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This Sunday: James M. Cain minus the noir

December 31, 2011 |  9:00 am

James-m-cainAs we look forward to 2012 with all its hope, promise and presidential politics, it seemed a good idea to also look back to a simpler time in Southern California. Or at least that’s the goal in reprinting James M. Cain’s extensive essay “Paradise”: We've included an excerpt in our Sunday print edition of Calendar’s Arts & Books section and the full text of the piece is available online.

For those who think of Cain as a writer of three great noir novels set in California -- “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” “Double Indemnity” and “Mildred Pierce” -- his life as a journalist should be something of a revelation. In the 1920s and early '30s, he wrote articles for H.L. Mencken’s The American Mercury and was an editorial writer for Walter Lippman at the New York World. For a brief time, he was managing editor of the New Yorker working for the legendary Harold Ross. The job didn’t fit, however, and after nine months he left for Paramount Studios to be a screenwriter, even though eventually he wound up, again, as a freelancer writing numerous articles for magazines and newspapers.

Cain's essay “Paradise” was the cover story of The American Mercury’s March 1933 issue. Book critic David L. Ulin also offers an introduction to our coverage of “Paradise.” I hope you’ll give “Paradise” a look: Many of his observations of Southern California seem spot on today, while others may surprise you.

Also this week Ulin reviews Tom Zoellner’s effort to make sense of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting in “A Safeway in Arizona: What the Gabrielle Giffords Shooting Tells Us About the Grand Canyon State and Life in America.” Ulin and Carolyn Kellogg offer some Faces to Watch in the book world next year, and Kellogg also weighs in with a review of “Karaoke Culture,” a compelling collection of essays by Dubravka Ugresic. In her Not Just For Kids column, Susan Carpenter looks at the YA title “Cinder,” an inventive retelling of the Cinderella story. And we have our weekly bestsellers list.

Happy new year to all and thanks for reading.

 --Jon Thurber, book editor

 Photo: James M. Cain in 1946.  Credit: Associated Press