Saturday, September 02, 2006

Amy Wilentz Calif. Book Panned By NYT's Kakutani In NYT

One of the oldest dirges in the writing business comes from those who say the California history of gold and splendor is behind us, and that the state and its way of life have come on grim days. I remember a Newsweek cover several years back carrying this claim, just before the Silicon Valley became a new story of golden brilliance in California life.

Now comes Amy Wilentz, a transplant from New York, who, in her book, "I feel Earthquakes More Often Than They Happen, Coming To California in the Age of Schwarzenegger," takes a dim view of California. Wilentz clearly pines for the liberal dilettantes she knew in New York.

Wilentz is the wife of the Los Angeles Times Op Ed Page editor, Nick Goldberg, a man who can't figure out which side he's on in the Israeli-Arab dispute or the War on Terror. Nick once told me, before I retired from the Times in 2004, that he felt too much was made of 9-11, because Americans, as he put it, are not as used as Europeans to warlike attacks. That may explain why he lets columnists like Rosa Brooks provide puff pieces on Human Rights Watch, as she did on Friday's Op Ed Page, despite the fact that, as she acknowledged, she had been a paid consultant for this organization. The article amounted to shilling for Human Rights Watch, and ended with suggesting that readers send a check to the organization.

This is not the kind of journalism I admire, either Wilentz's book or Goldberg's editing, so I was delighted yesterday when the New York Times chief book reviewer, the talented Michiko Kakutani, wrote a highly critical review of the book. Kakutani comes herself from an Eastern background (her father was a well-known Yale professor), so she can't easily be accused of a pro-California bias.

Kakutani writes that Wilentz has failed "to enliven that familiar and widely-written subject (California), a subject difficult to make fresh in the wake not only of modern classics by the likes of Joan Didion and Reyner Banham, but also by a daily tsunami of musings by novelists, reporters, filmmakers and television writers.

"Once again we are given snapshots of California as the final frontier, as a damaged Eden, failed promised land, dangerous magnet for dreamers and seekers and people on the lam. Once again we are given glimpses of Los Angeles as American Babylon, celebrity factory Magic Kingdom of noir..."

Kakutani adds that Wilentz "becomes convinced that beneath the sun and fun and Juicy Couture glitz, 'Califoria has a dark heart.'"

But, the reviewer concludes, "It is subject matter which has been done to death by others, and in this case even a writer of Ms. Wilentz's talents fails to turn it into a compelling book."

Well, I'm pleased that Kakutani has put this outsider in her place. As a native Californian, the son of parents who were both born in Los Angeles, the grandson of a man who went to Yosemite National Park to camp for 60 years, I'm offended at those who belittle the Golden State, and I like to see them get their comeuppance. Wilentz and Goldberg are excellent candidates for a move back East, where they could wallow in the poor climate and learn what decadence really is.



Anonymous Jim Fulton said...

Wilentz and Goldberg candidates for a move back East? Hmm. I say let's get that issue on the November ballot.

9/02/2006 12:58 PM  
Anonymous Brunette from LA said...

I couldn't agree more with every sentiment exprssed in your post. I too read the "pan"(I subscribe to the NY Times, no longer the LAT), and the description of this book infuriated me as well.
I too am a native Californian, a resident of Los Angeles since 3rd grade. I've lived in Hancock Park, West Hollywood, Los Feliz, Silverlake and Mt. Washington--at least one of those areas I'm sure is completely unheard-of to poor Ms. Wilentz, who comes across as an idiot of the first order if she really believes that anyone from L.A.(or Santa Monica, Malibu Brentwood or the Palisades, for that matter) thinks "blondes" are the representative female Angeleno. Even in Windsor Square blondes are scarce.
It's obviously another phoned-in, ludicrously sheltered and bored-silly view of Lotus-land, or whatever hackneyed variation on "Tragic Kingdom, La-La Land", etc. ad nauseum this boor grasps upon.

A book--any book--that truly grasps and deals with the tremendous diversity and energy(yes, ENERGY)of this city and county will be a welcome change.

9/06/2006 5:16 PM  

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