Since I’ll regularly be posting about (I hesitate to say “reviewing”) books about San Francisco, I thought I’d kick my blog off with a post about some of the San Francisco books I’ve already read. It’s a surprisingly slim list; I could only come up with 17 books (though I’ve probably forgotten a few) that are partially or completely set in San Francisco or tell a story about it in some way. One of my shortcomings as a blogger is an annoying tendency to thoroughness (i.e. if I’ve read 17 books about San Francisco, I MUST blog about all of them, whether they were good, bad, or anywhere in between), so to combat this (and the fact that it’s been many years since I read some of them), I’ve only written a few summaries, and listed the rest without descriptions. They range from literary game-changers to Oprah’s Book Club picks to YA novels to total guilty pleasures; some deal with San Francisco very briefly, others are an open love letter to it, but they all have something valuable to say about the city.
Most of the essays in this collection of writing on California in the sixties deal with other parts of the state (southern California, the Central Valley, or the Monterey Bay area), but the title essay, about drug use in the Haight-Ashbury counterculture, is an unflinching, de-romanticized look at a part of San Francisco history that has by now passed into legend. Unlike ecstatic writings by people inside the Beat or hippie movements or nostalgia-laden contemporary accounts, Didion writes from the outside looking in, and as such is able to capture the weakness and decay of the counterculture.