The news of the LA Times’ budget reduction for freelance book critics has been going around for a few days now. Some how I don’t see how they are going to keep the same amount of content for the times, with less writers. Less is more works better in home decoration than book coverage. But considering how reduced the coverage has been over the last 6 or 7 years this may not really be a problem, because the damage had already been done. I remember when I fist started to branch out from the NY Times and look for other sources the LA Times had a quality stand alone book section. They would also produce an yearly summary of the best similar to the NY Times. But then the Times became a case study for mismanagement, bad business decisions, and a victim of the Internet, and the stand alone section was done away with and the reviews as far as I could tell shrank in frequency and length.
It is probably a waste of time to bemoan what is done, but beyond the utter stupidity of those who run the Times and have proven that few CEO’s deserve to be worshiped at the altar of capitalism, something the title CEO is meant to confer. Nor do I want to spend much time prematurely aging myself talking hell in a hand basket, every era has plenty of hell and enough hand baskets to go around. It is just too bad that the on going problems have to destroy the fine record of literary culture the Times had. I wonder if this portends anything for the LA Times book festival. While blogs and all help create a literary culture, you can’t beat the size of a large metropolitan newspaper, even when they have lost subscribers, to expand access to book culture. It is also nice to have a west coast voice in books that would counter balance the NY Times, but sadly I think those days are over.
I haven’t read an Isabel Allende book in ages, but I noticed she had a new one coming out and as one of the most famous Latin American authors in the States, I thought it would be worthwhile to take a look at the reviews. For old time sakes, at least. What is obvious is that if you live by magical realism, you die by it. Every reviewer I came across was asking for some of the good stuff, that old magic that made House of Spirits famous. It is a little lazy to demand a writer keep writing in the same style. Again books from Latin American authors must fit some sort of mold and here it must be the exotic locals, war and love. At least the Times review mentioned Alejo Carpentier.
I wasn’t much impressed by the reviews. From the NY Times:
The resulting canvas contains no less than the revolutionary history of the world’s first black republic as Allende portrays the island’s various factions: republicans versus monarchists, blacks versus mulattoes, abolitionists versus planters, slaves versus masters. She revels in period detail: ostrich-feathered hats, high-waisted gowns, meals featuring suckling pigs with cherries. Her cast is equally vibrant: a quadroon courtesan and the French officer who marries her; Valmorain’s second wife, a controlling Louisiana Creole; Zarité’s rebel lover, who joins Toussaint L’Ouverture in the hills. But for all its entertaining sweep, the story lacks complex characterization and originality. And its style is traditional. Where, you wonder, are the headless men — or, in Allende’s case, headless women? Where is the magical realism?
Ultimately, however, Allende has traded innovative language and technique for a fundamentally straightforward historical pageant. There is plenty of melodrama and coincidence in “Island Beneath the Sea,” but not much magic.
The review from the LA Times was a plot summary. At least you will know what happens in the book.
With this admirable novel, Allende cements her reputation as a writer of wide scope and amazing talent. Although very traditional in its unfolding — readers enamored by her use of magical realism will find little in this narrative — this historical novel does what one hopes a book of its ilk will do: transport readers to a new world, open up history and make it come alive, and cause readers to forget time passing in the world the author has so carefully and lovingly built.
The LA Times gives a warm review to Joe Sacco’s newest book, Footnotes in Gaza. It is a slight shift from his usual approach in that he is reporting on a historical event. At the same time, though, he brings the issues forward to the endless conflict in Palestine. As always, though, he seems to bring a sense of the conflicted history to the story.
Nowhere is this as clear as when Sacco reproduces a eulogy for a kibbutznik killed by Palestinian infiltrators, delivered in 1956 by Moshe Dayan. “Let us not today cast blame on the murderers,” Dayan notes. “What can we say against their terrible hatred of us? For eight years now they have sat in the refugee camps of Gaza, and have watched how, before their very eyes, we have turned their lands and villages, where they and their forefathers previously dwelled, into our home.” It’s a stunningly empathetic statement — perhaps the most empathetic statement in the book — and it stands as an epitaph, not just for the dead of Rafah or Khan Younis, but also for everyone caught up in the endless turmoil of the Gaza Strip. Fittingly, it is Khaled who offers the Palestinian counterpoint. “It’s not a matter of victory,” he says in the closing pages. “It’s a matter of resisting till the end.” His posture, slumped, resigned, his face marked with sadness, tells us all we need to know about the toll.
The Daily Mirror, the LA Times blog about LA and LA Times history, has been running a great series on Raymond Chandler on the 50th anniversary of his death. There are some great bits they have found.
- A lost kinesocope of the Long Good-Bye with Dick Powell. I’d love to see that one.
- An interview with Chandler and James M Cain where the reporter says Chandler doesn’t drink. I doubt that one.
- An article on the stars who played Marlowe.
- Review of Farewell My Lovely in the Times.
- Review of the Big Sleep.
- A 1987 look at the geography in his stories. Only really good if you know LA, which I do.
Speaking of the darker sides of life, the LA Time’s Daily Mirror blog had this short and sad piece. It reminds me of the Hemingway’s 6 word short story: For sale, baby shoes. Never used.