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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Literary pilgrimage – Margaret Mitchell’s House, Atlanta

Gone With The Wind is easily in my top 10 books of all time. I feel a little nervous saying that, in case anybody asks me what the others are. The answer changes on almost a daily basis, but GWTW would pretty much always have a spot. I first read it in 2007 on a trip to China; I’m a nervous flier and there were lots of internal flights on airlines I didn’t altogether trust, so its thousand-plus pages really helped me to stay calm. Well, calm-ish. I re-read it the year before last and found so many subtleties of character and plot that I’d either forgotten or missed the first time around, and then I started it again this summer in preparation for a trip to the South (my first).

Imagine my joy, then, at rocking up here:

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As you can see, it was a beautiful summer’s day in Atlanta, and I was beyond excited to be at the home of the great Margaret Mitchell. I only had half an hour before I had to go and meet my friends (as usual, we were trying to cram far too much into our one day in Atlanta), but I’m so glad I got to go there and learn a little more about the life of the woman who created such remarkable characters. And who kept me calm on Chinese aeroplanes in 2007, of course.

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