Observing Los Angeles

NY Sun vs. Los Angeles

LogoThe New York Sun has turned its critics and reporters loose to ruminate on the Los Angeles they don't know very well. Some of the pieces are interesting, even if the whole idea is based on the sketchy notion that "as awards season kicks into high gear, all eyes turn toward Los Angeles." I guess they mean the Hollywood awards? That would say a lot more about NYC than us.

The package is full of lines like "L.A. style is based on three things: celebrities, jeans, and celebrities in jeans" and "I once attended a charity event at the Playboy Mansion that raised money for parrots: the plight of parrots!" A writer who spent three summer weeks here in a Pacific Palisades house with a pool and a housekeeper marveled at her surprise that she actually liked L.A., even if she calls the Palisades "centrally located." Mario Batali, in a piece comparing the restaurants of L.A. and New York, complains that so many customers at Mozza drive there. "I'd heard about it, but who knew?"

Ok, there are a lot of insufferably naive observations in the pieces comparing us versus them on art scene, urban planing, philanthropy and even basketball culture, but also some provocative points made. It's worth spending a little time with (here's the link.) Adam Kirsch felt called to make his piece on books a response to jibes at Los Angeles literary culture:

In fact, there has never been a shortage of serious, gifted writers in Los Angeles and its surroundings. Starting with Helen Hunt Jackson, who invented the legend of Spanish California in "Ramona" (1884), the city has been home to Upton Sinclair and Carey McWilliams, Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain, Aldous Huxley and Christopher Isherwood, Ray Bradbury and John Fante, to name just a few. Natives or transplants, they helped to give L.A. a literature as distinctive as that of any city in America.

Today, even a short list of Southern California writers would include eminent older figures like Carolyn See and John Rechy, literary bestsellers like Janet Fitch and T.C. Boyle, and rising stars like Aimee Bender. No wonder David St. John, a poet who teaches at the University of Southern California, says that Los Angeles is a "terrific place to be a writer," with "a huge literary community of poets and fiction writers and playwrights."

In the last decade, however, Los Angeles has fortified this reservoir of talent with a new sense of literary community, and a growing literary infrastructure. The two go hand in hand. If New York remains the literary capital of America, it is because writers here feel that they are a central part of what the city means and does. And they can feel that way because of the publishing houses and magazines and readings and parties that make literary life visible and even, at moments, glamorous.

It's a mix of online-only stories and pieces that ran in the paper.


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