We took the BART into San Francisco yesterday. It took about 45 minutes and dropped us into the center of things, Montgomery St. We just started walking, which took us through Chinatown. By chance we ended up taking Grant Ave. to Columbus, right into City Lights Bookstore. This is the kind of bookstore that reminds you why you love books so much, and why browsing is such a wonderful pastime. I’ve gone digital in my reading lately, but there’s something about some books that makes you want to hold them, feel the paper, turn the pages. With no particular genre in mind, I wandered around and down the stairs. The first book to catch my eye was Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I first read it about 30 years ago, a tattered copy I bought at a second hand bookstore while visiting Bruce and Marcia in San Diego. It was so memorable I remember everything about the finding and the reading of it. I have since heard her speak and am always moved by her words and her deep slow, steady tone. The second of my finds was Eric Ambler’s A Coffin for Dimitrious. I’ve never read him before, but found myself intrigued with the old style thriller, an ordinary man caught in extraordinary circumstances. The last of my purchases was Zift, A Socialist Noir, by Vladislav Todorov, about a man emerging from Central Sofia Prison in 1963, after 20 years, into communist Bulgaria. Our friendship with Atanas from Bulgaria most certainly influenced that purchase.
The bookstore itself is such a pleasure. It’s not big, but spans several floors. It feels like the kind of place you want to spend hours in. There were quite a few other browsers, but it all felt very companionable. I was first introduced to City Lights by my friend Betty. I used to come to San Francisco for work quite a bit, and during one of those visits Betty took me on a walking tour of San Francisco that included Mrs. Madrigal’s neighborhood (Tales of the City) and the City Lights Bookstore.