City Lights Booksellers & Publishers staff weigh in:
Garrett: David Meltzer’s San Francisco Beat: Talking with the Poets
San Francisco Beat is an essential archive of the Beat Generation, a rich moment in a fortunate place. America-somnolent, conformist, and paranoid in the 1950s-was changed forever by a handful of people who refused an existence of drudgery and enterprise, opting instead for a life of personal, spiritual, and artistic adventure. In these intimate, free-wheeling conversations, a baker’s dozen of the poets of San Francisco talk about the scene then and now, the traditions of poetry, and about anarchism, globalism, Zen, the Bomb, the Kabbalah, and the Internet.
Thirty years ago, poet David Meltzer interviewed his poet friends for The San Francisco Poets. Now in San Francisco Beat he has combined these classic interviews with recent follow-up. San Francisco Beat features major new interviews with Philip Lamantia, Joanne Kyger, Gary Snyder, Jack Hirschman, Diane di Prima, Jack Micheline, Philip Whalen, and David Meltzer himself.
Bob: Three novels: McTeague by Frank Norris; Valencia by Michelle Tea; The Maltese Falcon by Dashiel Hammett.
Valencia is the fast-paced account of one girl’s search for love and high times in the drama-filled dyke world of San Francisco’s Mission District. Through a string of narrative moments, Tea records a year lived in a world of girls: there’s knife-wielding Marta, who introduces Michelle to a new world of radical sex; Willa, Michelle’s tormented poet-girlfriend; Iris, the beautiful boy-dyke who ran away from the South in a dust cloud of drama; and Iris’s ex, Magdalena Squalor, to whom Michelle turns when Iris breaks her heart. Valencia conveys a blend of youthful urgency and apocalyptic apathy.
Stacey: Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Beth Lisick’s Monkey Girl, Michelle Tea’s Valencia, Paul Madonna’s All Over Coffee, and Oran Canfield’s memoir Long Past Stopping portray the San Francisco I remember from the early 90s when I first moved here and fell in-love with the place. This was pre-dot com SF when rents were cheaper and everyone was pursuing something artistic, extending their adolescence/independence for as long as they could, while strolling down Valencia Street with your best friend passing auto body shops instead of cafes. Reclaiming San Francisco: History, Politics and Culture edited by James Brook, Chris Carlsson and Nancy Peters is the book I’d recommend to someone wanting a real grounding or at least a fascinating summation of the city’s life and times. Speaking of life and times, the documentaries The Times of Harvey Milk and The Cockettes are worth watching.
In Monkey Girl, Beth Lisick’s first collection of short stories, the celebrated spoken-word artist evokes the rollicking world of post-boom America. An impoverished but proud office drone (“I am the reigning queen of the Toshiba BD copy machine”) gets a makeover. A teenager is drugged by her fraudulent, sadistic orthodontist. On a five-hour flight to Cabo San Lucas, the author psychically bonds with a flight attendant. In this collection of 25 hilarious, anecdotal short stories, spoken-word performer Beth Lisick creates a panoramic tapestry of strip malls, junk-food habits, and yuppie pickup joints, unveiling a world that most of us simply drive past. Blending the everyday and its sometimes grotesque underside, hallucinatory detail, and stripped-down dialogue, Lisick’s descriptions are almost hypnotic with their complex rhythms and cadences. These stories – all of which Beth Lisick uses in performance – imbue the ordinary with unique and unexpected hilarity. Striking, witty, and vividly contemporary, these stories evoke what it’s like to live now, in the suburban wasteland of the ’90s.