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Category Archives: books

Books on Cities: Tim Cocks, Lagos: Supernatural City (2022)

About a year after its publication, Tim Cocks’ Lagos: Supernatural City received a positive review in the Los Angeles Review of Books with the unfortunate headline “When a White Man Writes a Good Book About Africa.” I call it unfortunate not because of its untruth — for indeed, Tim Cocks, a white man, has written […]

Books on Cities: Ray Oldenburg, The Great Good Place (1989)

In a 1991 episode of Seinfeld, Elaine frets over the potential consequences of breaking up with an older boyfriend who’s just had a stroke. “I’ll be ostracized from the community,” she says to Jerry. “What community? There’s a community?” he asks in response. “All these years I’m living in a community; I had no idea.” […]

Books on Cities: David Maraniss, Once in a Great City (2015)

The twenty-tens brought forth a spate of books about Detroit, each of which takes a different angle on that troubled city: the straightforward history of Scott Martelle’s Detroit: A Biography, the bleak reportorial machismo of Charlie LeDuff’s Detroit: An American Autopsy, returned Detroiter Marc Binelli’s Detroit City Is the Place to Be: The Afterlife of […]

Books on Cities: Georges Perec, Lieux

Georges Perec was born in Paris and died in Paris (or at least a suburb just across the Périph), which didn’t necessarily qualify him to write about the city. Natives of a place tend to suffer from a degree of what-do-they-know-of-England ignorance of context, or even, to get more metaphorical and more clichéd, the fish’s […]

Books on Cities: Kate Ascher, The Works (2005)

Last year, the scientist and energy economist Vaclav Smil published a book called How the World Really Works, just a few months before I got it into my head that I should be reading a lot more about technology in general and infrastructure in particular. “For most of its inhabitants, the modern world is full […]

New Yorker: Murakami in the Movies

For enthusiasts of Haruki Murakami, last month brought two major events in two different countries. One is the publication, in Japan, of his latest novel, “Machi to Sono Futashika na Kabe” (“The City and Its Uncertain Walls”). The other is the release, in the United States, of “Saules Aveugles, Femme Endormie” (“Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman”), […]

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 […]