On Tuesday, select readers were invited to bring a book by author Thomas Pynchon to a garage on the east side of Los Angeles and, in return, get a free cup of micro-roasted coffee. The garage was marked only by a mailbox adorned with an obscure symbol -- obscure, that is, to those not familiar with Pynchon's novel "The Crying of Lot 49."
A secret location marked only by a mysterious symbol -- the reclusive, conspiracy-narrative-inclined Pynchon should be proud. The concept, and cappuccino, came from Trystero Coffee, a micro-roaster named for the muted post-horn symbol in "The Crying of Lot 49." The coffee is delicious -- it can be found, no symbols necessary, at Demitasse Cafe in downtown Los Angeles.
This post has been corrected. See the note below for details.
The New York Times obituary of Joe Brainard, who died of AIDS-related pneumonia in 1994 at 52, is rather spare in for a person who has had such a lasting influence. It runs to seven paragraphs and describes him as “an artist, writer, set designer and frequent collaborator with the New York School poets.” In describing his work, the obituary says he "brought wit, a light touch and an intimate scale to collage, painting, watercolor and assemblage, once exhibiting 2,500 tiny pieces in a single exhibition.”
In describing Brainard's writing, the obit also says he “worked in a declarative prose-poem mode” and that his best-known work is the memoir “I Remember,” which — and this is not in the New York Times — author Paul Auster has described as “one of the few totally original books I have ever read.”
Original it is. Generally one or two sentences per paragraph, and here is a taste of what he had to say:
I remember when polio was the worst thing in the world.
I remember my first erection. I thought I had some terrible disease or something.
I remember the only time I ever saw my mother cry. I was eating apricot pie.
Definitely not your standard memoir.
Auster's words are part of his introduction to “The Collected Writings of Joe Brainard,” which was released in late March by the Library of America. On Wednesday night at Skylight Books, an all-star group including Bernard Cooper, Lisa Pearson and Michael Silverblatt, will be reading from this collection of Brainard’s works.
Looking for something more celebrity-oriented? Ryan O’Neal discusses his tumultuous relationship with Farrah Fawcett on Monday night at Barnes & Noble at the Grove and Sissy Spacek discusses her memoir at the same venue on Thursday.
As always, we recommend you call the venues to check for cancellations or shifting start times. Great book events are plentiful this week. Enjoy.
Monday, 7 p.m. Ron Rash discusses and signs his latest novel “The Cove.” Vroman’s
Poet Laureate Philip Levine is doing a live reading and conversation today in a webcast originating from the Library of Congress in Washington. Schools and libraries nationwide have been set up to watch and participate -- and anyone on the Web can listen in. The webcast begins at noon Pacific time.
After reading and discussing three of his poems, Levine will participate in an extended question-and-answer session, which will be included in the webcast.
Levine was announced as U.S. poet laureate in August 2011; his tenure began in October. Now based in Fresno, Levine was born in Detroit. His first jobs were working the line in the auto industry in factories for Cadillac and Chevrolet. His poetry has often focused on the issues faced by the working class.
Levine, who has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for his poetry, was a longtime professor -- so he'll probably enjoy fielding students' questions.
Tonight, James Ellroy, the self-proclaimed "demon dog of American crime fiction," will turn his attention to writer Helen Knode. The occasion? The publication of her new novel, "Wildcat Play." The twist? The two were once married. To each other.
Knode and Ellroy have been splitsville for a while, but are apparently on speaking terms. He'll be asking her questions about the book, a mystery among oil rigs in the San Joaquin Valley, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Knode was a longtime writer at the L.A. Weekly, where she did stints as a movie critic and columnist; she now lives in Austin, Texas. Ellroy is known for, among others, his books "L.A. Confidential" and "My Dark Places"; recently, he penned the screenplay for "Rampart," the film about dirty cops starring Woody Harrelson.
The two will talk books and, maybe, crime and murder, at Skylight Books in an evening the bookstore is dubbing "apocalypse noir." Admission is free; things get started at 7:30 p.m.
