We have observed in several previous posts (see, for example, our post of 20 June 2009) that if history has taught us anything, it is that some folks prefer their ideas to everyone else's ideas. This simple fact has led to the destruction of countless libraries, public and private, over the centuries.
But it also has led to the shuttering, and persecution (and often prosecution), of countless independent booksellers over the centuries as well. In our own times, few independent booksellers have stood against the pernicious and malevolent influences of groupthink (or suffered the consequences of their opposition) as well as City Lights, the infamous (and beloved) San Francisco bookseller and publisher:
Founded in 1953 by Peter D. Martin, City Lights Books was the first all paperback bookstore in the USA.
Martin had previously established a magazine named City Lights (after the Charlie Chaplin film) to publish Bay Area writers. This led to one of the magazine's writers, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, going into partnership with Martin later in 1953. In 1955, the two launched a book-publishing venture, City Lights Publishing. (Martin sold his share of the businesses to Ferlinghetti later that same year and moved to New York, where he opened New Yorker Bookstore, which specialized in cinema.)
Ferlinghetti was born in Yonkers, New York, though much of his early childhood was spent in France (he eventually would earn a Ph.D. at the Sorbonne). He served in the Navy during World War II (taking part in the Normandy assault). At the time he met Martin, Ferlinghetti was working in San Francisco as a painter, art critic and was teaching French for an adult education program.
It was City Lights publishing and promotion of the so-called Beat Poets that first, and most famously, brought this landmark bookseller into conflict with the "powers that be." When City Lights published and sold copies of Allen Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems (number four in the publisher's Pocket Poet Series), Ferlinghetti was arrested on obscenity charges, though later acquitted in a landmark court case that established a legal precedent for the publication and distribution of controversial works of "redeeming social importance:"
As other tenants moved out of its building, City Lights took over their space, eventually acquiring the entire building. It now offers three floors of both hardbacks and paperbacks, including many titles that other bookstores are unwilling to handle.
In 2001, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors took the unusual step of designating both the building and the business an historic landmark for "playing a seminal role in the literary and cultural development of San Francisco and the nation." A few years earlier (1998), Ferlinghetti--the author of more than thirty books of poetry--was named San Francisco's first Poet Laureate:
And the beat goes on....