Paperback LA: A Casual Anthology

By Paul MandelbaumMarch 14, 2019

Paperback LA: A Casual Anthology
What’s a “casual” anthology? In contrast to its canonical or thematic cousins, this three-volume creation is likened by editor Susan La Tempa to both a patio party or cabaret, though it could also be seen as an excellent mix tape made by the friend you never realized had a crush on you. Curated here are a wide assortment of deep cuts, including Susan Sontag’s high-school remembrance of finding herself invited to tea at Thomas Mann’s house in Pacific Palisades. The teenaged Eve Babitz, or at least her fictive avatar, prefers instead to spend her time at the beach, though not the boring one her sheltered Hollywood friends enjoy, but a rougher spot called Roadside, where “girls only went…if they were ‘cheap’.” Readers who only know Chester Himes from his grim masterwork If He Hollers Let Him Go might be surprised by the sense of humor in his short story “Lunching at the Ritzmore,” though his subject remains the city’s ambient racism. More recent contributions include excerpts from Lou Matthews’ street-racing tour de force LA Breakdown, and Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, whose characters do their late-night joyriding in a commandeered Metro bus. The quirkiest, most “casual” touches include classified ads from the inaugural issue of the former Los Angeles Daily Herald as well as Vin Scully’s stylish baseball commentary for an historic Dodgers game. Full-color photography of Venice skate boarders, regional bird life, and urban cyclists, all printed on lush stock, make the trilogy’s physical presence coffee-table suitable, and every intro is written with a poetic flair that bespeaks the editor’s affection for each of her finds. Together they offer a comprehensive embrace of the city that has always resisted comprehension.

LARB Contributor

Paul Mandelbaum teaches the literature of Los Angeles at Emerson College’s L.A. Center. His books include the novels Garrett in Wedlock and Adriane on the Edge and the anthology 12 Short Stories and Their Making.


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