Bari Weiss of The Wall Street Journal reports on newly released book titles and the world of publishing in The Book Reader.
Denizens of Brooklyn believe that they are living in the country's literary capital. But not too long ago, San Franciscans felt the same way, and with good reason.
Ben Tarnoff's excellent new book "The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature" takes us back to the 1860s, when the Bay Area had more newspapers and more professional writers than anywhere else in the country.
Back then, the city attracted all sorts of pioneers and risk-takers. Some sought gold, others an escape from the Civil War or the "overcivilized East."
Among these colorful personalities was a tight-knit group of four young writers: Charles Warren Stoddard, a gay travel writer, Ina Coolbrith, the woman of the group and a poet, and two others that have been better remembered by history: Bret Harte and, of course, Mark Twain.
Together, this band of four called themselves the Bohemians, and they helped create a booming literary scene in the West. As Mr. Tarnoff writes:
"The Bohemians would bring a fresh spirit to American writing, drawn from the new world being formed in the Far West. If the old guard of American literature was genteel, moralistic, grandiose, then the Bohemians would be ironic and irreverent. They would prefer satire to sermons, sensuality to sentimentalism. They would embrace the devilish sense of humor that flourished in the communities of the frontier. Above all, they would help break the literary monopoly of the East."
The fierce competition between Harte and Twain led to a bitter falling out, Stoddard eventually left the city, and Coolbrith is typically only remembered as the librarian that gave Jack London an adventure novel. But, as Mr. Tarnoff shows, together, the Bohemians changed the course of American literature.