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on 2 December 2015
A few months ago I put out a request for books set in San Francisco, and one book (or series of books) got mentioned over and over again. Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City had somehow passed me by - I'm really not sure how. But as soon as I started reading this first instalment, I knew I was going to be hooked.

The 'tales' belong to a wide and diverse cast. Mary Ann is new to San Francisco, moving into lodgings at 28 Barbary Lane. She's quiet and uncontroversial, very different to the other tennants living in the house. Mona seems unsure of what she wants from life and relies on sedatives to get through the day, Michael is gay, skint and looking for a good man (I loved him, especially in the scene with the jockey shorts in the bar), Brian sleeps with any woman he can find and landlady Anna Madrigal grows marijuana in the garden... plus there's an array of supporting characters each with their own secrets. Their lives are carefully and cleverly interwoven to create one world from what is essentially a series of short stories.

I liked how the scenes were snappy - most just a few pages long - and there was a lot of dialogue which added to the already fast pace. The dry humour and cutting remarks reminded me of a soap opera and have retained relevance 37 years after they were first written. Maupin lived in the San Francisco he was writing about and it shows, there's a realism in even the most outlandish of situations and that made me care about the characters and their plight.

This book is older than I am, and I imagine it was shocking when originally published (and probably still would be now to some readers!) Race, sexuality, drugs and infidelity are key to the plot and talked about openly, nothing is off limits. It was refreshing to read a book where every character is going through their own problems yet isn't overwhelmingly depressing. Somehow there's an uplifting air to Tales of the City despite the unfulfilled lives of the majority of the cast and to me that's conveyed through the genuinely touching where the characters reach out to each other.

The only negatives for me were that it took a while to get my head around so many different stories and I had to google some of the seventies American references to fully understand the story. But despite that I found myself so drawn to this wonderful world that I went straight onto the next book in the series. I need to know what happens next!

I've not read anything quite like this before. And I loved it.
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on 29 July 2016
I had heard so much about it so I thought I'd give it a go.
It can stand alone but there are follow up volumes.
It takes place in San Francisco in the mid 70s but it does not seem dated at all.
It follows the lives of a disparate group of characters all loosely connected; including a sympathetic pot growing landlady hiding a secret about herself. Then there is the lovable Michael: a gay single man known as Mouse and his roommate Mina and a recent resident of the city who hails from Cleveland. Some are gay and some are straight and many are flawed but all are entertaining.
It flows well and is easy to read.
I can't wait to read how the characters get on in the follow on volumes.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 10 August 2015
4 stars

Written when I was a small child, set in a city I've never been to, in a decade I never knew. Why am I reading this? Because of a story about a fish called Ian.

A new book, Fishbowl, is compared to Tales of the City - a story about Ian the fish falling from a tower block, seeing people's lives as he falls. We then see more about their lives, and their connections.

Tales of the City does something similar. Without a fish. A country girl moves to the big city (San Francisco) in the 1970s. This is her story, but also the story of her friends, the people she lives with, the people she works with... and people they know.

Lots of interconnecting stories about love, death, sex and... well, just life. In a city of big bold colours and big bold statements. I found it funny, sad at times, and was quite interested in this foreign time and place.

I listened on audiobook, which would have been a tricky method of approaching this, as each small chapter (1-3 pages) features a different character. I have tried this before and this time, read the first 20 pages on a paper format to feel familiar with most of the characters first. This really helped, as I could then keep it a little straighter in my mind who was who.

Very entertaining read, part of a series written in the same style.
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on 30 March 2010
I've been meaning to read this ever since the Channel 4 adaptation in 1993, which starred Olympia Dukakis and Laura Linney.

The novel was first published in 1978 after being serialised in the San Francisco Chronicle. In it Armistead Maupin captures the spirit and atmosphere of a society with liberal attitudes to sex, sexuality and drugs. As such, the book does not seem as dated as it might have done.

The book follows the stories of around eight archetypal characters, from the naïve Mary Ann to the wise (but mysterious) Mrs Madrigal, the openly and flamboyantly gay (Michael) to the secretive and sinister (Norman). Centred on the lodgings run by Mrs Madrigal, and the "family" of residents, this is a book about friendship, relationships and the (often unexpected) connections between people.

While some of the references may be dated and specific to San Francisco, the book is a joy to read. The short chapters and easy-going style make it eminently readable.
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on 17 August 2000
Found the first two on the shelves of the house in San Francisco where I was staying last week. Had just sprained ankle, so forced so sit in sun and read novels with foot on cushion all day (it was hell...) now home I hobbled to library and got out next two in series. What is it about some books - or perhaps some writers - that really makes you feel good? Can't say Maupin has actually cured the ankle, but the discovery of his books so late in my life (don't ask, honey) has certainly lifted my spirits. Another feel good book is "I Capture the Castle" by Dodie Smith (yes the 1001 dalmatians author) which came out in WW2 before you were born sweetie, but has the same way of treating adult subjects seriously and yet lightly and humourously. So glad I sprained my ankle. I think.
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on 10 May 2000
I've just finished this after reading all 6 books in sequence with no breaks in between! I became fascinated by the lives of Mouse & Co and felt as if I was in a soap opera!...
It was interesting watching characters change, develop, meet people, dump them, grow up (or not), 'find themselves' as it were - much as in real life. I'm not sure what more could be done with the characters or the plot so perhaps it was fitting that it ended where it did. Nice to see almost all the original characters back in the conclusion, in one form or another!
On the whole, a brilliant series if a little too coincidental (but we have to suspend disbelief don't we - think Shakespeare?) I preferred the earlier '70s ones personally, but times change, as do we all, and life goes on.
I'll read them again!
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on 5 June 2015
Tales of the City is the first in a series by Armstead Maupin. It’s set in the mid seventies in San Francisco and follows an intertwined group of characters, some of whom rent apartments in a building on Barbary Lane, and others who are affiliated with an advertising agency.

