Tom Lutz and his Los Angeles Review of Books received some major love as a game changer in the world of book reviewing in a piece published this week by the Chronicle of Higher Education. Since launching as a standalone website in 2012, Carnegie Mellon professor of English Jeffrey J. Williams writes, the review has grown to publish 1,500 articles a year and become recognized in academia for spawning an "LARB style" of reviewing. And much more. From the piece:
In addition to the main page, LARB has expanded into a small empire, with "LARB channels," affiliated sites like Marginalia and Avidly, the former focusing on religion and the latter on TV; a book club; a print quarterly; a blog; and a weekly radio talk show. It also has a deal with Salon to pick up selected LARB reviews. And LARB has built a substantial financial substructure, reaching a budget of half a million dollars a year, supporting five full-time employees, and attracting a long roster of benefactors, including Tim Disney, the entrepreneur and scion of the famous entertainment family, and Matthew Weiner, creator of Mad Men, as well as those who give five dollars a month.
LARB beckons a new model of a literary review, not tied to a newspaper or based in a university but creating its own autonomous space, like a nonprofit gallery or museum, supported by a mix of donors, grants, ads, and memberships, and drawing a diverse audience. It is the kind of idea that makes you wonder why no one had done it before.
The New York Times Book Review and The New York Review of Books (NYRB) loom over the field, not inconsequentially located in the center of American publishing. And the TLS (Times Literary Supplement) and London Review of Books, the more dashing half-sibling of NYRB, which sponsored it before it became independent, chime in from England. Yet, given that California is our most populous state and Los Angeles our second-largest city, it was surprising that there was no commensurate, large-circulation review located there. Papers like the Los Angeles Times run reputable (if shrinking) review pages, but literary institutions still tip East, a bias noted as long as a century ago in a little magazine called The Midland, first published in Iowa and later in Chicago.
Tom Lutz is the inventor and editor in chief of LARB, and it started by accident. A scholar of 19th- and early-20th-century American literature, Lutz took an unconventional academic path....
The article notes that the LARB offices have recently moved from Atwater Village into the heart of Hollywood. The author is a little bit dazzled by the whole LA thing, it sounds like.
Though born in Connecticut, Lutz seems in his habitat in LA, down to the Prius; the house in the Silver Lake neighborhood, with backyard patio and rooftop deck; the two daughters working in entertainment; the film script he has been chipping away at; the patterned short-sleeved shirt; and the friendly, open manner.
While I was there, he had a book party at his house for Seth Greenland, a television writer who had just published his fourth novel, I Regret Everything: A Love Story (Europa Editions, 2015). For me, a native New Yorker living in Pittsburgh, the party all too readily fulfilled my fantasy of Southern California: It had been 8 degrees when I left home, but it was 70 degrees and sunny in Silver Lake, as guests moved from garden to deck to open dining room. I met a number of "industry" people, among them someone who had been Billy Crystal’s manager, and John Romano, once an English professor but more recently a film producer and screenwriter for The Lincoln Lawyer and an enthusiastic supporter of LARB. I wondered if this was what every Sunday was like in LA.