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Notebook on Cities and Culture S4E57: The Magnet with Russell Smith

Russell Smith 15BWIn Toronto’s Bloordale, Colin Marshall talks with Russell Smith, author of such novels as How Insensitive, NoiseMuriella Pent, and Girl Crazy, as well as style and culture columns in The Globe and Mail, the book Men’s Style: The Thinking Man’s Guide to Dress, and the e-book Blindsided: How Twenty Years of Writing About Booze, Drugs and Sex Ended in the Blink of an Eye. They discuss whether characteristically Torontonian style choices exist apart from women with business clothes and incongruous running shoes on the way home from work; what got him writing about his cases of retinal detachment; how and why, years before that, he became the novelist who defined young urban Toronto in the 1990s; the internationalist element of Toronto that still remains “electrifying”; whether anyone still longs for the crack-dealing days of gentrifying neighborhoods like Bloordale; the effect of a Starbucks location on house prices (and his own presence as an indicator of coming price hikes); how he got from the academic track, writing on “feminist approaches to symbolist poetry,” to the nightlife track; his brief time as a “terrible restaurant critic”; his readers’ eagerness to hear him correct common men’s style blunders; how much the Toronto of 2014 resembles the one he first came to from his native Halifax; the rise of private, members-only clubs in the city and the importation of “wealthy urban anywhere”; Toronto as Canada’s magnet, challenged only by Montreal at first and only by Vancouver now; his view of thus “spectacularly ugly” city and his years in the presumably more attractive Paris; why he thinks hipsters inspire such ire; fiction’s near-entirely female readership, and the problems that poses for the “ardent heterosexualist”; the unwritten Toronto books he’d like to read; and what stories don’t get told because of the “prim politics” instilled in university-educated writers.

Download the interview here as an MP3 or on iTunes.

(photo: Mark Raynes Roberts)

Notebook on Cities and Culture S4E56: All In with Dylan Reid

Near Toronto’s Danforth, Colin Marshall talks to Dylan Reid, senior editor at Spacing magazine, former co-chair of the Toronto Pedestrian Committee, and co-founder of Walk Toronto. They discuss whether the term “pedestrianism” has become as unappealing as the term “classical music”; the nature of the Danforth and its Greek roots; spatial ways to think about one’s walks; the quintessentially Torontonian things he’s noticed only while walking; the controversial practice of “façadism” and what it offers the city; the slow process by which Toronto offers up its joys, none of which seem apparent across the rest of Canada; what someone eager to grasp Toronto will find when they open Spacing; how to photoblog in a “not obviously beautiful” city; how he got to know Toronto by taking group walks by night, seeing such sights as a still-active slaughterhouse; how the city represents, in some form or another, every current of the modern conversation about developed-world urbanism; how Spacing got its start in the argument around an anti-postering bylaw; walking as the fabric that connects all modes of transportation; what Toronto’s lately ever-more-robust downtown population has meant of walking; what makes him ask “Why is this here?” and who he asks for the answer; the fifty objects that symbolize Toronto; the city’s relative lack of empty spaces and “dead zones”; what walk to take that can help you most quickly understand Toronto; and why one might visit Toronto Island.

Download the interview here as an MP3 or on iTunes.

Notebook on Cities and Culture S4E55: The Rules of the Game with Jaime Woo

jamiewooAbove Toronto’s Glad Day Bookshop, Colin Marshall talks to Jaime Woo, writer, game designer, co-founder of the Toronto video game festival Gamercamp (the next edition of which happens this month), and author of Meet Grindr: How One App Changed the Way We Connect. They discuss taking the measure of a city by firing up Grindr and examining its men; things people have figured out how to use the app for other than hooking up and sending “a slew of dick pics”; how such apps have illustrated the decreased yet increase importance of living in particular places; the changing signifiers of queer culture, offline and on; how he views the must-touted “multiculturalism” of Toronto; what his 13-year-old self growing up in the suburbs would have thought about Grindr; the app’s stark limitations as advantages that counteract our impulse to too-narrowly define our desires; how to learn about Toronto by observing the couples in its advertisements; the ever-present “distance” in the city, which guards against trends that miss but also prevent the ones that make homeruns; Grindr as a video game, his history with gaming, and what let him to co-found Gamercamp; his mission to bring the novelty and “whimsy” back to gaming, included but not limited to his creation of a new physical game based on the idea of social distance”; how a set of rules forms a system, how that system makes an experience, and when we call that experience a game; and the strategies one can follow to better understand the “rules” of a system like Toronto.

Download the interview here as an MP3 or on iTunes.

Los Angeles Review of Books Podcast: Jonathan Lethem

I have an in-depth talk with author Jonathan Lethem, author of novels like Gun, with Occasional MusicMotherless Brooklyn, and The Fortress of Solitude, along with non-fiction collections, monographs on works such as John Carpenter’s film They Live, and several short story collections. Lethem’s latest project is the forthcoming short story collection, Lucky Alan and Other Stories.

 

 

You can stream the conversation just above, listen to it on the LARB’s site, or download it on iTunes.

Los Angeles, the City in Cinema: The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (John Cassavetes, 1978)

The 1970s grotesque of John Cassavetes Los Angeles gangster action movie takes place not in the margins of the city, but in a city made up of nothing but margins: mediocre eateries, empty gas stations, parking garages, and the strip club owned by its businessman-turned-hitman protagonist. Tasked with finding and killing the titular “Chinese bookie” in this vast, taste-orthogonal void, he must set and stick for dear life to his own set of standards, no matter how garish or delusional they appear.

