New York vs. San Francisco: Who Tops the Bestseller Lists

city lights bookstore.jpg

In the last decade, there have been two great loves in my life: City Lights Books and McNally Jackson in New York.

Find me a devout reader in California who has not heard of City Lights and I will ... let you buy me a beer, because I've already spent the money I made off this article at the bookstore. Named a historic landmark in 2001, I have never left the North Beach establishment built by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin in 1953 without something thoughtful or striking, whether I paid for it or it came free of charge from one of their preternaturally well-read employees.

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McNally Jackson winter.jpg
McNally Jackson during winter in New York City.

During the six years I lived in New York, I went a different direction. I dabbled at my neighborhood Court Street Books, feared for my life amidst the precarious stacks at Community Bookstore, and doubled over in exhaustion at the Strand. In the end, I was utterly charmed by a younger woman who objected to WiFi but was willing to experiment in other ways, most notably with a café and print on demand. McNally Jackson, started by Sarah McNally in 2004, is dissimilar to City Lights in many aspects, but the two leading independent bookstores resonate with their communities in meaningful ways, engendering affection and loyalty. I share this affinity with others who have flanked the coasts -- the bookstores themselves form a mutual admiration society -- which is why their incongruous bestseller lists so captured my attention.

On October 16, City Lights offered a list of its 10 bestselling hardcover and paperback books. I was reading NW by Zadie Smith for my book group, and wondered where the long awaited novel placed on the list, scanning the top five titles. Then I checked the following five titles, and the date of the blog post against the one on my calendar. I employed the help of my keyboard, ctrl>F>Zadie. Their error, I assumed, but before long it was undeniable: This list seemed both remarkable and puzzling, and at the very least, at odds with the book sections of almost every major newspaper.

City Lights Bestselling Hardcovers:

  1. Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon (Harper)

  2. How Music Works by David Byrne (McSweeney's)

  3. Everything Is Its Own Reward by Paul Madonna (City Lights)

  4. This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz (Riverhead Books)

  5. The Sea is My Brother by Jack Kerouac (Da Capo)

  6. A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers (McSweeney's)

  7. I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen (Candlewick Press)

  8. Subliminal by Leonard Mlodinow (Pantheon)

  9. 642 Things to Write About by San Francisco Writers' Grotto (Chronicle Books)

  10. Several Short Sentences About Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg (Knopf)

Bestselling Paperbacks:

  1. Occupy the Economy by Richard Wolff and David Barsamian (City Lights Publishers)

  2. Los Angeles Stories by Ry Cooder (City Lights Publishers)

  3. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt (Ecco)

  4. The Buddha in The Attic by Julie Otsuka (Anchor Books)

  5. Making the Future by Noam Chomsky (City Lights Publishers)

  6. Just Kids by Patti Smith (Ecco)

  7. San Francisco Chinatown by Philip P. Choy (City Lights Publishers)

  8. The Typewriter Is Holy by Bill Morgan (Counterpoint)

  9. We the Animals by Justin Torres (Mariner Books)

  10. Walking the Circle by J. Tony Serra (Grizzly Peak Press)

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