Enjoying the Sunday Paper

There’s a lot to enjoy in today’s LA Times Book Review. For one thing, there’s Seth Greenland’s amusing essay on why everybody in Starbucks is writing novels instead of scripts these days (and it’s not because of the strike).

Remember when your real estate agent was working on a screenplay? Or
that one your cousin the accountant was writing? Or the script your
dental hygienist was laboring on, which she pitched to you in its
entirety while your mouth was wrapped in a dental dam so you couldn’t
politely beg her to shut up?

That’s so true. I was immediately reminded of my partner Bill Rabkin’s wedding. Just before the ceremony, his Rabbi pitched us a detective show about three private eyes — one blind, one deaf and one who couldn’t speak. I once got a pitch while getting a flexible sigmoidoscopy (don’t ask).  Seth goes on to say:

Those days have mercifully ended. Now, aspiring writers in
Southern California are abandoning their Final Draft software and
thronging to the novel writing classes at UCLA Extension. What’s going
on here? Are there larger cultural doings afoot?

I know that’s true, too. My brother Tod has had more than a few screenwriters and showrunners in his novel-writing class lately. Seth attributes the change to Hollywood’s growing reliable on blockbuster, high-concept films .

Dialogue and character? Forget it! What people really wanted was
spectacle. The thinking writer’s Hollywood was disappearing. The
aesthetic shift ushered in by Spielberg’s mechanical shark was
completed two years later with the release of "Star Wars." This,
essentially, is the movie business today. And yet, this is also why a new generation of novelists is being born

I also enjoyed reading Mark Lamster’s wickedly critical review of John Silber’s "Architecture of the Absurd," a book I bought two weeks ago in the museum shop at the Pompidou Center in Paris and read on the plane home.  I’m not plugged into the architecture scene, but reading the book, I got a sense there was more to Silber’s critique than met the eye. Turns out I was right:

That Silber sees the architect as inordinately powerful is not
surprising. His father, the book’s dedicatee, had an architectural
practice in Texas, for which Silber fils
occasionally worked. Ever since, it seems, he has engaged in a kind of
Oedipal drama, brazenly attacking the profession’s authority figures.
He recalls an incident at a dinner in 1952 when, "much to the
consternation" of his father, he attempted a battle of wits with Frank
Lloyd Wright: "Wright was not impressed and quickly dismissed my
impertinence." Years later, we find Silber, now a professor at Yale,
pestering Louis I. Kahn for not putting Plexiglas switch plates in the
university’s art gallery. "There was no response." Go figure.

Predictably, Silber is the hero of his story, a one-man bulwark against
architectural folly. At Boston University, he claims to have overseen
more than 13 million square feet of construction. Nearly all of it
lacks intellectual ambition, and no wonder. Under his regime,
architects were kept in line: "I dismissed their elaborate, high-flown
aesthetic justifications of design features as gratuitous bloviation."
He would know about bloviation. In a book devoted to architectural
indulgence, Silber sets a standard for arrogance far exceeding that of
his subjects.

The pictures in the book are still worth the cover price.  All in all, the book review section today was surprisingly enjoyable and accessible…something you could never say about the LATBR under Steve Wasserman’s watch. That said, I’d still like to see more mysteries and thrillers reviewed…and judging by the LA Times Bestseller list, in which six of the ten books are mysteries or thrillers, it’s what Southern Californians are reading.

2 thoughts on “Enjoying the Sunday Paper”

  1. Seth also teaches at UCLA, so he’s seeing it first hand as well. And most of the crime reviews in the book review are being handled by Sarah Weinman in her online column for them, though I do know a certain someone who is reading a crime novel this very moment for a review in January, so there’s that.

  2. Anyone who’s interested in crime fiction reviews should check out Eddie Muller’s monthly column for the San Francisco Chronicle Book Review, “Guilty Bystander.” He is, of course, a great writer and the column frequently includes interviews as well as reviews.


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