Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Book Review: Tales of the City

'Tales of the City'
Author: Armistead Maupin

Format: Paperback
Published: Harper Perennial; May 2007
Originally Published: 1976
Pages: 400
Genre: Literary fiction
Grade: B
Source: Personal copy

Synopsis: Since 1976, Maupin's Tales of the City has etched itself upon the hearts and minds of its readers, both straight and gay. From a groundbreaking newspaper serial in the San Francisco Chronicle to a bestselling novel to a critically acclaimed PBS series, Tales (all six of them) contains the universe--if not in a grain of sand, then in one apartment house.

My Take: I'll be honest, I'd never heard of this book, or series, before moving to San Francisco over six years ago. Once hear though, everyone talks about it! This series and the city seemed wrapped up together. It appears as though it is the book that the city feels best represents them, maybe. I say maybe because there are just so many characters it would be hard to capture everything in one series but Maupin certainly tries!

I really related to Mary Ann Singleton, the naive central character of this first novel. She is a 25-year-old single gal who moves to the big city after visiting here once from the Midwest and decides that this feels more like home, not knowing at all what she was getting herself into. I was 23 when I moved here and, I like to think I wasn't quite so naive, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into! San Francisco is way more of a metropolis and has way more different cultures and needs than I ever experienced in Seattle ... and I loved it! Which is why I have stayed. Mary Ann, after some initial bumps, ends up loving it too.

She moves into 28 Barbary Lane in Russian Hill and soon learns that her apartment building can become like a little crazy family. Anna, her landlord, is like a mother, becoming overly involved and all knowing in her life. Her neighbors Mona and Michael become friends, their are bisexual and gay respectively. While that may not turn our heads today, when this was originally published in the 1970s, I can imagine this was pushing the boundaries. Or was it simply telling it in an easy to read and with likable and believable characters, something that was actually happening around you to help people become more accepting of it?

There are a ton of ancillary characters in this book and all of their lives become entangled. Since this was originally written for the local newspaper, the chapters are incredibly short which makes it the perfect book to read on the go. I also was amused that every chapter ended on a cliff-hanger, sort of like the soap operas of the day. I felt like in the background there should have been 'dun dun dun' playing every time I read the closing sentence. 

However, what struck me most was the fact that Maupin captured San Francisco so well. As much as things change, most things stay the same. This book was written 35 years ago and I could recognize the neighborhoods by the descriptions of the people who live there, he didn't even have to name them. The buildings are the same, many hangouts, restaurants and city legends are too. Maybe that's why so many people who think they love San Francisco really end up liking it when they visit, because it does look exactly the same as how they saw it on TV! Maupin, thanks for this great ode to the city!

Cover Lust: Seriously, one of my favorite covers ever!


  1. So glad to see you enjoyed this one! This is one of my favorite series - I read all the books within the first year I moved to SF (and like you, I had never heard of the books before moving there). I think these make great summer reads - fast paced, great characters, short chapters. I hope you'll go on to read them all - very fun!

  2. This book sounds like a fun read!

  3. I don't live in San Fran but I do live close enough to know it at least pretty well. I wish I spent more time up in the city because it is truly a wonderful place with so many different people. It sounds like this book captures some of that pretty well. I happen to love reading about the history of modern day cities so I'm thinking that I might have a good time reading this too!

  4. I am glad you enjoyed it :) I looked up good books a long time ago and then looked all over the library for them. Sadly never found Maupin there

  5. Well, I feel like I need to read this just so I get a feel for San Francisco.

  6. Like Wendy, this is one of my favorite series (and I've never lived in San Francisco! But my sister did :-D) - I hope you'll go on to read the rest of them!

  7. I read this series so long ago, but I remember enjoying it immensely! I am pretty sure they made some of it into a show or movie.

  8. Not heard of this one before, but sounds like a fun beach grab. Which is what I need right now!

  9. This cover is great-I am going to put this book on my TBR.

    THank you.

  10. Love the cover of the book! I had never heard of it before, but it sounds like such a fun read.


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