Saturday, June 16, 2007

Tales of the City, Reunited

It was the summer of 1980 and I remember discovering a bookstore in Center City that became my home away from home - it was Giovanni's Room. What began on South Street in the early 1970s moved to the corner of 12/Pine streets and quickly established itself as the epicenter of the local lesbian and gay community.

The first 'gay' book I ever read was Tales of the City, written by Armistead Maupin. The book came out (no pun intended) back in 1978 but it wasn't until the summer of '80 when I was first introduced to the spirits and personalities that climbed the stairs of 28 Barbary Lane in San Francisco.

When I discovered Tales, Maupin's second volume was just being released; More Tales of the City. By then I, along with millions of other readers worldwide, were connecting to life in the City by the Bay.

I absorbed every word that Maupin wrote as if it was being sent by wire, direct from the West Coast to me, filling me in with the daily antics of friends I never met but knew deeply. I learned about live, love and all the precautions that surround things like anger, forgiveness and resentment.

As each book came out - there were five official volumes in the series, although many consider Sure of You the sixth - I was amazed at how much my world ran parallel to the world that laid within the covers of each book. Sure, there were unique differences; but the emotions were just as strong, the passions just as pure and the painful reality of aging, or not having a chance to, just as painfully real.

When I first got word that Maupin was going to write a new novel that, although not an official volume in the series, but lovingly titled Michael Tolliver Lives, my heart bounced. Michael Tolliver was the central character to Tales and it was like hearing from an old friend - - something that happens all too infrequently these days.

According to Maupin, the cover of his new novel is meant to look cheerful but battered, a hopeful survivor of the 70s like its protagonist. The book was released June 12 - a day that the Mayor of San Francisco proclaimed "Michael Tolliver Day"

Yesterday morning I received my copy of the novel while at work - and like a dieter avoiding sweets - it took all my will to not push aside my To Do list and just sit at my desk and dive in!

Today being Saturday, I blocked out a few hours and opened the book.


For those of you who have never read the Tales series - or never watched the PBS/Showtime mini-series based on the first few volumes - the following might seem a bit ... odd, but humor me. :)

The title tells you the story - Michael "Mouse" Tolliver is alive and breathing by the Bay. At first Maupin lays out the current state of Michael's life and - just as Maupin said in an interview recently - slowly the colorful cast enters the storyline as natural as life is. You are reunited with some and sadly, brought up to speed on the passing of others.

With the turn of each page you realize that a family tree is only as strong as its roots. And, just as magically as Maupin did through the 1980s, you experience a wide range of emotions during the read.

I truly did not put this book down upon opening it. I laughed OUT LOUD at a few parts and was brought to tears by others. It's as if I've caught up with old friends ... people I missed who kept me sane during an insane period of my life.

At one point - Maupin quotes the ever-mystical Anna Madrigal, when commenting on growing old: "You don't have to keep up, dear. As long as you keep open."

Truer words were never spoken.

This book is an affirmation of growing older and wiser and a wonderful read - even if you've never set 'foot' inside 28 Barbary Lane.


Larry-bob said...

Why didn't you buy the new book from Giovanni's Room (I'm guessing since you received it at work that you ordered it from Amazon.) Giovanni's is one of the few gay bookstores that are left - so many have closed... Amazon never has author readings.

Robert Drake said...

good point larry-bob ... actually with my career shift over the decades i now get complimentary review copies in the mail from the publisher these days... but i still support Gio's when i can (and i steer clear of amazon!) :)

Larry-bob said...

Thanks for the response... I guess I made a wrong assumption... I'd just been having a conversation with my boyfriend (who bought his copy of Armistead's new book at our neighborhood bookstore) about the demise of local bookstores due to Amazon. He was pointing out that the business that he used to be in, being a travel agent, had also been destroyed by the ease and convenience of online purchase, and that I bought plane tickets online all the time without worrying about how I was destroying local businesses.

Mario said...

What a nice write-up! I can't wait to dive into Armistead's new book read more Tales. Oh, and I'm heading over to Giovanni's Room tomorrow! --M

NatalieMcD said...

I've been so looking forward to reading this book. When I read the final book in the Tales series many years ago, I always hoped Maupin would revisit the characters. I understand the familiar cast of characters makes an appearance again, including Anna Madrigal!

Chris Krakora said...

I defintely remember when the first Tales of the City came on PBS, when the right-wingers were having a shit-fit over that. Too bad the PBS folks caved in.

And I do agree, Giovanni's Room rocks! I support that when I can too.

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