Archive for October, 2020

Review: City of Quartz

Wednesday, October 21st, 2020

City of Quartz is another history of Los Angeles from Mike Davis, one of the co-authors of Set The Night On Fire. If Quartz is anything to go by, Davis is the more methodical of those two authors. As one might expect from that, Quartz and Night share a lot of virtues.

Davis does a great and meticulous job identifying major movements in LA history and supporting those ideas with clear research. This is a significant work that frames the personalities and institutions that shape LA history and modern trends.

On reflection, I think I’m going to have to come back to it. I borrowed it from the LA public library and I am going to need to buy a copy to refer to in the future.

Strongly recommended.

Review: Slouching Toward Bethlehem

Saturday, October 17th, 2020

Slouching Toward Bethlehem seems to be required reading for LA aficionados. I’m certainly one of those, so I did get around to reading this.

Joan Didion impressed me in two ways. First she’s a remarkably good writer technically. Her prose is beautifully organized, cinematic, and expressive. Whether she is sharing personal memories of John Wayne or the ramifications of a homicide in the Inland Empire, her writing is enlightening and gripping.

It’s harder to describe how her writing exhibits a pervasive and influential view of the area. Her tone, viewpoints, and expressions have influenced so many writers and performers that I feel have captured something that runs through all of LA. It’s always beautiful and exciting to see roots of that.

Strongly Recommended.

Review: Set The Night On Fire

Saturday, October 10th, 2020

Mike Davis and Jon Wiener are clear that Set The Night On Fire is a mix of memoir and history of protest in Los Angeles. Most authors who issue such a disclaimer take it as license to play pretty loose with the history side of things, but thankfully this isn’t the case here. Night is sound research lightly spiced with personal recollections.

There’s a lot of research here. I suspect they would balk at the idea that this is a comprehensive history of LA civil rights protest, but I think that’s largely modesty. This is a remarkable trove of information, sources, and anecdotes.

They cover a lot of ground, too, digging into corners of protest movements that include Women’s Rights, Black Rights, Student Rights, Chicano and Latino Rights, Gay Rights, Japanese and Chinese Rights, and a few more. Many of these are outside the consciousness of LA emigrants – I had no idea of the extent of the High School protests or the existence of the Century City Police Riots – and seeing them laid out is impressive.

Part of the power is seeing just how widespread this agitation was. It’s widespread in terms of both the players and the techniques. I don’t mean to high tumult under “techniques,” Davis and Weiner make it clear that these were violent times. The LAPD killed activists, activists killed activists, and activists planned to assault LAPD. There were also widespread peaceful protests. Chaos may well be the rule and not the exception in this world.

Night is packed full of information and reflection, but it is a tome. This is more a reference than a page-turner. Each section is a book in itself, and it can be a lot to digest at once. The level of detail, especially on the internal strife of the groups, can also rattle the narrative some, depending on what you think the story is, of course.

Overall, a fascinating work.

Strongly recommended.