For more than three decades Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City has blazed its own trail through popular culture...from a groundbreaking newspaper serial, to a classic novel, to a television event that entranced millions around the world. The first of six novels about the denizens of the mythic apartment house at 28 Barbary Lane, Tales of the City is both a sparkling comedy of manners and an indelible portrait of an era that changed forever the way we live.
©1978 The Chronicle Publishing Company (P)2012 HarperCollinsPublishers
Mystery reader (especially series) and Austen lover
Tales of the City, published as a book in 1976, started out as separate, short articles in a San Francisco newspaper serial. As a result, this book is a true depiction of the City in the 1970's. Many references to items of the 70's come along in the descriptions and the dialog of this story. The book contains several story lines, all centered on the denizens of 28 Barbary Lane, an old house that now consists of several rental apartments, occupied by young renters, all under the benelovent eye of the landlady, Mrs. Anna Madrigal.
The characters are brilliantly drawn by Maupin, and you end up liking almost everyone, even the not very nice ones. All the characters are 3 dimensional, each with his or her own failings, strong points, and flukes. And they nearly all have heart. It's all too complicated to go into detail in a review, but the reader really ends up caring about these people and what happens to them. The separate story lines all sort of intersect with each other from time to time, and I was left feeling joyous, and sad, and happy for having gotten to know each of the main characters. Mrs. Madrigal is my favorite, as I think she is for most readers.
The writing is so well done, and so wittty and funny, that it was a joy to listen to, especially with the superb narration by Frances McDormand. I am so glad that there are 8 more Tales of the City books for me to read/listen to and savor! One caveat: this book is set in 1970's San Francisco, as the hippie era was ending and the LGBT community was becoming more vocal. If free love, drugs and gays make you nervous, you probably should skip this one.
Otherwise, read/listen to this book!
Maupin's Tales of the City series is the most well preserved slice of popular culture ever captured in fiction. Tales and its sequels follow the loves and lives of nearly every imaginable type of person in post sexual revolution, pre-AIDS San Francisco.
These beloved books hold up because reading them is as good as time-travel back to the seventies. It is the seventies captured in real time as each chapter was first published in the S.F. Chronicle each day long before they were ever bound into a book.
The intricate overlapping lives and loves of the characters are what make these stories so delicious. (Calling them a "soap opera" does this work an injustice.) The repartee among the characters is priceless. If you've read these books you likely consider Michael "Mouse" Toliver, Mona, MaryAnn, and the very elegant Mrs. Madrigal amongst your best fictional friends. Of course an open mind is needed because relationships and sexuality of all types are major themes of these books. Prudes and/or the homophobic need not apply.
Unlike earlier versions Maupin allowed every single word of his books to be professionally narrated instead of doing just selected parts himself. As for the actual audio recordings, a woman narrator is appropriate since Mary Anne Singleton is the main protagonist. Frances McDormand reads with relish as if dishing gossip like a best friend. There is plenty of character in her voice without overacting. She does not attempt to mimic the delivery of Olypimia Dukkakis, Larua Linney et. al. from the HBO television series of this book which was a wise choice. The sound quality is superb. The intro by Rachel Maddow is short and all too sweet.
Yes, because Frances McDormand breathes real life into the characters and the entire story just pops. The vast diversity of the residents and friends that are a part of the house at 23 Barberry Lane make for a most interesting and rather hilarious look at life among the residents and their friends and lovers during a particularly unique time in the whole cultural scene going on in San Francisco, as well as the general flavor of this country as a whole. So much was going on in those days of civil rights, which blossomed into many other issues: gay and women's rights, the war in Vietnam, the period in my life when we really thought we were going to be a part of real changes for people in this country, that would focus on the rights of everyone and make equality and freedom a reality for all. And to a large extent, much did happen and new legislation enabled the inclusion of many folks given the civil rights and equality of everyone else. That is, to an extent. The mood in the country was one of unbounded optimism and it seemed the young people engaged people to talk about, discuss, protest!, and March for many issues. We were naive and wanted to believe that violence was not necessary in order to accomplish anything. A time of peaceful, nonviolence and protest marches to get the message out. This book takes place during the latter part of the 60's, when people were just starting to come out of the closet and San Francisco was the place to be no matter what your particular issue was. The general attitude of the citizens of this country during that time became more tolerant and open to new ideas and willing to at least tolerate discussion and activity that addressed civil rights for all, what freedom should or could or might mean. In general, people just seemed nicer. A kinder gentler America, especially in light of the state of affairs currently holding in Washington, which is representative of attitude of discord and division that has spread to an alarming degree. Times have changed certainly, and without trying to make a judgment call on life in these United States today, this book takes place during a period when the atmosphere and general attitude of the country was in a very very different place. Hope was very prevalent back in those hippie /dippie days, and as naive and silly it may seem now, it was a lot more pleasant place to be. People certainly engaged in debate and confrontation, but the meanness that seems so obvious today was nonexistent then. And this book gives the reader a wonderful story about a quirky, crazy bunch of folks that make this book a very pleasurable experience. The audio version of this book really brings all the various day to day experiences of the characters whether happy, sad, ridiculous, difficult or whatever life brings each day alive for me as I listen. It's a much fuller experience. I feel more emotionally attached and find myself more concerned about some of these characters. Listening to the narrator give voice to each person and does justice to Maupin's marvelous development of his characters . And the humor is not lost, nor the bitterness or irony either. In short, this was a great fun experience. I loved the characters, some more than others. But the overall experience gave me a much needed break from the reality of everyday living now. It was well written and the humor and innuendo added much. Highly recommend to anyone who is looking for a few hours of enjoyment as you meet and get to know an hilarious and absurd but also very honest and real group of people that are living their lives as best they can in San Francisco in the 60's.
