Summer is here and one thing that is fundamental apart from booking that desired holiday destination is getting the right book to take with you.
You have to make sure that the book fits into your holiday fantasy – from the golden sand to the half-naked waiter serving you a piña colada out of an coconut with the top cut off with a bright-coloured umbrella sticking out the top that will end up stuck behind your ear whilst you fall in love with characters that come to life before you on each page – even if you’re just going to Brighton Pier.
That is why I have chosen to write about and re-read Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin. In my mind it is one of greatest gay fictions ever written. Interestingly it didn’t actually start out as a novel, but rather as a collection of stories that were originally serialised in The San Francisco Chronicle.
The novel is based in San Francisco in the 1970s and follows a young single girl from Cleveland called Mary Ann Singleton (later played by Laura Linney in the TV miniseries) as she moves to the city and finds love, friendship and sometimes murder (in later novels) amongst the colourful characters of 28 Barbary Lane. Among them are the eccentric drug-growing and smoking landlady Anna Madrigal and her tenants – bisexual Mona Ramsey, heterosexual sex god Brian Hawkins, and Michael Tolliver – a gay man known to his friends as Mouse who becomes Mary Ann’s best friend and shares her adventures. Michael Tolliver was recently brought to life by the amazing and beautiful Wes Taylor (currently starring in Sky Atlantic’s hit Smash) in the musical version of Tales of the City, produced by A.C.T. with a book by Jeff Whitty and a score by Jake Shears and John “JJ” Garden of Scissor Sister’s fame.
Over the last 15 years of my life Mr Maupin’s beautifully crafted characters have not just been words on a page. They have become my extended family and have travelled the world with me, including many times to San Francisco itself, where I love nothing better than to follow in Mary Ann’s footsteps around the many places featured in the book.
There are 8 books in the series so far from 1970 to present, culminating with my favorite book in the collection so far – ‘Mary Ann in the Autumn.’ So if you do one thing this summer, allow yourself to fall in love with San Francisco and 28 Barbary Lane. Maybe Quentin Crisp had it right when he once famously introduced Armistead Maupin to someone as the man who invented San Francisco.