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This is the third in a series of articles about the writing of my new book: Smiling on a Cloudy Day: An Englishman’s Love Affair with San Francisco. The previous posts were:

http://www.tonyquarrington.wordpress.com/2013/08/07/the-next-book/

http://www.tonyquarrington.wordpress.com/2014/07/07/smiling-on-a-cloudy-day/

The dates of those posts might already indicate that progress has not been as swift as I would have liked. There are a variety of reasons for this, not least my father’s fluctuating health over the past eighteen months and a recent, but now concluded, return to paid employment.

It is a similar story with the blogging – only sixteen posts, admittedly some of them quite long, since returning from San Francisco in April last year, compared to almost double that number in the preceding nine months.

But that is now in the past, and I am determined to publish the book this year. Indeed, I have been working on a draft for many months.

One illustration of progress is that dozens of disparate sheets of paper scattered over various surfaces have now been incorporated into a smart folder in which that working draft is now housed (see below). True to type, inspiration has been sought in the attachment of Grateful Dead and Giants logos.

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Part travel diary, part guide book, part history and part analysis of modern city life from the perspective of a regular foreign visitor, Smiling on a Cloudy Day follows the adventures of my wife and I during a month in early summer (if June in San Francisco can ever be considered summer). You will be able to follow us as we explore many of the most popular, and some less well-known, sights, chuckle and groan in equal measure at the antics of fellow passengers on public transportation, ramble round our adopted neighbourhood of Bernal Heights, and endure extreme temperatures at AT & T Park while still believing that the Giants will avert the run of dismal defeats that have coincided with our attendance.

Unsurprisingly, food and drink will feature strongly, and there will be plenty of music too at festivals and concert halls.

I intend to press on with the draft over the next four months before our next pilgrimage to the City in May. Those two weeks will feel as much a research trip as a vacation as I attempt to clarify facts and solidify themes.

Irrespective of whether I publish digitally or in print (though I remain inclined towards the former method), I plan to do so in advance of my second trip, this time for a full month in September/October.

I will continue to supply periodic updates and brief extracts on my blog in an effort to whet readers’ appetites as the book develops.

But if you would now excuse me, I need to get on with writing it.

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My wife observed the other day that she hadn’t seen me reading my Kindle lately. I’ll confess that I hadn’t realised this was the case, especially as I had been steadily adding books to it over recent weeks.

But she was right – I hadn’t sat down and read anything for any appreciable length of time since Christmas.

And that set me thinking.

What was the point, after years of agonising over the propriety of buying one in the first place, of not taking advantage of the opportunity it gave to read more widely and often? All I was doing was filling yet another bookcase – albeit a digital one – with more books I was unlikely to read (although I already owned some of them in print form).

And then I remembered that one of the prime motives for finally succumbing to the evil lure of the e-reader at all was to enable me to take all the books I “needed” on vacation without compromising my luggage allowance.

I had already been struggling with the dilemma of which guide to San Francisco I would take on our upcoming trip to the area, as well as which book I would take for leisure reading (not that I ever get beyond the first couple of chapters when I’m away, especially since now I devoted most “downtime” to my blog and other social networking).

So how might I resurrect the ailing appliance?

Well, it wasn’t much to look at for a start. The austere black cover I had bought for it, while practical and inexpensive, made it blend into the background in the office (a.k.a. the front bedroom). I’d effectively forgotten about it, except when I was browsing on Amazon.

I needed, therefore, to make it look as appealing as so many of the books I would be obliged to leave at home.

The dilemma was solved, however, by the simple addition of the last Grateful Dead sticker I had bought on Haight Street last June – cool, distinctive, colourful and exactly the right fit.

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Immediately, I wanted to delve inside and re-acquaint myself with my recent purchases.

A case of definitely judging an e-book by its cover.

Yes, the Complete Works of Shakespeare and the novels of Thomas Hardy were there as they should be. But, more importantly, the 2014 edition of San Francisco Not for Tourists and Gary Kamiya’s wonderful Cool Grey City of Love, and not forgetting Armistead Maupin’s latest and last Tales of the City novel, The Days of Anna Madrigal, were there waiting for me too.

So I am actually “good to go” (note how I am already slipping into the Californian vernacular) after all, although I hadn’t realised it.

An added bonus is that I had also loaded a couple of books that my wife might wish to read in the unlikely event that she should finish the supersized novel that she had already elected to weigh her hand luggage down with on the flight.

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So I’m now back into the groove of turning to my Grateful Dead infused e-reader when I have only a few minutes to spare – preparing the evening meal, sitting on a bus and even – no I won’t mention it – conducting business in the smallest room in the house (much more manageable than the Sunday Express my father used to disappear there with).

And with declining eyesight, how great to be able to increase the font size of what I am reading!

Now, where did I put the charger?

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The fateful day has arrived. I have just taken custody of my first Amazon Kindle, a birthday present from my wife.  

But why? After all, I have expressed my love for books here on a number of occasions, and stated my distaste for a hugely popular but soulless phenomenon that has blasted many of my favourite bookstores into oblivion. 

