Recently I was lucky enough to spend a week in San Francisco and like many others before me I was totally smitten. Besides the sights, the sea, and the cultural scene I was fortunate to take in, I also did some very touristy things and checked out many film locations within the city.
I stared at the house from Mrs. Doubtfire, the Victorian houses (better known as the Painted Sisters) in the opening scene of Full House starring Bob Saget, the “tenderloin” neighbourhood that was the setting for Will Smith’s The Pursuit of Happyness and of course Alcatraz Island the setting for numerous Hollywood films.
Of course San Francisco’s steep streets and breathtaking views are not restricted to the screen. Many well-known books are set in the city by the bay. Here is a sample of some recent ones and a few classics as well.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a San Francisco web-design drone, and serendipity, sheer curiosity and the ability to climb a ladder like a monkey have landed him a new gig working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after just a few days on the job, Clay begins to realize that this store is even more curious than the name suggests. There are only a few customers, but they come in repeatedly and never seem to actually buy anything, instead ‘ checking out’ impossibly obscure volumes from strange corners of the store, all according to some elaborate, long-standing arrangement with gnomic Mr. Penumbra. The store must be a front for something larger, Clay concludes, and soon he has embarked on a complex analysis of the customers’ behaviour and roped his friends into helping him figure out just what’s going on. But once they bring their findings to Mr.Penumbra, they discover the secrets extend far beyond the walls of the bookstore. – HPL
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
The “joy luck club” is a mah jong/storytelling support group formed by four Chinese women in San Francisco in 1949. Years later, when member Suyuan Woo dies, her daughter June (Jing-mei) is asked to take her place at the mah jong table. With chapters alternating between the mothers and the daughters of the group, we hear stories of the old times and the new; as parents struggle to adjust to America, their American children must struggle with the confusion of having immigrant parents.
Amazing Grace by Danielle Steel
Danielle Steel is one of San Francisco’s best known authors and residents. Her 55-room mansion is the largest in the city and is in the beautiful Pacific Heights neighbourhood. It is only fitting that one of her most popular books would be set in San Francisco in the early 1900s.
In Amazing Grace we meet three beautiful, successful women whose lives are altered forever by a devastating San Francisco earthquake. It strikes during a charity dinner organized by socialite Sarah Sloane. Sarah’s perfect world dissolves when she discovers that her husband, Seth, is involved in illegal hedge-fund activities. Unable to cover his tracks due to the power outages, Seth will most certainly end up in prison. The quake also affects Melanie Free, the 19-year-old Grammy winner hired to perform at the exclusive event. Melanie and her entourage find themselves in a refugee camp, where Melanie quickly pitches in to help with the injured, much to the disdain of her mother/manager and her vacuous actor boyfriend. Both women find guidance and solace in the company of Sister Maggie Kent, a nun who works with San Francisco’s homeless and is managing the refugee camp. However, Sister Maggie must deal with her own turmoil, as she finds herself falling in love with a photographer covering the aftermath of the quake. Booklist
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
A treasure worth killing for. Sam Spade, a slightly shopworn private eye with his own solitary code of ethics. A perfumed grafter named Joel Cairo, a fat man name Gutman, and Brigid O’Shaughnessy, a beautiful and treacherous woman whose loyalties shift at the drop of a dime. These are the ingredients of Dashiell Hammett’s coolly glittering gem of detective fiction, a novel that has haunted three generations of readers. HPL
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
“On the Road chronicles Jack Kerouac’s years traveling the North American continent with his friend Neal Cassady, “a sideburned hero of the snowy West.” As “Sal Paradise” and “Dean Moriarty,” the two roam the country in a quest for self-knowledge and experience. Kerouac’s love of America, his compassion for humanity, and his sense of language as jazz combine to make On the Road an inspirational work of lasting importance. Kerouac’s classic novel of freedom and longing defined what it meant to be “Beat” and has inspired every generation since.J” Penguin Group USA
A few other San Francisco favourites: