L.A. stories: ‘Boom Times for the End of the World,’ by Scott Timberg

by Marius Sosnowski

Value is everything. You can tell a lot about a society by what it values. In America, things that move tenaciously with the bravura of a cha-ching—like buildings, prescription pills, and personal data—are big business, practically a national pastime. But what about the arts? The arts are trickier. Art is messy, it’s too human, and by virtue of provoking thought and reflection, too ambiguous (although the market for fine art makes capital use of ambiguity). How do you judge art? What’s it worth? What does it mean? Where’s it from? Who cares? Scott Timberg, former arts reporter for the Los […]

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‘Novelist as Vocation’ by Haruki Murakami: Persistence as Key

by Danielle Shi

Novelist as a Vocation (224 pages; Knopf; translated by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen) is Japanese literary icon Haruki Murakami’s comprehensive look at his expansive and prolific career, a collection of thoughts on the process, substance, and form of novel writing, as well as the habits that make for a successful novelist. The autobiographical essays chart his path as an author over thirty-five years, spanning from his first novel, Hear the Wind Sing, to more layered and formally complex works such as Killing Commendatore. As a whole, the pieces provide a glimpse into the mind and career of a man […]

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‘Cinema Speculation’ by Quentin Tarantino: Talking Trash

by Paul Wilner

Cinema Speculation (400 pages; Harper), billed as Quentin Tarantino’s “first work of nonfiction,” could easily fall into the category of a quickie volume sold on the basis of the Pulp Fiction auteur’s brand value. So it’s a welcome surprise that this book is entertaining, smart, and vivid. Tarantino hasn’t been making the talk-show circuit as much as the pre-streaming old days (for a while, he was a fixture with the now-discredited Charlie Rose), but he brings the same feisty, movie-mad energy to his prose as he did to his early breakthrough films.             Even his book’s title seems like a […]

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‘Translating Myself and Others’ by Jhumpa Lahiri: A Tradition of the Ages

by Amanda Janks

Human traditions subsist on translation. There is no art or philosophy that translators have not helped facilitate across the ages. While translators may often operate discreetly and without thanks, their work remains vital. Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Jhumpa Lahiri depicts the soul of translation in her new essay collection, Translating Myself and Others (208 pages; Princeton University Press), a dizzying reflection on her personal relationship to language.  She notes early on the fragmentation of her identity—culturally Indian, born in London, raised in America, writing in English—and the ways this has steered her as a writer. An accomplished author in English, Lahiri […]

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Q&A with Editor Natalie Eve Garrett: “The Lonely Stories” & Making Peace with a Solitary Life

by Sophia Carr

Has there ever been a more appropriate time for a chronicle of writers’ individual experiences with the state of being alone than now, in the midst of an isolating and prolonged global pandemic? The Lonely Stories (240 pages; Catupult), edited by Natalie Eve Garrett, gathers essays from a diverse set of acclaimed authors—including Jhumpa Lahiri, Anthony Doerr, Lena Dunham, Maggie Shipstead, and Lev Grossman—and examines everything from struggles with personal demons such as addiction, failed marriages, and the loneliness of being an immigrant facing racial discrimination to  the sense of liberation and creative stimulation that a solitary existence can provide—particularly […]

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Signed with an XO: Q&A with ‘XO’ Author Sara Rauch

by Christine Sneed

Most readers (all?) live for the books that compel them to ignore worldly distractions in order to reach the final page with as little delay as possible. I had that experience recently when I read Sara Rauch’s new memoir, XO (172 pages; Autofocus Books), which chronicles the author’s inexorable trajectory from a monogamous relationship with a female partner to a dizzying, disorienting affair with a heterosexual man whom she met as a student at her West Coast MFA program. He was an established, much-published writer. He was also married and one of the program’s faculty. Years ago, I read a […]

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‘Czesław Miłosz: A California Life’ by Cynthia L. Haven: The West Coast’s Mythic Allure

by Peter Schlachte

Czesław Miłosz: A California Life (256 pages; Heyday) is as much as portrait of a place as it is of a person. Cynthia L. Haven’s biography of the 1980 Nobel winner and towering voice in 20th century literature explores Miłosz’s work not distilled through the lens of his upbringing in Lithuania nor his formative years in Poland, but through his later life, residing on Grizzly Peak in Berkeley and teaching Slavic languages and literatures at UC Berkeley. From the opening pages, Haven writes beautifully of California’s history and landscape. Here she is describing California’s famously balmy weather: “At first, the […]

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The Fixers

by Troy Jollimore

Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1996 film, Fargo, begins with the following statement: “This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.”

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‘Always Crashing in the Same Car: On Art, Crisis, and Los Angeles, California’ by Matthew Specktor: Blood Sports

by Paul Wilner

As the Beat poet Lew Welch pithily put it, “More people know you than you know. Fame.” Welch was someone who knew whereof he spoke. He disappeared from his friend Gary Snyder’s house into a nearby mountain range in May 1971, leaving behind a cryptic farewell note that read, in part: “I had great visions but could never bring them together with reality. I used it all up. It’s gone.’’ Matthew Specktor explores the pulls—and perils—of chasing success in Always Crashing in the Same Car: On Art, Crisis, and Los Angeles, California (300 pages; Tin House), an eloquent account of […]

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‘To Write as If Already Dead’ by Kate Zambreno: The Body of the Author

by Alana Frances Baer

Roland Barthes’ 1967 essay “The Death of the Author” saw a challenge, two years later, with Michel Foucault’s lecture “What Is an Author?” Kate Zambreno abbreviates the distinction between these two works: “Barthes wants to kill the author, Foucault wants the author to take on the appearance of a dead man.” Zambreno’s two-part book, To Write as If Already Dead (158 pages; Columbia University Press), meditates on its title throughout, circumscribing death in its consideration of the author as a living and breathing body, flesh behind words. Zambreno is the author of the novel Drifts and a 2021 Guggenheim Fellow […]

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‘Crying in H Mart’ by Michelle Zauner: If Belief Were Real

by Ray Levy Uyeda

The chorus of “In Heaven,” the first track on Michelle Zauner’s first album as Japanese Breakfast, goes: Oh do you believe in heaven? / Like you believed in me / Oh it could be such heaven / If you believed it was real. The “you” and the “me” could be anyone, the “heaven” could be any utopia. But as revealed in Zauner’s memoir, Crying in H Mart (239 pages; Knopf), these lyrics were drafted in the aftermath of her mother’s death from pancreatic cancer and formed at a time when she was reckoning with her identity while caring for her […]

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‘Somebody’s Daughter’ by Ashley C. Ford: Together Amidst the Flames

by Oriana Christ

From a young age, author Ashley C. Ford was taught that family is all you have and all you need, and for this reason you should love them and hold onto them, no matter what. In her memoir, Somebody’s Daughter (210 pages; Flatiron Books), Ford grapples with this maxim as she grows up with a single mother prone to violent fits of rage, and an absent father who has been incarcerated for as long as she can remember. Her childhood, which makes up about half of the book, is spent believing that she is fundamentally bad inside, while fearing her […]

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