsessive collectors of old political pamphlets, Bolerium Books is nirvana. It 's in the part-gentrified Mission district. It has no shop front but is up above. The stock is huge and the booksellers indulgently friendly. Their best selling lines, John told me, are Gay Pulp and American Trotskyism. (So no crossover there I guess - but you never know, this is San Francisco!).
And below, you can see a bit of what I bought, from Regency ultra radicalism to anarchism in the Spanish Civil War (yes, that really is an FAI handbill from the barricades of Barcelona), via William Morris and Gwynfor Evans. And no, I wasn't tempted either by the Trot stuff or the pulp, in case you're wondering.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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