Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

10th August 2011

Have you ever had a book on your radar for years and years before you finally picked it up? Not one you are hesitant to read, but one you just seem to always miss out on? Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City is that book for me. I absolutely love the cover on this book and remember spending time in Barnes & Noble as a broke undergrad, reading the first couple chapters of this book. The wonderful Erica from Harper Perennial who also runs the blog The Olive Reader sent me a copy of this book for her Tales of the City Read Along, and I enjoyed every minute of reading it.

Tales of the City is a look at San Francisco in the 70s. Maupin introduces his cast of characters with Mary Ann, the naive, quiet young girl who leaves Cleveland to visit San Fran and decides to stay when she finds an apartment at 28 Barbary Lane, where most of the characters live or have lived at some point. Then there’s Michael “Mouse,” a young, closeted gay man, trying to find love in the ever-changing gay club scene. Anna Madrigal is the landlady at 28 Barbary Lane, and she’s fun and a bit odd, leaving joints on the tenants’ doors when they first move in and caring for her pot plants, fondly naming each. Every short chapter is told from a different perspective, and Maupin often leaves a chapter with a surprising revelation. As Tales of the City was originally a newspaper serial, I can tell readers probably stayed hooked.

Even though it deals with death, sexuality, parent-child relationships, and infidelity, Tales of the City is a really fun read. It feels familiar in the telling, and there’s a mystical element to it as well, as 28 Barbary Lane seems to pick its tenants, but I think I’ll have to read on to find out more. In a sense, it’s kind of like really good (but harmless) gossip seeing who is dating whom and who is cheating, loving, drugging, drinking, and all sorts of other scandalous things.

Plus, if you like Tales of the City, there are plenty more books where that came from: More Tales of the City, Further Tales of the City, etc. Don’t you just love it when that happens?

Read this: like really good chocolate. You won’t want to stop at one piece.


  • This one has been on my kinda vague “books I’ll maybe read one day…maybe” list. For whatever reason, my totally uninformed/unresearched opinion that this book was stuffy solidified over the years, to the point that I figured I’d never read it. Clearly I had the wrong impression of the book, it sounds like a fun read that I should check out.

    • Isn’t it weird how you have certain perceptions of specific books? It is so the opposite of stuffy, and yeah, it was a fun read.

  • I too have really been wanting to read something by Maupin, mostly because, like you, I find the cover of this book really appealing. Shallow? Yes! But that doesn’t mean that the book can’t be good… in fact, I’m really glad to hear that it is! I will have to make a better effort to read something by good ol’ Armistead.

    • Exactly! I’m not afraid to admit I judge books by their covers. The more appealing the better. And yeah, it was a great introduction to Maupin.

  • Jen (and the Pen)

    It is a great cover! And nice to hear about something from the back list for a change.

    • You know, it’s funny. Until BEA, I only ever read backlist stuff. It’s a hard balance.

  • I just read this a couple of months ago, also. Quite fun.

    I am often persuaded to pick up books just because of their covers. I’m often vexed because I like the British edition covers better than the USA ones.