An L.A. POV on World Book Day 2020
I’ve always loved the idea of World Book Day and no, not just because it provides a great costume opportunity for kids. No I love it because it’s a celebration of authors, books, illustrations and most importantly of reading.
Reading - what a joy! What other activity can take you on a magical, imaginative tour to anywhere, any time and with anyone. Reading has engaged me, comforted me, relaxed me, enraged me, consumed me. Reading is transformative - so anything that celebrates this ultimate super power (World Book Day 2020) is definitely something that I can get on board with….
So how to combine a love of books and reading with a love of Los Angeles in a single blog post? Frankly I’m not sure that’s possible - there are so many ways to approach the topic: we could focus on great books about LA, authors from or based in LA, novels set in LA, the list is endless. So given my innate inability to make a decision, I’ve conversely decided not to make one and offer instead a short mix of novels, books and writers - with LA as their common denominator…..
Kevin Starr, David L. Ulin, Jim Heimann.
So let's start with the ultimate coffee table glossy from upmarket publisher TASCHEN - Los Angeles. Portrait of a City - a gorgeous pictorial history of the city with over 500 freshly discovered images from photographers including Julius Shulman, Garry Winograd and William Claxton. From the city’s development from desert wasteland through the heady days of Hollywood’s golden era to today's urban sprawl, the images are given context by essays from renowned Claifornian historian Kevin Starr and LA literary expert David L. Ulin.
Brett Easton Ellis
This was the novel that introduced me to Brett Easton Ellis and LA - and what an introduction! TBH I'm not sure I’ve ever quite got beyond the notion of LA as a morally ambiguous place of seedy bars & bored rich kids. Set in the early 1980s and narrated by 18 year old Clay, a student returning to LA for Christmas the novel takes the reader on a dizzying journey into the seamy cocaine fuelled world of LA after dark, instantly becoming a cult classic on publication and setting Easton Ellis up as the voice of his generation.
In 1906, Charles Lummis, LA’s then city librarian began asking eminent Americans to contribute to the new library in a totally unique way. He mailed them blank stationery and famously asked them each to “improve the enclosed page” in whatever way they saw fit. He got some pretty amazing replies. In 2018, city librarian John F. Szabo decided to revisit the idea and invited all Angelenos “to add their names and drawings, poems or memories” to the archive, with the combination becoming “The Autograph Book Of LA” a wonderfully democrat expression of what it means to be an Angeleno, full of art, essays, music, literature and ultimately what the very definition of an autograph might be.
The hugely popular instagram account @overheardLA has just published its first print collection - a seriously funny compilation of the wickedly funny, sometimes obscure, always hysterical daily musings from Angelenos overheard throughout the city - from the juice bar to the gym. Not the wordiest of reads, but definitely the funniest….
I’m slightly envious of anyone who has still to discover Didion - what a joy to experience for the first time her wit and perception, her clear and precise way with words underlined with that so modern of concepts, anxiety. Cali born but universal in her thought processes, Didion has been the cool girls writer of choice since the 70s. There are so many books to have chosen here "Play It As It Lays" is a seminal LA novel - but for me, the ultimate Didion work has to be her extraordinary memoir “The Year of Magical thinking” written after the death in 2005 of her husband. This memoir has been both a guide and a revelation to me - simple and heartbreaking, but ultimately life affirming.
Imagine collecting stories, letters, diary entries & anecdotes from the 1500s through to our globally connected social world, all referencing or musing on LA and collating them in one glorious anarchic compendium and you have the extraordinary premise of David Kipen’s collection “Dear Los Angeles”. With contributions from luminaries like Marilyn Monroe, Albert Einstein, PG Woodhouse, Ronald Regan and Joan Rivers the collection expresses in totally unique way what “LA” means or has meant to its inhabitants across the centuries - a totally unique way to experience the city
Banned when it was first published in 1965, Kenneth Anger’s notorious trawl through the sordid and sleazy underbelly of Hollywood’s golden era has to be one of my all time favourite exposes of the film industry. From scandal to scandal former child actor and professional sleaze monger Anger is unrelenting in his pursuit of the sordid "truth". Re-released in 1975, not a word has been changed so you can experience each story in all its poorly written glory - perhaps not the best example if literature this world book day but a super guilty pleasure all the same...