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Writing Los Angeles: A Literary Anthology written by David L. Ulin


Writing Los Angeles: A Literary Anthology written by David L. Ulin


Los Angeles has always been a place of paradisal promise and apocalyptic undercurrents. Simone de Beauvoir saw a kaleidoscopic "hall of mirrors," Aldous Huxley a "city of dreadful joy." Jack Kerouac found a "huge desert encampment," David Thomson imagined "Marilyn Monroe, fifty miles long, lying on her side, half-buried on a ridge of crumbling rock."

In Writing Los Angeles, The Library of America presents a glittering panorama in fiction, poetry, essays, journalism, and diaries by more than seventy writers. It brings to life the entrancing surfaces and unsettling contradictions of The City of Angels, from Raymond Chandler's evocation of murderous moods fed by the Santa Ana winds to John Gregory Dunne's affectionate tribute to "the deceptive perspectives of the pale subtropical light." Here are fascinating strata of Los Angeles history, from the 1920s oil boom to 1980s graffiti art, from flamboyant evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson to surf music genius Brian Wilson, from German emigré intellectuals to hard-bitten homicide cops. Here are fragile ecosystems, architectural splendors, and social chasms, in the words of writers as various as M.F.K. Fisher, William Faulkner, Bertolt Brecht, Evelyn Waugh, Octavio Paz, Joan Didion, Norman Mailer, Walter Mosley, Mona Simpson, and Charles Mingus. Art Pepper discovers the Central Avenue of the 1940s jazz scene; screenwriter Robert Towne reflects on Chinatown's origin; David Hockney teaches himself to drive; Pico Iyer finds at LAX "as clear an image as exists today of the world we are about to enter."

Writing Los Angeles is an incomparable literary tour guide to a city of shifting identities and endless surprises.


Having previously compiled an anthology of contemporary poetry and prose about the southern California megalopolis, Ulin here gathers of it in several genres, in whole or excerpted, from a range of periods and mostly by writers who did not live there. Annotation c. Book News, Inc.,Portland, OR

The New Yorker

Before the first postcards arrived back East showing sunlit cactuses and mesas, railroad-company photographers and government surveyors had already begun to document the American West for commercial gain. In Print The Legend, Martha A. Sandweiss writes that as early as the eighteen-sixties daguerreotypes, album plates, and glass lantern slides encouraged railroad barons and real-estate developers to plot their next moves. Desolate flatlands were paired with optimistic text, depicting "a visual story that affirmed and expanded the central fictions of nineteenth-century western history."

The rodeo circuit provides another framework for Western legend; barrel-racing cowgirls spent their time away from the arena "polishing white boots and powdering white hats," according to Rodeo Queens and The American Dream. Author Joan Burbick interviews female rodeo stars, starting with the foremothers of the nineteen-thirties. "Buckle bunnies," as they were called, "were on a strict work schedule. Western heritage was serious business."

Farther west lay California, and particularly Southern California, with its stark contrasts of reality and fakery, history and amnesia. "Accept no man's statement that he knows this Country of Lost Borders well," Mary Austin warned in 1909, but more than seventy contributors take a shot in Writing Los Angeles. One of them, Helen Hunt Jackson, described L.A. in 1883 as a city of "century-long summers" -- an earlier version of Truman Capote's assessment: "Snow is on the mountains, yet flowers color the land, a summer sun juxtaposes December's winter sea." In other words, wish you were here.

(Lauren Porcaro)

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