medicine for nightmares

Is there a better balm for insomnia than a good book? Screens give you chills. The pages soothe you. Yet the Mission’s newest bookstore, Medicine for Nightmares, tells of far greater calamities than insomnia.

“The store is named after the nightmare we live in,” said co-owner Tân Khánh Cao, “which is largely controlled by a white power structure.”

Co-owner Josiah Luis Alderete picks up where his business partner leaves off, explaining that in books one can find a powerful antidote to our societal malaise. “As a Chicano, literature was a cure for nightmares,” he explained. “That’s what you can find here.”

The explanation beautifully embodies how the co-owners work in tandem, a graceful pair that hugs, finishes thoughts, and balances each other. They like to joke that they’re a couple, but only to the extent that they’ve given birth to this big, demanding bookstore baby that takes up all of their time.

The shop opened last November, after its former owner…longtime San Francisco bookseller Kate Razo— decided to sell Alley Cat Books. Alderete and Cao took over with JK Fowler, founder of the Oakland-based Nomadic Presswho has since left the bookstore to return to his other projects.

The duo, who previously worked at City Lights Booksellers & Publishers, are tackling a lack of diversity in their industry by providing the community with books that represent the people who live here, not as a separate niche or section, but as general literature and medicine. .

“It’s tiring, all the excuses that have been used,” Cao said, “watching a bunch of people talking about doing the job and not doing anything to change it.”

Cao and Alderete have created a vital and already beloved space for the community. The kids come to hang out and read, and the store is hosting 22 events this month alone. There is music, poetry readings and a gallery with exhibits that change almost monthly.

“It feels so good to be the neighborhood bookstore,” Cao said.

Alderete believes that North Beach – due to City Lights and its association with the Beats – has been misidentified as San Francisco’s literary district.

“The Mission is the literary heart of the city,” he said, pointing to former San Francisco Poet Laureate Alejandro Murguía (2012-2015); actress, writer and performer Marga Gomez; the Flor Y Canto Literary Festival, as well as other nearby cultural institutions such as Raza Gallery and Brava Theater.

When a student from San Francisco State University comes to take a class on community organizing at the rear, Alderete does not hesitate to welcome her.

“Es su casita,” he says.

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