Flying books in North Beach; photo by author

By Katherine Pisarro-Grant

The Bay Area has a long-standing reputation for bookishness. Beat poets are famously linked with the region: the San Francisco landmark indie bookstore City Lights was co-founded, in 1953, by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and soon spawned an influential publishing house of its own; Allan Ginsberg’s “Howl” was first performed at Fillmore Street’s Six Gallery. In the ’70s, the experimental Language poets (including Berkeley English professor Lyn Hejinian) published their works in a score of Bay-based journals. And of course, Berkeley’s own status as a college town has long cemented the bibliophilia, boasting old-school indie bookstores and an endlessly rich litany of campus libraries.

But don’t get lost in nostalgia for those seemingly cooler, more carefree, and proto-hipster decades. The Bay is still rife with a culture of journals, presses, independent bookstores, and literary events. Thelivingpoet has compiled a rather thorough list of those publications here. Read them, submit to them, visit them! City Lights has plenty of author readings and talks to make you feel inadequately kept abreast of contemporary fiction and poetry (they also have a free podcast with recordings of many events). The Berkeley Art Museum is installing a temporary free exchange project called the Reading Room: visitors bring a book from their own collection to trade for a fresh one from a local small press. There’s also a real, comfy reading room, recordings of featured authors, and original art. Then there are on-campus readings by featured authors, open to the public: Story Hour, a monthly prose-reading series (stay tuned for April’s guest, the globally-esteemed novelist Isabel Allende), Lunch Poems (coming up in March: Pulitizer Prize winner and former Poet Laureate Louise Glück), and the Holloway Series for contemporary poets (tonight: the genre-bending M. Nourbese Philip).

Bored? Overwhelmed? The Bay Citizen has just the thing for you: Choose Your Own Readings Series, a game/quiz that will guide you through the hordes of events to give you what you want. Okay, a local paper has to invent a quiz to help you narrow down your choices of literary events? We really do live in a nerdily awesome land of bookworms. Don’t take it for granted, bibliophiles!

For posts on local reading spots, check out our coffee shop and bookstore reviews.