You can find more of The City in Cinema on its Vimeo channel.

Los Angeles Review of Books Podcast: Sean Wilsey

I talk with Sean Wilsey, author of the memoir Oh the Glory of It All, and co-editor of the collections The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the World Cup and State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America. In his new volume of essays, More Curious, Wilsey investigates the artistic and social realms of Marfa, Texas, compulsively buys precision-engineered German appliances on Craigslist, investigates the causes of NASA’s diminishing relevance to the national consciousness, and returns to his days as a Thrasher-reading San Francisco skater.

You can listen to the conversation on the LARB’s site, or download it on iTunes.

Notebook on Cities and Culture S4E54: The Freedom to Be Foolish with Mark Frauenfelder

FrauenfelderColin Marshall sits down in Studio City with Mark Frauenfelder, founder of the popular zine-turned-blog Boing Boing, founding co-editor of Make magazine, and author of Maker Dad: Lunch Box Guitars, Antigravity Jars, and 22 Other Incredibly Cool Father-Daughter DIY Projects. They discuss whether he still thinks about Los Angeles dingbat apartments, and the extent to which their owners have customized them today; all barriers falling for the modern maker except for the one asking who’s interested; how his daughters’ fascination with card tricks preceded their interest in making things; what kind of project kids can complete under their own steam; Los Angeles as a place for makers, the current state of its maker spaces, and the making heritage offered by its historical hot-rod culture as described in Tom Wolfe’s The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby; his history with this city, which goes back to 1987, albeit one interrupted by periods in Japan, on a South Pacific island, and elsewhere; the semi-agricultural life- and making style Los Angeles affords him; how growing your own food allows you to think more clearly about food, and making your own media allows you to think more clearly about media; how his grasp of media improved as he engaged in every stage of the D.I.Y. publishing revolution; learning through mistakes, as opposed to school’s pressure not to make mistakes in the first place; the debilitating world of the “smart kid”; the “freedom to be foolish” offered in Los Angeles; the dueling temptations of broadminded generalism and singleminded obsession; his role in the cyberpunk culture of the 80s and 90s, and to what extent we live in the utopian and/or dystopian future it envisioned today; his hope for an increasingly tech-focused San Francisco to continue exporting progressive ideas; the rise of meta-making, and the promise of large-scale decentralized making of solving some of “the world’s problems”; how he deals with the firehose of amazing stuff to feature on Boing Boing and in Make; and what his daughters have taught him about making while he’s taught them about making.

Download the interview here as an MP3 or on iTunes.

Los Angeles Review of Books Podcast: Edan Lepucki

I talk with Edan Lepucki, staff writer at The Millions, founder of Writing Workshops Los Angeles, and author of California, a mid-21st century domestic relationship novel set somewhere outside Los Angeles after the whole country suffers a long, gradual apocalypse.

You can listen to the conversation on the LARB’s site, or download it on iTunes.

Notebook on Cities and Culture S4E53: A Certain Inertia with James Steele

jamessteeleColin Marshall sits down at the University of Southern California with School of Architecture professor James Steele, author of many books on architecture and architects, including, just over twenty years ago, Los Angeles Architecture: The Contemporary Condition. They discuss the how the city’s conflict with “autopia” has gone since then; the obsolescence of not just the freeways, but the city itself; whether Los Angeles has gone from too architecturally crazy to not architecturally crazy enough; the evidence for downtown’s non-revival, and what a fatal inertia and incrementalism may have to do with it; the Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything (BANANA) mentality as expressed not just in Los Angeles but the whole of America; how creative individuals can somehow add up to an uncreative city; what the Case Study houses meant to Los Angeles architectural history, and why they failed; whether the “L.A. School” of architects like Frank Gehry, Thom Mayne, and Eric Owen Moss every really cohered into a movement; how current Los Angeles architecture doesn’t express the zeitgeist, possibly because the city no longer has one; what he would change in a new edition of Los Angeles Architecture (and how much more grim his assessment would become); the emergence of a dense, connected city within a less dense, less connected one; the most fascinating architectural ideas to come out of USC; what he sees in his students’ attitudes toward Los Angeles’ built environment; the “excitement combined with confusion” he feels on his increasingly frequent trips to Asia; popular fantasies of changing Los Angeles, like halving distances or vastly increasing its transit; and how we nonetheless feel curious about what lies ahead in the city’s future.

Download the interview here as an MP3 or on iTunes.

Los Angeles, the City in Cinema: “Strange Days” (Kathryn Bigelow, 1995)


Strange Days counts as a Los Angeles movie, a hard-boiled detective movie, a cyberpunk movie, and a “social issues” movie, all of which came out in the shadow of the city’s 1992 riots. In an ideal setting for the subgenre’s mixture of “high tech and low life,” gentleman-loser protagonist Lenny Nero deals in pure neural data against a familiar backdrop of a urban decay, economic woe, hate-filled policemen, unexplained fires, anxiety-driven millennial partying, and the Bonaventure Hotel.

The City in Cinema comes live to Portland, Oregon’s Hollywood Theatre in January 2015. Stay tuned for details.