For people familiar with the creative oeuvre of Henry Rollins, his statements as judge at Literary Death Match on Wednesday night were perplexing. "It's hard to judge literary merit," he said about two poems performed rousingly by Javon Johnson, declining to give them literary status because they were "basically built for performance." How odd: Premiere spoken word artist Henry Rollins deeming performance unliterary. Who would have guessed?
To back up: Literary Death Match is an antic reading series with heavy doses of competition and comedy. It's orchestrated by host and creator Todd Zuniga, a cheerleader in a lounge lizard getup, who guides four readers, a trio of judges, and the audience through an evening that might end, as last night's did, by shooting Silly String at a poster of T.C. Boyle.
The readers are paired off randomly after the event starts. Only one victor will be declared from each pair, and they'll face off in a final round that has nothing to do with books -- another finale featured a cupcake toss. The first part, however, is fairly literary.
Both readers in the first pair read from their work, and the judges evaluate them on a) literary merit, b) performance, and c) intangibles. Last night, Henry Rollins -- punk rock singer, author, DJ, and performance artist -- was the literary merit judge, actress Tig Notaro judged performance, and comedian Rob Delaney covered intangibles. It's usually a comedian who intagible-izes, riffing, and this is a good thing -- particularly to those who've been to a lot of standard dry bookstore readings. Which this is not.
A parade of Hollywood stars who are fans of writer Charles Bukowski, led by Harry Dean Stanton, will pay tribute to the author at a celebration on Saturday. The free show, at the Grand Performances outdoor stage, begins at 8 p.m.
Bukowski, who died in 1994, was a celebrated writer of L.A.'s gritty side. A longtime post office employee, Bukowski was a hard drinker who lived on the edge. He wrote a column, "Notes of a Dirty Old Man," which was published by a handful of underground newspapers in the late 1960s. In 1969, at age 49, he quit his day job to write a book for Black Sparrow Press; that novel was "Post Office."
Bukowski's work reached the mainstream after the 1987 release of the movie "Barfly," which starred Mickey Rourke as the Bukowski-like character Harry Chianski. It was set in dive bars and the seedy parts of Los Angeles.
Downtown L.A. has been cleaned up considerably since Bukowski's time, featuring cultural celebrations like Grand Performances. On Saturday, the reading series Tongue & Groove takes over the stage to present a tribute to Charles Bukowski.
Hollywood stars Harry Dean Stanton and Rebecca De Mornay headline the evening. Other readers include writer Dan Fante, whose father, John Fante, was an inspiration to, and rediscovered by, Charles Bukowski. Poets Jack Grapes, Kenneth Sonny Donato and Chiwan Choi, and writer Wendy Rainey will also read. Two writers who knew Bukowski, Joan Jobe Smith and Gerald Locklin, will also take the stage, so in addition to readings there may well be reminiscences.
Bukowski died at age 73 in 1994. His papers are now at the Huntington Library.
Left photo: Harry Dean Stanton in 2006. Credit: Robert Lachman / L.A. Times. Right photo: Charles Bukowski from the documentary film "Bukowski: Born Into This," released by Magnolia Pictures. Credit: Michael Montfort
On Saturday, Angelenos can celebrate one of the greatest novels of the 20th century -– by gathering together and raising a glass of Guinness.
June 16 is Bloomsday, so called for Leopold Bloom, the main character in James Joyce's "Ulysses." The notoriously challenging novel blasted through formal conventions and become an iconic work of modernist fiction; its 600-plus pages take place in Dublin over the course of a single day, June 16, 1904.
Although it has now become the focus of public celebrations, “Ulysses” was, at first, the stuff of hushed words and darting glances. Serialized by an American literary journal in the late teens, part of Joyce's novel -- involving masturbation -- was ruled obscene in 1921. Expatriate Sylvia Beach, owner of the famed Paris bookstore Shakespeare and Company, published the complete "Ulysses" abroad in 1922, yet it was officially banned in America. In 1933, Random House’s attempt to import copies of the controversial novel were at the center of a major court case; “Ulysses” won, helping to prise open laws regarding “obscene” content.