But I have also acknowledged that the time would come when I would not be able to resist the inexorable march of the e-reader, in fact when I would only be “cutting off my nose to spite my face” by rejecting its blandishments. Trying to stem the tide of history didn’t work for Canute and it is not going to work for me either. 

But this does not mean the beginning of the end of my reading the traditional paper-based books. I’ve only just published one myself – hardback, dust cover, high quality paper – the works.

No – far from it.

I’m not going to suddenly ditch my entire book collection at a stroke. Indeed, neither my buying nor selling strategy should change, other than that I will purchase an e-book where the print version does not exist. Several books have come on the market recently that I would like, but are only available in electronic form. I have no alternative, therefore, but to acquire the means of reading them.

There is an added motivation in that, in this same spirit of “if you can’t beat them……”, I am contemplating self-publishing my next book as an e-book. So I need to join in the game sooner rather than later.

Now, rather than spending weeks beforehand deciding which book(s) to take on holiday, I will be able to download the two or three in contention, affording me the added advantages of not only of reducing the weight of my cabin luggage on the outward flight, but creating space for the addition of “proper” books for the return.

So – Shakespeare, Dickens, Hardy, Maupin, Bryson and company – rest easy, you will continue to have a cherished place on the bookshelves, or wherever I can find room for you in the house. You are no more likely to be destined for charity shops and boot fairs tomorrow than you were yesterday. 

And I fully expect that the arrival of my e-reader will encourage me to read much more than, shamefully, I have been able, or rather chosen, to do heretofore.

No more agonising for hours beforehand over which books to take with me to the local coffee shop or on a train journey.

And no more risk of developing back problems carrying too many bulky books around with me just in case I changed my mind as to which of them I wanted to read in transit.

If further evidence were needed of the reluctance with which I’ve taken this momentous step, I have, or rather my wife has, only purchased the basic model – bells and whistles are conspicuous by their absence.

But I might as well buy a fancy leather cover while I’m at it.

Oh……and my first download?

101 Free Things To Do In San Francisco by Daniel Davidson.

Now there’s a surprise.

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I’ve taken pen to paper, or rather finger to keyboard, on two previous occasions on this blog to bemoan the demise of “high street” bookshops, both in principle and in my adopted city of San Francisco. In the first, I lamented the closure of the large branches of Border’s in Union Square, replaced now by a DSW shoe emporium, which, to add insult to injury, my wife loves, and 2nd and King opposite the ballpark. I consoled myself at the time with the knowledge that the Barnes and Noble branch in Fisherman’s Wharf was still carrying the flag, only to discover, shortly afterwards, that it too had made way for an expanded Cost Plus World Market.

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But, in one sense, that has been a blessing as it has forced me to seek out San Francisco’s rich family of neighbourhood bookstores. As a result, I’m no longer sure that I miss the big chains as much as I did three years ago.

On my recent trip I had the pleasure of visiting a number of the independent stores – some new to me, others old friends – and discovered a very different story to the one that confronted me when the giants (no, not those) were collapsing around me a couple of years ago.  Phoenix Books on 24th Street  in Noe Valley was my local store where, on the first morning of my vacation, I picked up a discounted copy of Comeback Kings, a book on the Giants’ (yes, those) 2012 World Series victory.

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A Sunday afternoon stroll down Valencia Street in the Mission unveiled the dual delights of Dog Eared Books and Borderlands Books, though the latter’s sole focus on science fiction, fantasy, horror and mystery is not to my taste. But the painstakingly prepared coffee was! A happy birthday to Dog Eared Books, a partner of the aforementioned Phoenix Books, Badger Books (of which more below) and alley cat books, which turns 21 this very week! On the evidence of these two thriving outlets, the declaration on its website that ‘reports concerning “The Death of the Bookstore” have been greatly exaggerated’ rings resoundingly and joyfully true.

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What struck me most about all of the bookstores I visited was the sheer number of people frequenting them, not just browsing the shelves but writing their own blogs and engaging in social media on their laptops, drinking every conceivable coffee permutation and interrogating the community noticeboards for apartment lettings or reiki classes and, in some instances, all three.

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Badger Books on the corner of Cortland Avenue and Bennington Street in urbane Bernal Heights, displayed a particularly fine secondhand selection and boasted a lovely children’s section complete with multi-coloured stools.

Needless to say, City Lights in North Beach afforded me several opportunities to part with my dollars and the Book Passage in the Ferry Building, though relatively small, always contains an interesting and eclectic collection. Besides, there are few better places to sit and read than outside with a cup of Peet’s coffee from the adjoining concession.

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Aardvark Books on Church Street near Market, where I bought a set of vintage San Francisco postcards at just fifteen cents each, The Booksmith (another regular haunt) and Browser Books on Fillmore between California and Sacramento are also fine places to stay awhile.

I may, to the purists, be about to join the dark side with my purchase of an Amazon Kindle, but I will never lose my love for plunging into bookstores (preferably those with adjoining cafes and a place to park the laptop), and divesting them of their stock. I expect that I only scratched the surface with San Francisco’s independent bookstores this time, but if the above branches are typical, their future is bright.

I dearly hope so.

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