With the launch of our first Funny Library Coffee Shop at Virgin Hotel San Francisco, we’ve got summer reading on the brain. This cozy communal workspace will soon be a fixture at every Virgin Hotels, stocked with shelves of funny and inspiring books. We’ve also partnered with actor Hugh Jackman’s Laughing Man coffee, purveyors of Fair Trade Certified beans supporting coffee farming communities.
To celebrate the opening of our San Francisco location, we’ve curated a summer reading list inspired by current and future Virgin Hotels cities—from the latest Indie Next List pick to enduring classics. So whether you’re at the beach, a city park or sipping Laughing Man coffee at the Funny Library, these books will transport you.
San Francisco has a long lineage of writers and radicals, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s iconic City Lights Books, founded in 1953, is its bedrock. It’s a must-visit on any cultural tour of San Francisco and a great place to snag books for the summer. Start with Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems (1956), one of City Light’s first in the Pocket Poets Series that they publish. Ginsberg was a seminal voice of the Beat generation and this epic poem was initially seized by both US customs and the San Francisco police on the grounds of obscenity. Today, more than a million copies are in print and it’s considered one of the most iconic poems of the post-World War II era.
We couldn’t pick just one San Francisco book for our Summer Reading List, so we decided to highlight two contemporary Bay Area writers, essayist and activist, Rebecca Solnit, and memoirist and novelist, Dave Eggers. Solnit is the prolific author who coined the term “mansplaining” in her humorous, yet scathing book Men Explain Things To Me (2014). She’s also the author of Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas (2010), a multi-media reinvention of a traditional atlas that examines many layers of San Francisco’s culture through its geography and history.
Eggers broke onto the literary scene with his 2000 memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. He’s also the founder of 826 Valencia, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting under-resourced students with their writing skills. His latest work The Monk of Mokha (2018, Knopf) tells the true story of a young Yemini American man raised in San Francisco whose dream of resurrecting the ancient Yemini coffee tradition propels him on a journey through his ancestral home.
Chicago has its own storied literary history with many authors and poets who either lived in the city or wrote about it, including Ernest Hemingway, Gwendolyn Brooks, Carl Sandburg and Saul Bellow. For our Summer Reading List, we’re highlighting Chicana author Sandra Cisneros and her classic coming-of-age novella The House on Mango Street (1984, Arte Público Press), which tells the tale of a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago through a series of artful vignettes. The award-winning book is groundbreaking for its depiction of the Latin American experience in the US and beloved by both readers and critics.
Texas has long been the setting for stories of cowboys and oil tycoons and Giant (1952) by Edna Ferber is a classic of epic proportions. Centering on the multi-generational family drama of wealthy rancher Bick Benedict, the novel captures the essence of Texas through its story of love, power and oil and cattle barons set in the first half of the twentieth century. It was made into a 1956 film starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean.
Bestselling author Anne Patchett became a bookseller in 2011 when she opened Parnassus Books in Nashville, ushering in a new wave of indie bookstores across the country. Essayist Mary Laura Philpott played a critical role in its success as founding editor of Parnassus’ digital magazine Musing. Her debut essay collection I Miss You When I Blink (2019) was named #1 on the Indie Next List and has earned praise for her candid personal essays about the joys and pitfalls of being a modern woman today.
For Vegas, we’ve selected Hunter S. Thompson’s classic Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas (1971). The autobiographical novel is considered one of the cornerstones of gonzo journalism inspired by Thompson’s own experiences as he tells the tale of journalist Raoul Duke and his attorney Dr. Gonzo as they descend into a surreal, drug-fueled haze during a long weekend in Las Vegas. You might remember the 1998 movie starring Johnnie Depp, but the novel is worth a read for its own wild ride.
Much of New Orleans lore deals with its spooky, voodoo side and Anne Rice is perhaps the most famous modern day chronicler of these dark fairytales. A longtime former resident of New Orleans, she set her Vampire Chronicles and Mayfair Witches series in the Crescent City. For fans of Interview with the Vampire (1976), there are 12 other books in the series including the most recent Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis (2016). We think it’s the perfect read beneath a shade tree in Jackson Square.
Writer: Shayne Benowitz