Readers walking into the Tehran Book Fair will not find "Memories of My Melancholy Whores"; the Gabriel Garcia Marquez book has long been banned. Yet if they can find a street stall, called nayab foreshi (Farsi for "forbidden items"), that book, and others, will be for sale.
The 10-day Tehran Book Fair, which attracts an average of 550,000 visitors per day, calls itself "the most important publishing event in Asia and the Middle East." It features publishers from the Islamic world, which are, like those in the West, struggling. Their troubles include the trafficking in pirated, banned books, reports our blog World Now.
[O]n Revolution Avenue, street vendors sell Farsi translations of “The Right to Heresy,” a dense text about religious reformation that became popular with reformists after defeated presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi suggested it. The book, once sold for less than $2, has nearly tripled in price after being banned.
Those prices have made sellers willing to take the risk of hawking banned books instead of approved titles. Several booksellers told The Times they had been locked up for anywhere from six months to two years, yet went on selling once they were freed.
“I can show you hundred titles of the books Xeroxed or on CDs sold in massive numbers right here in the sidewalks opposite Tehran University,” lamented Majid Taleghini, a publisher in Tehran. “We publishers are bankrupt and book smugglers are making a fortune. So what is the use of censorship?”
Frustrated writers say getting books past the government gantlet can take years, making it hard to eke out a living, even as the black market flourishes. Books must be submitted to the Cultural and Islamic Guidance Ministry, which picks out any offensive words, phrases or even whole paragraphs and insists on changes before texts can be printed.
The 25th annual Tehran Book Fair, which takes place at the Grand Mosque Mosalla, began today and continues through May 12.
Musso & Frank, the famous steakhouse that served up cocktails to William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald and other writers at loose ends in Hollywood, hosted its second literary salon Monday night. The guest speaker was John Buntin, author of "L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America's Most Seductive City"; he was there to illuminate the true-life models for the fiction of iconic detective novelist Raymond Chandler.
That was the end of the evening. First, there was dinner -- a three-course one, with a limited menu that, yes, included steak -- and before that, cocktails.
Musso's bartenders and waitstaff came in to work on their day off -- the restaurant is usually closed Mondays, and was open only to salon attendees. Ruben Rueda, above, has been at the restaurant for 45 years -- since Feb. 4, 1967, to be exact. Like the martinis, the gibson above came with an overflow carafe. I'd like to think that's how Chandler used to take his drinks -- with more drinks on the side.
Author events this week in the Los Angeles area are especially rich, offering something for nearly every taste (YA, crime thrillers, science, myth, lifestyle, Hollywood and more). Though the top headliners must surely be Julie Andrews, Rodney King and James Ellroy (teaming up with Helen Knode), let's shine the spotlight on something else -- an event featuring Matty Simmons.
Don't know the name? Simmons was co-producer, with Ivan Reitman, of that charming, gentle tale of youthful mischief on a fictional college campus, the 1978 movie "Animal House." That movie produced many nuggets of wisdom, including the one that gives Simmons the title of his memoir: "Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son."
"Fat, Drunk and Stupid" contains plenty of behind-the-scenes details, like this one about the origins of the scene in which a folk singer (played by Stephen Bishop) has his guitar smashed by John Belushi:
Bishop was another who came to the movie as an 'FOL,' or Friend of Landis. He would eventually write the theme song for the movie. The song that Bishop sings as Bluto walks down the stairs, "I Gave My Love a Cherry," is more than 600 years old. We picked it because we had no money left to pay additional music royalties, and being that old, the song is in the public domain. It also was the perfect song to elicit Bluto's reaction, the smashing of the guitar that was a complete surprise to Bishop, who admitted later that it freaked him out.
Maybe Simmons will share more stories like this one at his event this week.
As a reminder, make sure to check with stores (especially Vroman's for the Andrews and Ellroy/Knode events) on event locations and any changes to venue or time.
4/30 7 p.m. Rodney King signs “The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption” at Esowon Bookstore.
4/30 7:30 p.m. Madeline Miller reads and signs her novel “Song of Achilles” at Skylight Books.
