Archive for April, 2021

Review: City on the Edge of Forever

Friday, April 23rd, 2021

City on the Edge of Forever is a great book to hand to a new Angeleno who is trying to find their feet in this part of the world. Peter Lunenfeld has clearly fallen in love with SoCal and immersed himself in both the history and culture, both pop and mainstream. I probably picked it up five years too late for the peak effect, but I appreciate the work.

A lot of history, innovation, artifice, and commerce blend here. While that’s true of any place, SoCal gathers all that from several disparate cultural sources and stirs it with the roiling twin forces of land speculation and the creative media industry. There’s the natural churn and clash of people accelerated by rapid turnover of people seeking fame, land, and wealth. The result – at the moment – is a place that is constantly trying to pretend it’s new by repainting its zeitgeist. Its history is a kaleidoscope of more of the same.

It’s a strange, fast-moving place for someone from somewhere else, as so many of us are, and Lunefeld does a fine job finding threads that embroider it all with interesting patterns. He finds some interesting connections through culture, architecture, occultism, and mass media.

As I say, I had heard enough of these histories before that I wasn’t spellbound by all this, but I can see how it could serve as a great eye-opener.


Review: Wheels of Chance

Saturday, April 3rd, 2021

If there’s a “Tedcore,” this book may define it. It’s a Victorian romance by H. G. Wells set on a bicycling holiday in England. That said, it turned out not to be what I expected. It held my interest, though.

Wells is a fascinating guy who was pro-bike in an era when being pro-bike meant preferring them to horses. His affection for cycling is well enough known in bike circles to include apocryphal quotes. As a practical cyclist of the time, he does well at including interesting details in this. I’m no expert on these times on bikes, primarily being acquainted with them from Mark Twain’s work, so I learned much.

Beyond that, Wheels of Chance includes a lot about the class structures in Britain at the time. Our main protagonists are separated by sex, but more importantly by class. The barriers here are broadly familiar to anyone who’s read Romeo and Juilet or seen Valley Girl. Broadly familiar, for sure, but the specifics are pretty interesting.

Also interesting was the arc of the romance, such as it is. Modern romcom conventions are only partially present and the idea of a Hollywood ending is completely missing. It’s fun to see both what Wells has to say here and how he says it.

His characters are similarly of another time, but animated and believable. It’s easy to make out the world’s constraints and pleasures through their eyes.