Literary San Francisco

Grace sent this link to me today: “Literary San Francisco” and it churned a memory:

On the BART I once sat next to an elderly man who worked at Bolerium Books in San Francisco’s Mission District. I know this because he was answering letters to prison inmates who were requesting books and the letters all had “Bolerium Books” stamped upon them. I nearly missed my stop because the letters were: funny, sad, hilarious, surprising, awkward.

A clip, if my memory serves me right:

“Hey Dave! (and I assumed the man’s name was Dave, even though according to the article, the owner of Bolerium is named John Durham.)

Thanks for those books you sent me last time – they were so great. I can’t believe we bombed Hiroshima just like that and it was so devistating. I am sort of talking to this girl now though and she is really into astrology so can you send me some books on astrology and what ever else you think would be a good read. Time goes by pretty slowly here, you know that Dave, so anything interesting would be greatly apreciated. Thanks, Man you are the best!


There were a dozen more, each written in a boyish hand and varying in neatness – mostly though, the letters seemed to be carefully written. I imagine there is little to do in prison but to write carefully, letters to elderly men in bookshops. I wanted to ask him if I could just read them – (and of course understand the logistics of how a convict could suddenly be “talking to a girl”) but of course letters are very private.

He was a wiry gentleman, with a salt and pepper beard and wearing faded green fleece vest with an even more faded plaid shirt underneath. He sat with a simple canvas bag in his lap and with wrinkled fingers with lead smudges on the tips, thumbed through the letters. He licked his finger before turning the page, boldly, I thought, considering where the letters were from and in the quiet, steady way he read and took notes, his expression static, he seemed to me from another era. He jotted notes at the end of each letter, marking what types of books (ranging from history to religion to health) each inmate wanted and then put the letters back into their envelopes, which I saw were from at least four different prisons up and down California.

Anyway, after that I always meant to visit Bolerium, but never got around to it. But they do some good work. I think it’s great that convicts want to read.


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