Literary pilgrimage – City Lights bookstore, San Francisco

I’ll start with a confession; I don’t know that much about the Beats. I can throw around enough references to Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg to bluff my way through, but my school report here would be a resounding could-do-better.

I have, however, wanted to go to City Lights for years, ever since I first read Lewis Busbee’s awesome The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop. Even though this was the third time I was lucky enough to go to San Francisco, it was the first time I’d managed to carve out enough time to visit. It was an inauspicious beginning. It was Sunday afternoon. I was tired and hungover. I had to pick up my boss from the airport in a little over two hours. And, as I started walking through Chinatown from Union Square, it started raining. Being from the UK and assuming (despite all evidence to the contrary) that it’s always sunny in California, I was cold and getting colder.

And then I stepped into the welcoming embrace of City Lights, and all was forgotten. Everything, from the shelves, to the staff picks, to the wide and eclectic stock selection, screamed ‘home’. I turned every corner expecting to see Joan Didion or Tom Wolfe (I know, wrong coast, but it was that kind of place). I left again too-short-a-time later, clutching my paper bag of books, with a big grin on my face and feeling much cooler than I have any right to.

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