5/3 7 p.m. Helen Knode discusses and signs “Wildcat Play,” joined by mystery great James Ellroy,who will also discuss "The Hilliker Curse" at Vroman’s Bookstore. Important: Check with store about event location.
5/3 7 p.m. Julie Andrews signs “The Very Fairy Princess: Here Comes the Flower Girl!” at Vroman’s Bookstore. Important: Check with store about event location.
5/3 7 p.m. Allison Samuels signs “What Would Michelle Do? A Modern-day Guide to Living with Substance and Style” at Esowon Bookstore.
5/3 7 p.m. Matty Simmons discusses and signs “Fat, Drunk, and Stupid: The Inside Story Behind the Making of Animal House” at Book Soup.
5/3 7:30 p.m. Seth Greenland reads and signs his novel “The Angry Buddhist” at Skylight Books.
If someone approaches you with a book today, take it. That's because it's World Book Night -- which, to be accurate, takes place all day long. It's a massive international book giveaway that this year is making its U.S. debut.
The idea behind World Book Night is that devoted readers are great proselytizers. Each is asked to distribute 20 copies of a book they like or love, for free, to strangers or acquaintances who are unlikely readers. With the power of the giver's enthusiastic endorsement and the free book in hand, the recipient is, hopefully, converted into a book-reading and -buying junkie who craves more.
Really, is a book junkie such a terrible thing?
In Britain, the scheme has worked. World Book Night sparked a boost in book sales in 2011. That's probably why publishers have signed on to participate in this year's first American giveaway -- and bookstores have too. Some local participating bookstores include Mysterious Galaxy in Redondo Beach, Diesel in Brentwood, and Los Feliz's Skylight Books. The best places to find the free books might be in the neighborhoods where readers who shop there spend their free time.
There are 30 titles being given away for free today, in various genres, for various age groups, award-winners and bestsellers, in fiction and nonfiction. One book, "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao," is being distributed in English and Spanish. The complete book list is after the jump.
One aspect of Los Angeles hasn't changed in the 20 years since the 1992 riots: Traffic tie-ups. Rodney King, whose March 1991 beating by L.A. police officers was the first link in the chain of events that culminated in the 1992 riots, was a half-hour late Saturday for his interview with Times columnist Patt Morrison.
So, in a sense, the session ran in reverse. With Morrison, who also anchors a radio show on KPCC, as the moderator, Angelenos spent a half-hour talking about their own experiences during and after the riots as they awaited King's arrival. The general consensus: The LAPD has changed for the better, but the socio-economic conditions that set the stage for the riots have worsened. And the racial divides are still chasms.
"I'm surprised at how white we are here," said one white woman, looking around at the crowd of more than 500 people in a basement auditorium at USC's Ronald Tutor Campus Center, about four miles north of where the riots began near South Central's Normandie and Florence Avenues. The woman said she lived in South Central, in a neighborhood in which she is the rare white resident. "The riots can certainly start again, until we have socio-economic changes, and in how we view other people."
King, for his part, arrived out of breath, and spoke of forgiveness for the officers involved in his videotaped beating after a high-speed chase. With his history of substance abuse, he said, he has been in need of some forgiveness. "I am a forgiving man," he said. "That's how I was raised, to be in a forgiving state of mind. I have been forgiven many times. I am only human. Who am I not to forgive someone?"
Work by David Foster Wallace that has not been published will appear in the paperback edition of "The Pale King" -- and part of it is online now, at The Millions.
The novel was published in 2011, about two and a half years after Wallace's death. The paperback edition is coming in mid-April -- around tax time, in keeping with the book's storyline. Four previously unpublished scenes will appear in the paperback edition; it's one of those scenes that is online now.
The scenes in question did not align with the content of the book, but provide additional context that publisher Little, Brown thought would make for illuminating reading.
Next week, the Ransom Center in Austin, Texas, will hold a David Foster Wallace symposium. The Ransom Center holds Wallace's archive, and will host Wallace's agent, Bonnie Nadell; Michael Pietsch, his editor at Little, Brown; and other writers talking about his life and work.