Of course, just because American readers had access to “Ulysses” didn’t mean it was accessible. The novel is the stuff of semester-long seminars and Ph.D. theses – making it an odd candidate for marathon public readings, city tours and evening dancing.
“The really big breakthrough was in 1982, celebrating the centenary of Joyce's birth with a large Joyce symposium in Dublin,” Dr. Vincent Cheng, co-editor of 2009’s “Joyce in Context,” writes from this year’s conference in Ireland. “Bloomsday 2004 in Dublin was the first time that it felt like a fully public celebration, with lots of locals and tourists joining the Joycean academics in celebrating the day.” People lucky enough to be in Dublin this year can download the JoyceWays iPhone app, three years in the making, a literary tour through the city circa 1904.
Joyce enthusiasm has spread across America, where Symphony Space in New York has presented “Bloomsday on Broadway” for 31 years; this year’s performance will be streamed live online. Also online will be a classic reading by Alec Baldwin, Wallace Shawn and others at Pacifica Radio; at seven hours, it’s still only a portion of the 600-plus-page text.
At the Hammer, which hosts LA’s premiere performance-and-participation Bloomsday event, actors will be reading the book’s “Aeolus” section, or, more plainly, the part of the novel set in the offices of the Freeman’s Journal newspaper. It also includes a visit to a pub.
The Hammer will be offering happy hour Guinness from 6 to 7:30 p.m., accompanied by Irish music. Joyce enthusiasts can arrive up to two hours earlier to participate in an open “Ulysses” reading. When the performance is done, there will be more music, and more Guinness.
Is all this drinking and dancing an appropriate way to celebrate a brilliant work of literature? “I think Bloomsday events absolutely do a service to Joyce's work,” Cheng says. “Not only are they a lot of fun for Joyce aficionados, but they get people who have never read Joyce (and who might otherwise never dare try such challenging reading) interested in looking at these wonderful (but very difficult) books, especially ‘Ulysses.’"
The Los Angeles branch of the literary nonprofit founded by Dave Eggers, 826LA, counts among its star supporters writer-director/producer Judd Apatow. He hosts the occasional live event to raise funds for the organization, called the Judd and Jon Comedy Music Hour(s). The Jon is musician Jon Brion, who leads the music part of the show.
On Tuesday, 826LA announced two guests who will be on the bill: Pee-wee Herman and Ray Romano. It's hard to imagine the comic minds of laconic Romano and antic Pee-wee meeting, but that may be the point. It had already promised to be entertaining, with Apatow, Brion and Peter Frampton (yes, that Peter Frampton) confirmed. Expect more surprise guests (one previous event included Lindsey Buckingham, Randy Newman, Garry Shandling, Ryan Adams, Aziz Ansari and Maria Bamford).
The event is scheduled for June 14 on the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. However, rubbing shoulders with Apatow and friends isn't cheap: Regular tickets are $250, and VIP tickets, which include a reception, are $500. But it is for charity -- a literary one.
Benjamin Busch has an interesting resume. He’s an actor -- he played Anthony Colicchio on the HBO series “The Wire,” appearing in the final three seasons of the show -- and also a photographer, former Marine Corps officer and writer.
The son of novelist Frederick Busch, he was raised in upstate New York and went to Vassar College. An item in the New Yorker recently noted that his parents had protested the Vietnam War and Benjamin confounded them by joining the Marines after graduating. He served two tours of duty in Iraq with the 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion and, while there, took photographs of his combat experience. He has shown those photographs in three exhibitions. In his memoir, “Dust to Dust,” he considers his life so far -- he's in town this week at Vroman’s and Skylight Books.
