I could go on like this for some time.
He prints plenty of contumely — mostly snobbish disapproval from Eastern visitors — about his hometown. But his book deepens and expands and flyspecks our view of Los Angeles. Kipen, a journalist, writing teacher and Los Angeles native, organizes his excerpts chronologically; that is, the book moves from January through December. This is an ebullient and often moving way to organize history.
Major events wars, public ceremonies, assassinations, elections blend with private joys and griefs, and with offbeat assertions, wild boasts, intimate details and moments of unforced lyricism. This volume touches on the days when Los Angeles was part of the Old West. There are gold mines and roving banditti; mules are branded, and dung is hauled to smoke out grasshoppers.
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Native Americans and Mexicans are placated and then overrun, forced out or slaughtered. Kipen pays close attention to racial animus in Los Angeles over time. Du Bois and Langston Hughes visit the city and find it less than congenial to black people.
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There is anti-Semitic commentary from Ayn Rand and E. Literary writers began to come west, to the studios, to cash in and sell out. Theodore Dreiser reports staging an orgy. Simone de Beauvoir drinks a zombie. Theodor Adorno buys yellow flowered pajamas. Ross Macdonald tells Eudora Welty that he swims with seals. Henry Miller, harassed by teenagers, goes looking for his machete. Clive James swallows a habanero while talking with Joan Didion.
Bertolt Brecht strolls the beach. What do you want people to take away from this book, and from your work in general?
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I hope to broaden the conversation around sexuality and make it relatable. Even though we look at the past through the lens of distance and think that because people are wearing different clothes or have different technology, their experiences are different, it's all the same, right? Our experience of love and sex and death are the same in any time period.
You were partly responsible for reviving the culture's interest in burlesque, and you've just written about several real-life madams. Why do you think history has all but forgotten the women you write about? Because their work involved sex? I feel like there's something interesting to learn from anyone's story, no matter their place in society. I think we've gotten really far away from that—we're in such a celebrity-obsessed culture.
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Is there any sense in which your work is personal? One hundred percent. I was working out the ending of my marriage, my divorce, my father's death, my exploration of my own sexuality. For sure.
The Library Book by Susan Orlean – review
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