People are more alike than not, so it is said. Just seems to be more so when listening to this book. The ugly side of humanity has always been a part of us all. Now that side of the human condition seems to have taken hold for the moment lets hope that we can all think about what life felt like when "make love, not war" was our mantra. Unrealistic perhaps, but just a bit if that thinking could go a long way today if included in all our experiences since we were so young and foolish!
The stories in Armistead Maupin's "Tales of the City" (1978) were written in a magic time and a magic place. The smoldering gay rights movement had burst into flame with the Stonewall Riots in June 1969. Birth control pills were approved by the FDA in 1960 and widely accepted by the early 1970's. The U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973's Roe v. Wade 410 US 113. AIDS was beginning to work its way across the world, but it wasn't recognized until 1981.
1970's San Francisco was a sybaritic paradise. The Summer of Love of 1967 had finally been migrated to the upper class Bass Weejuns and Lilly Pulitzer crowd. Sex was plentiful and sexuality was ambiguous. Maupin, fresh from the U.S. Navy and Vietnam, was living in San Francisco and writing contemporary short stories originally published in Marin County's "The Pacific Sun." It's not a nostalgic look back, it's a true portrait in writing of a very short era.
Maupin has a great ear for dialogue, and most of his character development is through conversations. It's fun to find out what degree of separation each person has to each other, and how they are somehow held together by the glue that is Anna Madrigal and her homegrown marijuana and hand rolled joints.
The difference in communications really struck me. I'd forgotten a time when long distance calls cost so much that secretaries from the Midwest only called their parents once a month, writing actual letters, using pen, paper and 13 cent stamps between expensive calls.
There's a lot of sex in "Tales of the City", but the book isn't pornographic. Maupin sets the scene and the players - an expensive home and a grocery delivery boy; a funky apartment that's not in the Castro; a bathhouse on Ladies' Night. The rest is left to imagination.
The stories are a bit of a difficult follow on Audible because it's hard to tell when a new chapter starts. That's a problem that doesn't happen with the text version. Frances McDormand narrates, and well - she's Frances McDormand, the Academy Award winning actress for Fargo (1996) a movie that's as quirky as "Tales of the City."
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There were too many characters and they were somewhat indistinguishable. The narrator did not change her voice enough and some of the character's names started with the same consonant which made it more confusing. All the characters seemed pretty frivolous and the story is pretty disjointed and underdeveloped.
Tales of the City is my favorite book. It's intriguing and funny and heartwarming and no matter how many times I read or listen to it, it never loses its appeal.
I tried and I tried but could not get through more than a few hours. It seemed like a boring 1980s version of Sex and the City. I feel like a total bro for saying this, but it's was a bunch of cackling hens talking about boys and jobs and boring junk.
Serial story, while well woven by Maupin and a compassionate satire of the time and place, often seems trivial in the aftermath of decades. In the right narrator's hands, this might not have been glaring or even have been turned around, but McDormand, normally a quirky but wonderful actress, seems to be sleepwalking through this, not even making the effort to differentiate the voices from one another or from the narration, and her baseline voice is a weirdly accented cross between New York and Midwestern. The overall effect is bizarre at best.
There are so many characters and the narrator does the whole book in one voice making it very hard to separate and follow and became confusing
"Couldn't stop listening!"
A 2 hour train journey flew by as I enjoyed an audio vacation to SanFran
"A great introduction to Armistead Maupin's world"
Until recently, I hadn't ever head of Armistead Maupin or his tales. I stumbled across them in a bookshop and thought they sounded intriguing. So, this was my first foray into the world. I liked it a lot - and hope to 'visit' again soon with the many other books in the series!
I'm not sure how I would have found it if I'd jumped into these at book 2 or 3 - there is a lot of background to these characters that comes through.
At times I was initially a bit confused about which character was which and exactly how they all related - but soon they come into their own and how their orbits relate becomes more obvious.
Unlike many short stories, they hung together well as a coherent whole. I picked it up and left it according to my schedule, but found it memorable enough to come back to.
"Return to this old favourite"
I've read the books, watched the TV mini-series, listened to the abridged audio, and now returning to the individual books on audio. Just can't get enough of Maupin's tales - even if I can recite some sections off by heart.
Life-affirming, heart-warming - I love my TOTC family!
"Brilliant - pure entertainment"
Can't believe I've only just found this series. Wonderful stories and brilliantly performed :) if you're not sure what to listen to next, definitely recommend giving these a try!
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