Autumn Catalog Distribution and the Literary Life

As a little girl growing up in a small college town in the Central Valley, I believed that San Francisco was where museums and the Giants lived. As a freshman at Cal, I thought it was where the shopping and the adventure was. Now that I am newly planted on this side of the Bay, I have come to believe that San Francisco is, first and foremost, the place where the books and the book-makers live.

I first learned about the San Francisco Center for the Book as a sophomore in college, when I took a letterpress class at UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, where I pulled my first print on a nineteenth-century Albion press and held a page from a Gutenberg Bible.  Back then the SFCB was legendary in my mind. I didn’t quite believe it existed until I took my first class there, and then, this August, began to earn their new certificate in Letterpress printing.

So far as a volunteer, I’ve been doing front desk work, data entry, and distributing the SFCB autumn catalog of events and workshops—which you can find online here—to various bookstores around the Bay. I recently did my second round of catalog distribution, which was also a thinly veiled excuse for visiting and revisiting some of San Francisco’s large and exhaustively curated bookstores. When I arrived at the SFCB in the morning, I had to wade around a loud and happy third grade class from Franklin Delano Roosevelt Elementary to get my stack of catalogs, lingering to watch them excitedly chatter about their large and colorful wood-type posters, which were printed in reds, oranges, and yellows like a sans-serif sunset.

As it happened, my catalog distribution began right around the corner on Kansas Street, before I ever made it to a bookstore. When I ducked into Starbucks to get a lemonade, the barista asked me what I was doing with my stack of flyers, so I gave my little speech about the SFCB. “That’s really cool,” she said. “You know, they had a big festival a couple weeks ago. A lot of people came in to get coffee. I wanted to check it out, but it was over by the time I got out of work.”

“Would you like a catalog?” I asked, and was surprised when she took one. “They have events all the time.”

Half an hour and several near-Muni-fails later, I made it to Green Apple Books in the Richmond District. I dropped off happily-received catalogs and was given simple but unfamiliar directions to Haight Street, which I found without mishap, and dropped off another pile of catalogs at Booksmith.  I marveled at the large selection of brand-new books there, and briefly shot the breeze with the cashier, who gave me complex directions to City Lights, but managed to dissuade me from attempting the route that day.  He also concurred with a statistic I’d heard: San Franciscans spend double the national average in books.

I retreated back to my apartment, leaving City Lights for another foray, now much more confident in my Muni capability, content with my volunteer adventure, and comforted by the knowledge that here, at least, the people who read, write, and make books are still on speaking terms with one another.  Booksellers, book writers, and book makers here are connected by a complicated web of bus routes, shared associations and cultural reckonings. The literary life is neither mythical nor difficult to access: I know for a fact you can pick up the autumn SFCB catalog at your local bookstore!

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Laura Ferris
Chickadees are collectively referred to as a "banditry" or a "dissimulation" of chickadees.

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