I Left My Heart in San Francisco
I Left My Heart in San Francisco
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Tales of the City

An Armistead Maupin novel

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Modern Day Dickens Writes Sex in the City by the Bay

  • Oct 6, 2011
If you're a bookworm or Beat freak and in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco, there's only one place you're going to spend your afternoon, City Lights Bookstore, a favorite of Jack Keuroac's. It was one such afternoon where I came across what would soon become my biggest book addiction in a long time. I saw Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin proudly displayed amongst other San Francisco literature greats but, I reached out, suddenly remembering that I had always wanted to read it. I'm always stricken with a lack of memory for anything I want to read, listen to, watch, etc whenever I'm in a book/music/video store.

Once I picked up Tales of the City, I was hard pressed to put it down. After 12 years of academic reading, there couldn't have been a better book to welcome me back to the joy of reading I had long forgotten. I certainly don't want to over-hype a book for those that weren't stuck reading their professor's books because, you know, no one else would. But, I think that even if you hadn't been stuck doing that, you'll still love this book! Anyhoo, this first book in Maupin's bestselling series, replaced my late night brainless TV watching with quality brain exercise and snuggling in bed with a good book. Ahhhh....is this what I've been missing?

Tales of the City had originally started as a series in the Chronicle, so the chapters of the book are relatively short which keeps the story moving quickly. There are simultaneous storylines between the different characters that inhabit 28 Barbary Lane. In less capable hands, this has proved a disastrous undertaking but with Maupin and his Chronicle deadlines, we're treated to well written and relatable characters.

MaryAnn is the small town girl who comes to San Francisco, has a few Irish Whiskeys at Buena Vista and decides that she's not going back to Cleveland, Ohio.....ever. Mona is the lesbian that isn't quite too sure if she's a lesbian but, she does know that she hates everyone except Michael. Michael is flamboyantly fabulous and, refreshingly, never apologizes for who he is or who he loves, even if it's just one hour fling at the bathhouse. He's always open to love and optimistic, I have a STRONG feeling that this is the one character that Maupin modeled after himself. There's Brian, who is the womanizing waiter. And finally, their landlady with a secret past, Anna Madrigal. Her name is an anagram and I spent the whole book trying to figure out what it was, don't worry, she does eventually spill the beans...in the next book! She's an eccentric older woman who grows weed in the front yard of her boarding house and names each harvest after her favorite famous women. She welcomes each new tenant with a joint taped to the door and a welcome note.

One could easily say it's about a small town girl trying to make it in the big City but, I wouldn't limit it to just that. There's the gay man trying to find love amongst bathhouses and gay bars in the free love age before AIDS and after the Summer of Love. There's the mother hen to all of her tenants who genuinely cares about them so much she calls them her children that has an affair with a married man. There's the rich patriarch with the drunken wife who questions himself and his happiness. There's the rich spoiled daughter that isn't happy in her privileged life. There's the womanizing waiter who used to be a human rights lawyer and revolutionary. There's the angry feminist who struggles with her sexuality and her past.

There's so much more to the book than one character and one storyline, which is exactly what I loved about it. If you love multiple, quick-paced storylines, pick up this book. If you've ever lived in SF or have a fascination with San Francisco, pick up this book. If you want to get addicted to a series, pick up this book. If you like books with such well written characters that you can easily find in your own life and that you really care about, pick up this book. Ah, heck- just go pick it up at the library, I'm dying to know what you think of it!

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October 11, 2011
Excellent review, I enjoyed reading it. Mike
October 12, 2011
Thanks, Mike! I appreciate the comment and the read!
October 07, 2011
wow! You are on a roll, Sam! Don't know if this is really my thing, but I saw the word 'sex' and I came running LMAO! ;)
October 07, 2011
Thanks, Woo- it's my first book review, so I was a little nervous! I thought that'd get some of you boys to read it ;p
October 07, 2011
Very well written review. I believe there was also a tv series starring Laura Linney.
October 07, 2011
Thanks! There was a mini-series as well as a couple of movies and musicals. I guess I'm not the only one that likes it!
More Tales of the City reviews
Quick Tip by . July 28, 2011
The first book in the eight-novel series (eat your heart out Twilight!) is written in a fun, fast-paced style with an intermingling of some of the most interesting and well written characters in modern literature. Set in an apartment building on 28 Barbary Lane in the Russian Hill neighborhood of San Francisco, this novel weaves the stories of the intriguing tenants in such a fun and addicting way, that you'll be hard pressed to put the book down.      The chapters are about …
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Tales of the City (1978) is the first book in the Tales of the City series by American novelist Armistead Maupin, originally serialized in The San Francisco Chronicle.


Seeking a change in her life, Mary Ann Singleton moves to San Francisco in 1976, soon finding herself living at 28 Barbary Lane. Her life becomes intertwined with those of her varied neighbors and myriad colorful characters.

The novel is a look at San Francisco in the 1970s, exploring "alternative lifestyles" and "underground" culture.


  • Mary Ann Singleton, a prudish naïf from Cleveland, Ohio, who impulsively decides to leave her sheltered life and turn a vacation to San Francisco into a new chapter in her life.
  • Anna Madrigal is the landlady of 28 Barbary Lane. Anna fosters a maternal relationship with each of her tenants, perhaps most aggressively with Mona Ramsey. In addition to gently encouraging Mary Ann to develop relationships, she begins an affair with Edgar Halcyon, which is threatened by a dark secret of Anna's that may soon come to light.
  • Mona Ramsey is Mary Ann's spacey, bohemian neighbor. Restless and somewhat melancholic, Mona finds herself unemployed after a particularly self-righteous day at the office. She lets her old friend Mouse stay in her apartment after his male lover ends their relationship, but she moves out herself to rekindle a relationship with D'orothea Wilson.
  • Michael 'Mouse' Tolliver is Mona's best friend and ...
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