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Summer means travel, and I’ve been doing plenty of it. But this weekend I realized, if I could visit anywhere in the U.S., I’d go to San Francisco. Since I already live here, that means pulling a paperback time machine off the shelf and reading at 88 miles per hour…

I recommend a Staycation some near weekend with a bottle of wine (or three), one of these books, and your favorite person to read back and forth, out loud with. You can get any of these books for under $5, a few bottles of Two buck chuck, and skip the lines and flight delays.


The Paperback Time Machine


Trout Fishing in America, by Richard Brautigan

You can’t beat this one for a fresh and quirky take on living in San Francisco and the spirit of the city living in you. Yes, that background on the cover is Washington Square Park in North Beach. Imagine a child and an old man sitting on a bench there, sharing a dream where they fished the universe for beautiful moments and strange stories. It’s a little like that. In fact, the entire first chapter is the story behind the cover, where Brautigan wonders, “Was it Kafka… who said, “I like Americans because they are healthy and optimistic…” Indeed it was. How’s that for a different San Francisco?

And, it’s perfect for reading back and forth with someone, because each “chapter” is only a page or two long.


You Can’t Win, by Jack Black (No, not Tenacious D Jack Black…)

This one lets you hop a train to San Francisco of about 100 years ago. It’s like if Doc Holiday from Tombstone had a son, and that son did everything that Jack Kerouac did but forty years sooner.

It brings alive all of those black and white photographs of the old San Francisco that everyone is always posting. Black writes about gambling, whores, liquor and opium, along with the insular codes of vagabonds and criminals as the industrial U.S. was forming its identity.

It’s pretty amazing. Maybe pick up a bottle of whiskey to go with the wine on this one…



Howl, by Allen Ginsberg

This one starts out:

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, staring
hysterical naked at iPhones…”

Or something like that, I think…

Howl’s history is a deep part of San Francisco’s history. We’re talking freedom of speech, lawsuits, and beatniks in North Beach. Read about it.

But then forget about the legal issues and get lost in the poem. Reading Howl to yourself in a coffee shop makes you want to streak through Union Square and shout at the moon. Reading Howl out loud at your apartment with somebody else makes the shouting at the moon and the streaking way more fun. Trust me.

For some inspiration, watch Ginsberg reading, “A poem I wrote on LSD” to William Buckley (imagine your favorite person from Dolores Park getting interviewed by Peter Campbell from Mad Men…)


If you take this journey, come back and leave me a comment to let me know…



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Scott James - Paperback Pundit

Scott James - Paperback Pundit

Author of Sidewalk Ritual, self-publishing teacher, lover of coffee and IPA.