SURVIVOR: let the great world spin (colum mccann)*
CHALLENGER: tales of the city (armistead maupin)

like the hound of the baskervilles (which appeared monthly in the strand beginning in 1901) and the pickwick papers (produced in installments, like all of dickens's subsequent novels, with advertisements and illustrations), maupin's "tales of the city" crept into the world bit by bit; first published in the san francisco chronicle, it seems to have appeared there daily for a few years before hopping over to the san francisco examiner. unlike those stories (and more like sex and the city, apartment 3-G, or three's company), it follows a handful of twenty- and thirtysomethings (and their eccentric landlady) as they collide with each other, various bay area types, and illicit substances.** the main characters live at 28 barbary lane, a leafy corner of san francisco's russian hill based on macondray lane (a five minute walk up the hill from our old place on green street c. 2000-2003, as it happens). they are fond of one-liners and steam baths. they have a lot of polyester and a lot of sex. their adventures are unapologetically soapy and usually about four pages long, which makes sense, given that they were published daily in a newspaper.

i'm told that maupin's stories and characters are wildly popular; they became a celebrated miniseries,*** are in the process of becoming a musical, and tend to be covered with breathless quotes (michael tolliver, one of maupin's main characters, "is arguably one of the most widely loved characters in contemporary fiction," per a number of reviewers). how did i miss this? is it that i'm of another generation? comparatively prudish? a big old SF hater?

i think that last part is the clincher, actually. i've never been in love with san francisco, but seven considerably happier years elsewhere have gotten me to the point where i very nearly wish it ill. maupin's "tales of the city" is a love letter to the bay area in the same way people say carrie bradshaw's real love affair is with new york city (blech),**** and loving maupin's san francisco seems to entail loving marijuana, dancing, and free love. reader, i have no patience for any of those things - and it would be safest for all of us for me to skip speaking of hippies. little bits of maupin's city are also part of mine - the marina safeway, bless it, is still a weird pickup scene, and there will always be something magical about the rooftops in russian hill and the swensen's at hyde and union (it's the only one that still makes its own ice cream, you know) - but i have trouble loving its denizens (though i should note that i agree completely with their sexual politics). i'm giving this maupin experiment time to take, mind you - i picked up the first three novels in a single thrift store visit, so michael tolliver might still end up meaning something to me. for now, let's call tales of the city high-spirited sudsiness.

VICTOR: let the great world spin. mccann has reach, and tales isn't nimble these days.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 how do you feel about san francisco?

02 are you able to appreciate art which celebrates things you don't especially like?

03 what's the druggiest book you've ever read?

04 can you recommend a good free standing air conditioner? that's not especially literary, but since you're here and all.

*previous battle here.

**emphasis on the substances; it's been a few years since i last read burroughs, but i think these kids might out-drug him.

***which, full disclosure, starred my beloved ex-boss's sister.

****i was helping drive a carful of bread across the city for a friend's event last year when my co-volunteer spied the public library and went, "oh, those stairs always make me think of when carrie and big got married!" no context, just carrie and big. weird.


wabes said...

funny, we were just talking about the SATC II movie the other day, and i can't really figure out why i'm such a wet blanket about the series.  carrie-oriented aversion hits me hardest with the magnolia bakery mania. i've been told i might like it if i started from the beginning.  perhaps hit it at the wrong time, but also perhaps am easily annoyed by voice-overs?

01: i like the city, and liked day trips there back in college, all my visits over the years.  did not like aggressive weed-sellers in the haight.  liked the sea lions.  did not like the one-way streets and wacked-out grid (but that's new york, too, eh).  liked the food almost always.  it was always...colder than i expected.

02: yes, i suppose, in a measured way.  and i don't foreswear eye-rolling (nor the surprise of appreciating unexpectedly).  i like to think i'll try most art at least once.

03: there has to be one, but i seriously doubt it's a novel, and more likely a book about medicine or opium wars or something.

04: my only experience with these was an elephantine and elephant-like contraption we had in the national archives during renovation (and summer in DC, thankyouverymuch).  it was loud, unidirectional, and strong as an ox.  industrial strength, tho'.

Katherine Cortes said...

Doh! Just accidentally cancelled my answers.

01. Love it disproportionately, though I no longer want to move back there, or even back then, most of the time. It seems contradictory to say you agree completely with its sexual politics but have no patience for free love - though these days even thespians and sensitives (in my husband's college euphemism) are all domesticated.

02. to be honest, probably not.

03. The Doors of Perception, maybe.

04. Nope. We don't rock those in the PacNW. Though I did once bike to the mall in Boston with a guy I met on the bus, so he could buy one and bring it home on his skateboard. He was way psyched about the remote control. Where are you, Stan Tam?

kidchamp said...

you're probably right about the contradiction, katherine: i believe people have the right to get naked with whomever they please and i can't stand reading / hearing about / seeing it. it's pretty juvenile.

(the prudery, i mean. nothing juvenile about the nudity.)

Milkmaid's dumb friend said...

01: I like the quaint suburban area just outside of SF that my Aunt and Uncle live in (kind of near a beloved In-N-Out Burger), and I like visiting the SF of William Vollmann’s novels, the ones set in near-contemporary times; but if it’s not my sweet relatives or Tenderloin whores and vagrants we’re talking about, I’m probably indifferent to the whole lot of ‘em.  (Correction: I too and also love the sea lions a lot.  Something about their behavior is inherently interesting.  Cows possess this quality as well.  So my favorite day in SF is eating I-N-O burgers with my Aunt and Domino near the sea lions.)
02: Didn’t your Oscar say something about books being either well- or badly-written without regard to their moral wholesomeness (he burbled it between delicious scoops of brain I think).  Then again, I’d probably refuse on principle to appreciate something I found utterly despicable (or even mildly disagreeable; j/k for the most part).  I think engaging with art you flat out don’t like has diminishing returns, especially if you’re eschewing the wealth of art you do or might like.
03: As advertised, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas has the kind of drug use one could easily describe as rampant.  But it’s also fun.  The most distressing druggy book is A Scanner Darkly.

kidchamp said...

it's not that i don't like the novel, exactly, or that i consider it in any way immoral (i don't consider marijuana objectionable, i consider it "something that makes me clean the house frantically and contemplate pre-emptive calls to the cops to tell them not to believe the neighbors if they call and say we're smoking pot"), MDF - and indeed, as the good wilde says, well and badly written is all - it's just that maupin and i have such different enthusiasms, and i have this pesky nipple-fear. happily, i'm now most of the way through the second book and have gotten considerably more interested in maupin's san francisco. (it got waaaaaay more melodramatic.) 

speaking of the sea lions, they went to oregon, is that right? there's a hipster joke in there, i know it. 

Amanda said...

01 I love Zuni Cafe, the Pirate Store, the Curiosity Shoppe, the tuna sandwich from the formerly named Taylor's Automatic Refresher, and the view from the Berkeley Hills. That is all. 
02 Yes, but also no.
03 I'm more holistic, myself.

Rachel (heart of light) said...

I totally get the contradiction. I fully support many hippie ideals, but cannot get on board with the delivery method, if that makes sense. I like being highly productive, fast talking, well bathed, fully clothed and as efficient as humanly possible. It's the "get-er-done" spirit of change, rather than the dreamy-naked-loving one.

jamie said...

hm. are you sure you like me? i mean, i just added a category to the blog called hippie at heart. also, i just found while going through the archives a paper i wrote in high school on, i kid you not, wolfe's electric kool aid acid test (in answer to number 03).

04 if only i ever in my life had need for one. hmph.