Meanwhile in San Francisco: The City in Its Own Words by Wendy MacNaughton. Chronicle Books, 2014. 9781452113890.
Gene: This is Meanwhile in San Francisco: A City in Its Own Words.
Sarah: Oh, the cover’s cool.
G: I’ve had this book for years — I love it. (There’s one like it on New York as well that’s called Hello New York.) This is by Wendy MacNaughton. She wandered around San Francisco, drawing the city. It reminded me of a book of drawings we both liked, Tokyo on Foot. MacNaughton records people’s own words, sometimes by overhearing them, sometimes by talking to them. It’s very fun. There’s a giant fold-out map inside the dust jacket…
S: …that show San Francisco at the center of the solar system.
G: Floating around it are Oakland, New York, LA and the Sun. That’s how San Francisco sees the universe. Isn’t that brilliant?
G: Here’s the table of contents, done as a map, with arrows pointing to different areas of the city (with corresponding page numbers).
Here are some pages about the MUNI. They don’t seem to be watercolors, they look more like marker drawings?
S: The MUNI driver says, “We get paid about $30/hr. $1 to drive, $29 to deal with people.” That’s like a thing I used to have hanging over my desk.
G: The librarian version of that?
S: It was the TV writer version: “I would do this job for free, they pay me not to punch executives in the neck.”
G: (laughs) This is Chinatown. There’s a lot of people playing games there, like mah jongg. I love the picture of all the cigarette butts on the ground.
G: There’s one blue cigarette butt, from the weirdo smoking blue cigarettes. I can almost smell it. This is the farmers market. Look at the drawings of mushrooms.
S: Oh, those are gorgeous!
G: There’s… more than a texture — the shadows, the shapes, the absolute weirdness of mushrooms.
S: They used to do a feature like that in the back of Cook’s Illustrated, a painting of some beautiful food-related thing.
G: A lot of people have started doing comics about food, but it’s very hard to make something that I want to read. Lucy Knisley’s Relish and Katie Shell’s Picture Cook are the best, and it’s hard to surpass those.
These are pictures of the bison of Golden Gate Park.
S: Oh, wow!
G: Which I didn’t know existed.
S: They all have names!
G: This is my favorite: dog walkers are like cowboys. That guy is using his jeans pocket like a holster for his spray bottle. MacNaughton just gets people’s faces. Then this is the part of the book that’s just for us: the main branch of the downtown library.
S: I haven’t been there, but I gained huge respect for them when they did a study on the homeless people in the library to determine if they could do something to help, and then actually changed their policies. They actually did something!
G: This a great drawing of a book cart, a great depictions of books. Here’s the lineup of people outside before they open. (I lined up there once with them!) This is a bit about the patrons’ routines in the library.
S: (laughs) Computer, computer, computer.
G: Look at the differences in the amount of stuff they have with them. The guy who has everything he owns with him, the guy who doesn’t. There’s a map of the library, by floor, indicating which areas are the rowdiest and the noisiest.
S: In the bathroom, she’s labelled the soap dispenser as soap/shampoo/detergent.
G: And the sink as sink/shower/laundromat. Perfect.