The bookstore’s location between the exotic Chinatown and rows of sensual strip clubs embraced the atmosphere of wonder that a traveler feels when they enter the shop. Those that walk beneath the wooden doorway are privy a miracle in the age of bookstore chains and Amazon. One of the largest selection of translated Latin American literature that you will find in an American bookstore is in between the classic section as you first walk in and the mostly grassroots literary magazines and self-publications area beneath the stairs, a reflection of the diverse racial makeup of San Francisco and it’s rebellious citizens.
City Lights Books’ rich history is arises from its home as the 1950’s birthplace of the Beat generation. This history lesson can easily be deduced by the store’s location next to Jack Kerouac alley. However, Ginsberg alley might have been more appropriate as it was the first press to publish his controversial work, resulting in the trial of the owner and publisher of City Lights Books. Literature won that battle and probably the war. This heritage is carried on in the now famous Pocket Poetry series that the store puts out. It renders the Beat Generation museum down the road obsolete unless its sole purpose is to be a tourist trap that roots out the heretics that would soil these hollowed halls of books.
There is little wonder that poetry room on the top floor beheld a silence that isn’t forced by a sign, employee or patron but instead is derived from the respect reader’s found as they loose themselves amongst the numerous volumes that the room holds. Every turn of the page is a Sunday worship service that redirects straying minds to the divine message that each individual hears. Each time a book closed, patrons leave as born-again missionaries to whom only true believers listened.