Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Nerdo-American culture * The office before the internet

Catching up:

Two recent things at the L.A. Times, on two very impressive (and entertaining—dare I say beach-readable?) books:

I. My Astral Weeks review of Victor LaValle's Big Machine:

"Did every story about black folks have to be such a downer?" Ricky Rice wonders in exasperation, a few seconds into a speech by the Dean, whom he and the other Unlikely Scholars report to. His own story, of course, will prove the exception to the rule: Beginning in the toilet, his experience somehow avoids a typical rags-to-riches (or needle-to-rehab) structure and gives us something haunting and fresh, its freakout tempos (there's no way I'm telling you my favorite one) modeled on horror stories and other glorious pop culture detritus -- the way parts of "Mumbo Jumbo" read like creature-feature pastiche.

II. My profile of Lev Grossman, author of The Magicians (which among its many considerable virtues has provided some new titles for the Invisible Library).

Grossman floats free of genre demarcations, and it's fascinating to piece together his road map of influences. As a Yale grad student, he got excited about Russian Byronism -- the Byron craze in Russia, "which resulted in a lot of amazing literature, almost all of which was better than actual Byron." He calls the instance in "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" when Junot Díaz unwinkingly compares the dictator of the Dominican Republic to Middle-earth's Sauron "a great moment for nerdo-American culture."

* * *

Is this me?

(illustration by Mike Force)

A little memoir of mine is up at the L Magazine, headlining their office issue.

For a long time I read at work. My work itself involved reading: I was a copy editor at The Village Voice. But some days, vast lulls separated the articles, and my fellow copy editors and I would burrow into books at our desks. Michael read Ivy Compton-Burnett. Bruce had his Robert Musil. Jane gave me two of her DeLillos; I gave her Jonathan Coe. If you finished your novel, you could go to the long row of file cabinets near the mailboxes, where editors would discard their unwanted review copies, old issues of Paranoia and The Nation.

UPDATE: Mike Force's Flickr stream contains the UNEXPURGATED version of the above illo, entitled "Ed Park at the Village Voice in the 1990s."

Why did you spend the ’90s cowering...?

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