My favorite bookstore. Gosh, where to start? I guess I’ll start at the top (my top, at least).
I grew up admiring the Beats. I seriously dug Ginsberg, Kerouac, Burroughs and the others, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti especially spoke to me. Thus, as an avid reader, I read about Ferlinghetti opening his own bookstore in San Francisco a number of decades ago. It was called City Lights. City Lights bookstore soon developed an almost mythic stature, both literally after it opened, and in my own mind. All of the cool writers descended upon it at one time or another, and many frequented it. I would have given anything to be a part of that scene.
As an indie, it seemed to me that City Lights could do just about whatever it wanted, and still can. You can buy new books, used books, interesting magazines and literary journals (as well as zines!), and for a poet such as myself, the upstairs poetry section is to die for! (OK, OK, they sold a few of my early works way back when. I’m biased.)
I first went to San Francisco in January, 1994. I did my best to immediately head over to City Lights, and I was elated upon finally finding my literary bookstore hero. It simply did not disappoint. I purchased many books and magazines, most of which I could not yet find at the large mega-stores popping up around the country, or even at many of the indies back in Los Angeles, where I lived at the time.
The thing that really made that trip special, however, was this: Ferlinghetti owned that store, but by 1994, he had aged to some degree, and rumor had it he didn’t come in as frequently as he once did. Indeed, he was rumored to be sequestered at home, painting. That morning, however, when I crept upstairs and slowly gathered in the poetry scene in front of me, I noticed a partly open door in the room. I peeked inside, and to my astonishment, there was Ferlinghetti himself, alone! I knocked with some hesitation, but he graciously invited me into the office, and we had a somewhat lengthy conversation about a number of topics, including my then-plans to pursue a Ph.D. somewhere that would let me do my dissertation on San Francisco poets. I recall he suggested UC Santa Cruz. Heh. Additionally, he was kind enough to autograph a number of his books for me, personally, and down the road, he signed more as I mailed them to him, along with one or two of my own poetry collections for him to do whatever he wanted to do with them.
I could go on, but I won’t. I could go on to write about the City Lights publishing house that Ferlinghetti created, but I doubt I need to. Its legacy speaks for itself. City Lights is my definition of an indie bookstore with both a history and a pulse, and that’s something I value greatly. My sincere hope is that it will remain open and inviting permanently. Thank you Lawrence Ferlinghetti for bestowing this wonderful bookstore upon the community.
Causes Scott Holstad Supports
PEN, The Authors Guild, Sierra Club