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Category Archives: books

New Yorker: Trapped in Robert McKee’s Story

This year’s list of Best Picture nominees feels dispiritingly familiar. “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Avatar: The Way of Water” are two colossally budgeted sequels written to internationally crowd-pleasing Hollywood specifications. And, though the non-sequel “Everything Everywhere All at Once” has been celebrated as a burst of cinematic creativity, its strenuous visual and sociopolitical exertions do […]

New Yorker: J. M. Coetzee’s War Against Global English

It may come as a surprise to most of J. M. Coetzee’s readers that he published a new novel in August. “El Polaco,” which is set in Barcelona, is about a romantic entanglement between Witold, a concert pianist of about seventy known for his controversial interpretations of Chopin, and Beatriz, a music-loving Catalan woman in […]

Books on Cities: Mike Davis, City of Quartz

Over the years, I’ve occasionally referred to Mike Davis’ City of Quartz as a paranoid classic of Los Angeles nonfiction. Editors usually cut out the word “paranoid,” and I never fight it when they do. But to my mind that descriptor does no serious injustice to the work, which in any case remains acknowledged as […]

Los Angeles Review of Books: Ward Farnsworth’s guidebooks to English virtuosity and ancient philosophy

Fifteen years ago, The New York Times Book Review put out a call for readers’ favorite literary sentences of the past quarter-century, intending to print a pageful of the best examples. This was meant to correct the “blind spot” of the then-new edition of the Yale Book of Quotations (2006), with its seemingly inexplicable dearth […]

Books on Cities: Witold Rybczynski, City Life (1995)

The American shopping mall emerged in the nineteen-fifties, during which the United States became at once more affluent and less urban. “The postwar period saw much new suburban construction, but just as the subdivision replaced the garden suburb, the shopping village was replaced by the regional shopping center,” writes architect-critic-historian Witold Rybczynski. “Probably the first […]

Books on Cities: Joan Didion, Miami (1987)

Joan Didion is associated with no place more than southern California. Yet she also spent two major stretches of her life in New York, one from the mid-nineteen-fifties to the mid-nineteen-sixties, and another from 1988 until her death this past December. She made that second move the year after publishing Miami, an ostensible examination of […]

Los Angeles Review of Books: Robert Whiting, Tokyo Junkie

Early in his new book, Robert Whiting refers to the “Yamate Line,” and most readers who have been to Tokyo in the past half-century will suspect a misprint. Few visitors to the Japanese capital could avoid the subway train in question, which runs in a loop through such well-known districts as Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, and […]

Books on Cities: A. N. Wilson, London: A History (2004)

London is a world city. Los Angeles, where I used to live, is less a world city than, as I once saw a banner at the airport call it, a “city that’s a world in itself.” Seoul, where I now live, is not a world city, despite strenuous promotional efforts on the part of its […]

Books on Cities: Taras Grescoe, Straphanger

I moved from Los Angeles to Seoul a bit over six years ago, and it wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration to say I did so because Seoul has the better subway system. It still surprises some people to hear that Los Angeles, a city globally perceived as synonymous with American “car culture,” has a […]

Books on Cities: Donald Richie, Tokyo (1999)

Donald Richie closes his most personal book on Tokyo by quoting from his own diary. The entry dates from the summer of 1978, more than twenty years before. One of his generation’s best-known American expatriates in Japan, Richie first arrived while working for the U.S. occupation force after the Second World War. He returned to […]