I enjoyed this book a lot and I think what makes it so special are the characters. The author uses his words really sparingly but you get a true sense of who all these people are. Although Mary-Anne is supposed to be the main character (I think), everyone gets equal airtime and their personalities are fleshed out well. I loved Anna Madrigal, the wise landlady, and Michael Mouse on his eternal quest for true love.

You also get a real sense of time. I wasn’t around when the book was set and I’ve never been to the west coast of America, but the whole story was very evocative of this time and place. In some respects it was quite seedy – there’s a whole lot of drugs and no-strings-attached sex – and in other ways it’s really very innocent and naïve. Most of the characters are looking for love, in one way or another, and it was set in a time before AIDS and HIV had appeared.

The book doesn’t have a definite plot as such; instead it’s presented as a series of vignettes, tiny glimpses into the characters’ lives and their interactions with each other. Each chapter is only two or three pages long and gradually they build on how one person’s actions affect other. It kind of feels like a gossip column at times – kind of fluffy and escapist – but still manages to be a good read.

Also it’s worth mentioning that this book was pretty groundbreaking for the time it was written in, featuring characters of a variety of sexualities and gender-identification in a matter-of-fact way.

One of the things I thought was, if not annoying, then certainly bizarre, was how all the characters were intertwined. They don’t start off as friends, or knowing each other at all really, but gradually they all connect through a series of chance meetings and coincidences. The coincidences seemed a bit contrived in some cases. I’ve never been to San Francisco, but I’m assuming that because it’s a city, it’s … you know … big. And that a lot of people live there. So really, what are the chances that

Another thing that I found difficult to get on with was the dialogue. Personally – and this is only my opinion - I like to read dialogue interspersed with some actions to make it seem like a real scene.

Okay, here’s what Armistead Maupin does:

“What about San Francisco?"
"What about it?"
"Did you like it?"
She shrugged. "It was O.K."
"Just O.K.?"
She laughed. "Good God!"
"You're all alike here."
"How so?" he asked.
"You demand adoration for the place. You're not happy until everybody swears undying love for every nook and cranny of every precious damn --"
"Whoa, missy."
"Well, it's true. Can't you just worship it on your own? Do I have to sign an affadavit?"
He chuckled. "We're that bad, are we?"
"You bet your ass you are.”

This happened a lot and I had no idea how much this would irritate me, but it really does! It didn’t feel like a real conversation; it was more like reading a movie script.

I’m not sure if I’ll carry on with this series. I really liked the characters and the plot was left in a good place without a cliffhanger, so I don’t feel any burning need to see what happened next. I also think that some of the innocence and naivity that I liked would, necessarily, be lost in further books because it won’t be long before HIV and AIDS and yuppies rear their heads. Maybe I’ll just leave it where it is.
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on 29 February 2004
My son has ADD and so has not been able to read a book all the way through since a teenager. I let him borrow this fantastic novel and he quite literally sat down and read it from cover to cover in a matter of hours. Not only is Tales of the City a witty, charming and altogether satisfying read but it has also kick-started my son's interest in books again. No one but Armistead Maupin can do this.
He weaves a quite delightful story, that is both touching and hilarious. The coincidences come thick and fast but never do you get a sense of them stretching credibility. He really makes you believe in the characters, you want to believe they exist and are not just fictional people. You want to find 28 Barbary Lane on a San Francisco road map and drop by for a cup of Ginseng Tea or perhaps hope to be invited to one of Mrs Madrigal's late night soirees.
Tales of the City is a modern masterpiece. It's magical, spellbinding and will take you on an adventure you will never forget. I can't rate it highly enough. Armistead, you are a genius!
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on 18 November 1998
This is the sixth and final book in the Tales from... series. The characters have grown up a little, had some dreams shattered and move on to make their own next chunck of reality. In doing so they each take some relationships with them and leave some behind. As the readers who have loved them all in their own way, you want them to stay together forever and prolong the life of the world you have lived in. Change is hard, but nothing that is living stands still, it must move on.
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on 15 July 2009
It is difficult to add anything truly significant to the previous reviews about this classic of late 20th Century US literature other than to confirm the seminal nature of the work. Sparking a series of follow-up novels, (and a television series) this is the original "grand dame" of metrosexual literature with a bewildering yet believable series of vivd and life-affirming characters positively pulsating within the quick-beating heart of a frontier-like late-70s San Francisco.
Irrespective of where you're coming from (geographically, morally, spiritually or otherwise) you are bound to pick something positive up from this fabulous feel-good book.
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