One Book, One City — Wasserman, Take Notes

There was a big feature in today’s Los Angeles Times Calender section about Walter Mosley —  his Easy Rawlins mystery LITTLE SCARLET has been chosen as the first book in  LA’s ambitious "One Book, One City"  program.

For the entire month of April, Angelenos will be encouraged to read the "Little
Scarlet" book, stepping into Easy Rawlins’ shoes, which will take them back to
1965 Los Angeles to sort through the debris of the Watts riots.

manner of city-sponsored events are scheduled — from library discussions and
drop-in signings to a town meeting session and a bus tour of Easy Rawlins’ L.A.
The roster is so extensive (even Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton
wants to meet with him) that Mosley, who now makes his home in New York, will be
moving into an apartment in town for a sizable portion of the month so he can

Out of ALL the books written about LA by Los Angelenos, they chose a mystery novel (and a fine one at that) as a reflection of our city. You’d think this would send a strong message to Steve Wasserman, editor of the LA Times Book Review, about how important mystery novels are to LA readers and how, in many ways, they are an integral part of the our local literary  culture and heritage. 

You wouldn’t know from reading the LA Times Book Review, of course, where mysteries and thrillers are given scant attention at best…grudgingly.  A local newspaper is supposed to reflect the interests, culture, and issues of the community it serves…as well as inform, entertain, and provoke.  The numbingly dull Book Review is written for some mythical populace of transplanted East Coast snobs who believe the books on LA Times bestseller list (which is regularly dominated by mysteries and thrillers) reflect the reading tastes of illiterate  heathens who need to be educated.

I’m pleased that "One Book, One City" has inaugerated their program by not only choosing to honor a mystery writer… but the latest book in a long-running series. 

6 thoughts on “One Book, One City — Wasserman, Take Notes”

  1. Why do you think the LA Times Book Review section only gets one or two ads and those are small box ads at that? It’s to highbow. You think?
    NY Times Book Review isn’t much better.

  2. I suppose it’s ungracious to quibble, considering how cool it is that they chose a mystery novel for this program, but several of Mosley’s books might have been better choices. The 8th book in a series (and not the strongest either, I don’t think) seems an odd selection. It’s probably the most politically-charged book in the series, though, so perhaps that played a part.
    Anything that gets people reading a fine writer like Mosley is a good thing… even if it does swell Walter’s head beyond its already gargantuan proportions.

  3. I couldn’t disagree more.
    Granted, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the LA Times Book Review (but I’ve seen the NY Times Book Review and other literary supplements). I’d say: get real! It would be totally crazy – for a major newspaper – to devote its books section solely to books on the local bestseller list (or any bestseller list) out of some democratic consideration. Why? Because the people who read bestsellers, genre novels, ‘pure entertainment’ novels or what you call it, aren’t in the habit of of reading long and ponderous reviews in newspapers.
    The book review sections of major newspapers reflect the views of the editors, reviewers, contributors. That’s how it should be. Perhaps those views can be labelled ‘highbrow’ (i.e. noncommercial) but there a market for highbrow. I’m not kidding.
    Consider the alternative.
    Devote the LA Times Book Review to the local bestseller list and and it looses its ‘highbrow’ readers at once. But it won’t gain any new readers. Like I say, the readers of bestsellers are not motivated to read the literary supplements of major newspapers. Now, how democratic is that? To drive away your loyal readership and not to get anything in return?

  4. Anna, I think if you did read the L.A. Times Book Review, you’d see what we’re talking about.
    There’s a big difference between dedicating the book review section to the bestseller list (which no paper I know of does), and devoting it mostly to esoteric books that have little connection to the vast majority of readers, even intelligent, educated ones (as the LA Times, unfortunately, does).
    There is a happy middle ground where the newspaper covers in a serious fashion books that real people read and enjoy, and would like to see discussed in a serious fashion.
    Happily, I know of many publications that do this, including the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer, Boston Globe and others. The New York Times does a pretty decent job, too, if not always in the book review section.
    Why the L.A. Times goes in such a different — and ultimately pointless — direction is a mystery to everyone.

  5. Anna,
    I think you’ve misunderstood my point. I’m not suggesting that the LA Times Book Review should become the Los Angeles Mystery Book Review or that it should focus on what’s selling.
    What I’d like to see is a Book Review that’s relevant, reflects the interests of the community, and is written in a lively style that entertains readers rather than puts them to sleep. The Los Angeles Times Book Review is a disappoint on so many levels… in its content, in its writing, and in its graphics. Its like they are daring you to read it.
    Take this Sunday’s issue for example, summarized perfectly in this post on the Elegant Variation blog:

  6. I rest my case (having never seen the LA Times Book Review).
    I really like genre novels (crime, legalistic especially). I don’t go into a dither if I don’t see the titles or the authors I like in the Times Literary Supplement, for instance. I expect the TLS – which I buy every once in a while- to surprise me, tell me something I don’t know. Not to reinforce something I do know.
    You may be speaking as writers; I’m speaking as a reader. As a reader I expect the TLS to be a good read, first and foremost. The reviews have to be interesting in their own right, at least that’s my criterion. I rarely buy the books being reviewed. If I’d buy all the books that interest me I’d do nothing but read books.


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