Also this week: Pico Iyer, one of our favorite writers and thinkers, is in conversation with Lisa Napoli in a Live Talks Los Angeles program at the Fowler Musuem at UCLA on Thursday. Erik Larson, author of “Devil in the White City” and, most recently, “In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin” in conversation with David Kipen at Writer’s Bloc on Tuesday. And, if dogs are your thing, W. Bruce Cameron discusses his latest foray into the canine world also on Tuesday at Book Soup.
There are plenty of great, no-cost, low-cost, higher-cost events available, so get out and enjoy. As always, we suggest you check the appropriate venue to confirm information and notice on late cancellations.
Monday, May 14, 7 p.m. Benjamin Busch reads and signs “Dust to Dust: a Memoir.” Vroman’s
Monday, May 14, 7 p.m. David Talbot discusses and signs “Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror and Deliverance in the City of Love.” Book Soup
Tuesday, May 15, 7:30 p.m. Benjamin Busch reads and signs “Dust to Dust: a Memoir” Skylight Books
Tuesday, May 15, 7:30 p.m. Erik Larson, author of “Devil in the White City” and “In the Garden of Beasts” in conversation with David Kipen in a Writer’s Bloc event at Temple Emanuel, 300 N. Clark Drive, Beverly Hills. Tickets: $20
Tuesday, May 15, 7 p.m. Christelyn D. Karazin and Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn discuss “Swirling: How to Date, Mate, and Relate Mixing Race, Culture and Creed" Eso Won Bookstore
Tuesday, May 15, 7 p.m. W. Bruce Cameron discusses and signs “A Dog’s Journey” Book Soup
Tuesday, May 15, 8 p.m. Gregg Allman talks about his memoir “My Cross to Bear” with Alan Light as part of Live Talks Los Angeles program at Aero Theatre in Santa Monica. Tickets: $25
Here’s a trick question (at least for non-Spanish speakers): What’s North America’s most book-loving city? New York? Los Angeles? Toronto?
A good case could be made for awarding the bibliophiles’ prize to Guadalajara, a metropolis that many U.S. tourists associate only with mariachis and tequila.
The beautiful baroque-colonial city, Mexico’s second-largest, annually hosts what is reputed to be the largest book fair in the northern half of the Western Hemisphere. Formally known as La Feria Internacional del Libro de Guadalajara, or FIL, the yearly convocation draws tens of thousands of visitors as well as hundreds of the world’s preeminent Spanish-language authors, from Barcelona to Buenos Aires.
This weekend, Angelenos will be flocking to the 2nd annual edition of LéaLA, Feria del Libro en Español de Los Ángeles, a kind of scaled-down version of Guadalajara’s massive book festival, at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Backed by the University of Guadalajara, and free and open to public, LéaLA aims to promote Spanish-language and Spanish-translated literature through book publishers’ sales-displays and readings and talks by distinguished authors.
Simultaneously, the festival is intended to bolster a growing cultural connection between Southern California’s enormous Mexican American/Latino population and Guadalajara, capital of Jalisco, the ancestral home of more L.A. Latinos than any other Mexican state.
Finally, LéaLA attempts to help make amends for a bizarre L.A. cultural phenomenon: the city’s near-absence of Spanish-language bookstores. Apart from public libraries, university bookstores (which stock course-related titles) and a handful of small shops like Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore in Sylmar and the Libros Schmibros bookstore/lending library in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles -- with the United States’ largest Spanish-speaking population -- has virtually no place to find and buy Spanish-language books.
In only its second year, LéaLA already has become one of the largest Spanish-language book-related events in the United States. Last year it drew 36,000 people to its inaugural edition. This year, with 200 individual exhibition stalls, up from 84 last year, and four times as much total floor space, festival organizers expect an even larger turnout.
Among the boldface names at this year’s festival, which runs through Sunday, are the best-selling Mexican-Spanish writer and novelist Paco Ignacio Taibo II, crime writer James Ellroy, the Nicaraguan poet Ernesto Cardenal and Mexican political analyst and intellectual Enrique Krauze.
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
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.
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.