Tag Archives: City Lights

Obsessions: Wish List

“Obsessions” is our web-only essay series that asks emerging West Coast writers to examine the books, poems, songs, television shows, images, or whatever else that has been dominating their attentions lately. We continue with this piece by Vanessa Martini. Martini is a bookseller at City Lights Books. She lives in San Francisco. My saved eBay, Etsy, and Craigslist searches, with commentary on what late capitalism’s insidious grasp makes me believe each item will do for my life or say about it: Honda CB450 Four If I get this it means at some point I actually got my driver’s license, which means …Continue reading

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Poet Laureate of Spaceship Earth: An Excerpt from ‘You Belong to the Universe’

This Thursday at 7 p.m., author (and ZYZZYVA contributor) Jonathon Keats will be at City Lights to discuss his newest book, You Belong to the Universe: Buckminster Fuller and the Future (Oxford University Press). Called by Douglas Coupland a “wonderfully written and highly necessary book about one of the 20th century’s most enigmatic outliers,” the book takes Fuller’s life and personal myth as a basis for applying his world-changing ideas in the present. The following is an excerpt from Keats’s book. Late one evening in the winter of 1927, Buckminster Fuller set out to kill himself in frigid Lake Michigan. …Continue reading

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A ‘Dirty Old Man’s’ Defiant Stories: ‘The Bell Tolls for No One’ by Charles Bukowski

Early on in the Charles Bukowski compilation The Bell Tolls For No One, a narrator named Bukowski pulls his car over to the side of the road to stop and marvel at a hideous-looking farm animal. “When one ugly admires another,” he muses, “there is a transgression of sorts, a touching and exchanging of souls, if you will.” It could be said that much of Charles Bukowski’s writing is devoted to this moment when two imperfect forces collide – whether it’s drunken lovers helping each other endure a cold night or a downtrodden man recognizing a kindred spirit in the …Continue reading

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ZYZZYVA Interview Series: John Freeman

John Freeman (whose poems were published in ZYZZYVA No. 95 and No. 101, and who is also a contributing editor) is a long-time book critic, author of How to Read a Novelist, and the former editor of Granta. Last month, he launched a new literary journal, Freeman’s, which will publish themed issues twice a year. The first issue features work from Louise Erdrich, Barry Lopez, Haruki Murakami, Dave Eggers, Alexander Hemon, Anne Carson, Helen Simpson, and many more. Before a packed house at City Lights Bookstore last month, ZYZZYVA Managing Editor Oscar Villalon talked to Freeman about the journal, about …Continue reading

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All the Lost, Autobiographical Novels

Years ago, when novelist Alexander Chee couldn’t sell his first book, a literary agent told him, “The first novel you finish isn’t always the first novel you publish.” The agent was right. Hunter S. Thompson, for example, wrote his first novel, the autobiographical story of a boozy Kentucky boy in the city titled Prince Jellyfish, in his early twenties. After numerous literary agents declined it, Thompson shelved the manuscript and finished a second novel called The Rum Diary, which Simon & Schuster released in 1998, nearly four decades after he had completed it. And just last month, De Capo Press published Jack Kerouac’s lost, semi-autobiographical …Continue reading

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San Francisco—the Bookstores, the Landscape, the Kids: Q&A with Nathan Heller, Molly Young, & Willy Staley

Nathan Heller, Molly Young, and Willy Staley are three working writers in New York. Heller was recently named a staff writer at The New Yorker and is also a TV and film critic for Vogue. Young is a feature writer at New York magazine, and Staley (who I used to skateboard with in high school) writes regularly for the New York Times and the New York Times Magazine. All three are in their late twenties, and, interestingly, all three grew up in San Francisco. (Heller rode the 43 Masonic to high school, Young the 38 Geary, and Staley the 24 …Continue reading

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Writing from on the Road: A Q&A with Sister Spit’s Michelle Tea

Both sentimental and side-splittingly funny, Sister Spit: Writings, Rants & Reminiscence from the Road (Sister Spit/City Lights), is a collection of stories coming out this month from Michelle Tea’s legendary feminist performance art collective, which performs around the country with a featured group of talented feminist writers, beat-boxers and trapeze artists alike. Told through a series of essays, drawings and diaries from various caravan contributors, Sister Spit is a sharp, sassy take on the tour experience. Reading it feels like taking a road trip with your best friends at their brightest, sans the backseat bickering and rest stop bathroom breaks. …Continue reading

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A Quiet Kind of L.A. Confidential: Ry Cooder’s ‘Los Angeles Stories’

Going by musician Ry Cooder’s new book of short fiction, Los Angeles Stories (City Lights Publishers; 230 pages), L.A. in the ‘50s was a place where what you didn’t know could ruin your life, or kill you. “Everyone out there is a mad dog from Hell until proven otherwise,” claims the owner of a beauty salon in the book’s opening story, and Cooder seems intent on proving her right. Each of Cooder’s eight stories contains at least one murder, usually more. They center on ordinary people—tailors, mechanics, dentists, train conductors—whose lives are warped, derailed, or ended by the schemes of …Continue reading

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God Is in the Gutter: Ben Ehrenreich’s ‘Ether’

Ben Ehrenreich’s new novel, Ether (City Lights; 164 pages), follows an insomniac author living in a crumbling dystopia. He’s writing a novel about The Stranger, a man in a crusty white suit, an earthly manifestation of God. The premise of the novel-in-progress within Ether is that The Stranger has fallen to Earth and endeavors to return to heaven, intending to rectify some mistake for which his similarly fallen angels will not forgive him. Ehrenreich’s “broken hero” is consummately obstructed from his return by both misfortune and—here is the meat of it—kindnesses. By the end of the book, The Stranger has …Continue reading

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Shig Murao: The Enigmatic Soul of City Lights and the San Francisco Beat Scene

On October 3, 1957, a judge ruled that Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems was not obscene. It was a decision that would pave the way for publication of works from Henry Miller, D.H. Lawrence, William Burroughs, and others. A key  figure from the Howl trial was Shig Murao. His life and legacy has been documented in a website that launches today, www.shigmurao.org. This essay is adapted from a much longer biography with multiple supporting documents published on the website created by Richard Reynolds, a longtime friend of Murao’s. Shig Murao was the clerk who on June 3, 1957, was …Continue reading

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