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Pickle Me This

February 22, 2008

When whole cities fit into books

I’ve recounted already how we spent our last vacation day scrambling around San Francisco in search of a used Tales of the City. The novel of San Francisco, according to our guidebook, and I just had to have it. A piece of San Francisco to take home with me.

I usually have little interest in reading about a place whilst I’m in it, but once I’m far away and homesick, novels and stories can be the next best thing to being there (which is why I now love Haruki Murakami). And I knew San Francisco homesickness would be long-lasting, so I wanted the remedy on-hand. I was also excited to purchase a book from the Gay Lit section (though such a label seems a bit reductive so far– is a book considered Gay Lit because there are gay people in it?) because it made me feel open-minded in that way gay people probably find inordinately irritating.

As a reward for accompanying me on my scramble, I let Stuart read the book first. He quickly forgave me for scramblage, loved the book, and said its lightness might be a nice way to follow The Poisonwood Bible. And now I’m halfway through, prepared to read the rest this evening in a hot bath (which is interesting because I’ve just learned from a wise source of a connection between this book and The Serial, which I read in another bathtub six years ago, but I digress).

The story is light indeed, and it’s a perfect book for a bathtub, but it’s delightfully entertaining and how brilliant that it establishes a map of the city in my mind.”Valencia Street, with its union halls and Mexican restaurants and motorcycle repair shops, was an oddly squalid setting for the gates of heaven.” Absolutely! Although for me heaven was bookshops, not steam baths, but alas. I’ve sat in Washington Square too, and I can see Coit Tower, and Marina, and the Castro, and even the Safeway on Market, where we bought rice-a-roni the San Francisco treat (not half bad, by the way). Polk and Hyde, The Mission, from the Tenderloin to Nob Hill.

That a whole city disappeared from my horizon can live on in my mind is really nothing short of a tremendous thing.

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