Upstairs was nirvana. The true node of the bookstore; the raison d’être for its existance. Lawrence ferlinghetti had set up city lights books in 1957, two years after arriving in san fran. “It was the only place where you could get good wine cheap.” And now, Kerouac, Ginsberg, di Prima, Cassady, Weiss, Kaufman, Corso sit neatly on the shelves. Those are simply the bigger names. Classics all. You’ll be hard-press to find a finer collection than these in their various editions. There are also banned books and an extensive range of books by smaller publishers. Asia to Africa. Arranged ceiling to floor. Enough to send the respectful book lover into an internal orgasm. I would have liked to shake the hand of the people who selected these. I was taken. It was the 1950s and the present and every other moment in time when souls wrestled against deadening materialism and conformity to speak and to dream.
Despite the momentousness of the collection, and its landmark status, the bookstore doesn’t feel like a museum. There’s no gawkers (well i was, but put it away to concentrate on the books), and no eager guides to the side to assist, explain or cajole. Besides me and hc, a lone figure sat reading. Not flipping or browsing, but reading. Feet up, engrossed. Tourist mittens come off here.
We stayed until dusk came (it closes at midnight). By then, exiting into the dark street, it did feel as if the many pulsing worlds of books within were the quiet beacons of the city.
If you exit with corporeal hungry, restaurants around north beach feed very well.