Media I Consumed May 15th, 2018

I decided to walk along the LA river to Downtown or Mission Junction at least and I took a shortcut through this fence that wasn’t there anymore and underneath the 5 (I think it was the 5 (they say ‘the’ before the name of the highway out here)) there were these like, catacombs which had been predictably painted in bright garish horrifying murals which I sort of expected but what I didn’t expect was that there would be this there


And I’m pretty sure it’s a doomsday device but if you know for sure let me know in the comments.

Happy birthday to me. Last week I read and watched the following.


Limbo By Bernard Wolfe – A madcap post-apocalyptic cybernetic thriller, an early depiction of the perils of nuclear apocalypse, an exploration of the dualities of humankind, the only problem with this text is that is absolute awful dogshit. This is an (admittedly early) example of that brand of science fiction in which the world and the characters serve exclusively to advocate for or against various philosophical/political points, and while Wolfe has an appreciably broad range of knowledge the text is unreadably pedantic and incredibly repetitive, and at bottom I simply did not feel he had much to impart, let alone anything  requiring 500 pages.


Difficult Women: A Memoir of Three by David Plante – A rather waspish depiction of three (semi?) major literary figures. Reading between the lines one gets the sense that, basically Plante was a handsome parvenu who managed to implant himself in the affections of older, highly regarded female writers, then turned around and wrote fairly scathing portrayals of them. I mean that’s kind of shitty and if I was, say, Jean Rhys’s friend I might smack the shit out of him if I saw him in a cocktail party but as a reader my main complaint about Plante is that the experiences he recounts are mostly dull and not expressed with any particularly burning cleverness. God spare us all from sycophants and false lovers.


Doting by Henry Green – Adulterous misbehavior among upper middle-class Londoners in the 1950’s. The dialogue is sharp, and funny, and since it’s almost all dialogue that was how I felt generally about the book, even if the predictable see-saw of the relationships pushed the thing a little too far into straight farce for my taste. Green is really, really talented, and I’m going to keep reading him because I have the sense that neither this nor Loving, which I read last month or whenever, is his best book. Somewhere in the catalog there has to be something a bit more ambitious, I aim to find it.


Really the Blues by Mezz Mezzrow – The story of a Chicago Jew who became enamored with that old New Orleans style jazz and the African American culture which created it, and ended up playing a fascinating role (assuming you believe this autobiography, which my googling seemed to more or less confirm) in spreading and popularizing jazz music throughout America and the world, when he wasn’t dodging the Purple Gang in Detroit during prohibition, selling marijuana to Louis Armstrong, or being an opium addict. True or false, this book was a heaping shitload of fun, with pages of entertaining anecdotes about jazz greats and an absolutely fabulous overview of century-old slang. Good on NYRB for re-issuing it.


Arabia Felix: The Danish Expedition of 1761-1767 by Thorkild Hansen – The story of a catastrophic mid-18th century Danish scientific expedition to what is now Yemen, and a thoroughly enjoyable piece of light history. Hansen does an excellent job of reconstructing the feel and culture of the age, both within northern Europe and further east, as well as the personalities of the characters themselves; a callow, pedantic, potentially murderous philologist, a brash but brilliant botanist, so on and so forth. Hansen is a really first-rate writer of narrative non-fiction; the story moves along briskly, the prose is sharp and funny, his perspective measured. Lots and lots of fun.


Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, The Flesh, and L.A. Eve Babitz – Any writer will tell you the most annoying thing about being a writer is telling people you’re a writer (also, editors.) Most people, being on the whole both 1) literate and 2) self-absorbed, secretly/not that secretly believe that their lives would make for fascinating reading, confident that their autobiography contains within it the seeds of a fascinating, indeed, of a necessary narrative. That they themselves generally do not read is a helpful aid to this delusion, allowing them to conceive of writing as an activity akin to prophecy, rather than a skill that needs to be developed. They are certain that their story is an important one, requiring only the inspiration to get going (ahhhh, the marvels attributed to this divine state!) and bam! The full power of their personal story will loose out their fingertips and onto virgin paper and in no time flat flood the world.

This is why I usually tell people I freelance, which is vague and cold enough to generally forestall further questions, particularly since no one is really that interested in the specifics of anyone else’s life.

Anyway, I was thinking about this while I was reading this latest Babitz, because it’s got that dilettante quality common to a lot of the people I’ve been meeting lately, actresses and producers and vague Hollywood hangarounds—except that with Babitz this half-idiot quality is a sham, both because she’s actually led a fabulously interesting life, playing muse to (so far as one gathers) all of the good musicians in Southern California in the late 60’s and early 70’s, but also because she’s a really cutting, funny writer. This loose collection of short stories about bad parties and good friends and cocaine, lots of cocaine, is a bitter breeze, the kind of thing you can laugh through over a couple of cocktails at one of LA’s many plastic tiki bars, tacky so long they’ve grown charming.


The Vet's Daughter Barbara Comyns – It’s just unbelievably peculiar that Comyns is not better known—her books are elegant little nightmares, bone-bleak explorations of the plight of working class women, simultaneously defying the patriarchy and genre convention. This story of Alice, whose life is strangled by the brutality of her caregivers and the fundamental injustice of the world surrounding her—like last week’s the Juniper Tree it’s better not to go into any particular detail about the narrative. Unflinchingly dark, but honestly so, candidly so. Really clever stuff, strongly recommended to fan of Shirley Jackson/anyone who likes good books.


Breathless – I’m not going to waste your time talking about how great Breathless is, except to say 1) I’m sorry I didn’t see it sooner 2) it turns out that the most effective short hand for my romantic type is Jean Seberg as Patricia, that is to say, enormously destructive red heads.