Quick Review: EVERYTHING NOW by Rosecrans Baldwin (MCD)

BaldwinR-EverythingNowUSLessons from the city-state of Los Angeles

America is obsessed with Los Angeles. And America has been thinking about Los Angeles all wrong, for decades, on repeat. Los Angeles is not just the place where the American dream hits the Pacific. (It has its own dreams.) Not just the vanishing point of America’s western drive. (It has its own compass.) Functionally, aesthetically, mythologically, even technologically, an independent territory, defined less by distinct borders than by an aura of autonomy and a sense of unfurling destiny — this is the city-state of Los Angeles.

Deeply reported and researched, provocatively argued, and eloquently written, Rosecrans Baldwin’s Everything Now approaches the metropolis from unexpected angles, nimbly interleaving his own voice with a chorus of others, from canonical L.A. literature to everyday citizens. Here, Octavia E. Butler and Joan Didion are in conversation with activists and astronauts, vampires and veterans. Baldwin records the stories of countless Angelenos, discovering people both upended and reborn: by disasters natural and economic, following gospels of wealth or self-help or personal destiny. The result is a story of a kaleidoscopic, vibrant nation unto itself — vastly more than its many, many parts.

Baldwin’s concept of the city-state allows us, finally, to grasp a place — Los Angeles — whose idiosyncrasies both magnify those of America, and are so fully its own. Here, space and time don’t quite work the same as they do elsewhere, and contradictions are as stark as southern California’s natural environment. Perhaps no better place exists to watch the United States’s past, and its possible futures, play themselves out.

Welcome to Los Angeles, the Great American City-State.

It’s not just America that’s obsessed with Los Angeles. I’ve long been fascinated by the city (even though I’m not sure I’d like to live there). It’s one of my favourite fiction locations, and its diverse and fragmented nature allows for incredible variation in the novels, TV series and movies set within it. In Everything Now, Baldwin does a very good job of showing us the city from a number of different angles — some familiar, some new, all interesting. An interesting and engaging journey through various facets of Los Angeles, I enjoyed this. Continue reading

Upcoming: EVERYTHING NOW by Rosecrans Baldwin (MCD)

BaldwinR-EverythingNowUSLike a lot of people who don’t live there, I am fascinated by Los Angeles. It’s a city I’ve visited only three times, but each time it captured my imagination. My favourite crime series is set there (Connelly’s Bosch), many other favourite novels are set in or around Los Angeles, and I’m also fascinated by the workings and behind-the-scenes of Hollywood. I have not, however, read much general history or non-fiction about the city and/or region. This summer, there are a couple of books that have caught my attention. The first is Everything Now by Rosecrans Baldwin. Here’s the synopsis:

A provocative, exhilaratingly new understanding of America’s most confounding metropolis — not just a great city, but a full-blown modern city-state

America is obsessed with Los Angeles. And America has been thinking about Los Angeles all wrong, for decades, on repeat. Los Angeles is not just the place where the American dream hits the Pacific. Not just the end of the line anymore. Not just the vanishing point of America’s western drive. Not just a city.

Los Angeles is best understood as a city-state. Functionally, aesthetically, mythologically, even technologically — a small independent territory, a sovereign place, a city and surrounding regions bound together by population density and an aura of autonomy and a sense of unfurling destiny. This is Los Angeles.

Deeply researched and reported, provocatively argued, and eloquently sung, Rosecrans Baldwin’s Everything Now reveals the borders and probes the ecology of this Great American City-State, enumerates its cultural treasures and economic prowess, hails its heroes and charts its landmarks, plumbs its social and economic history, catalogs its canonical literature (from John Fante to Joan Didion to Mike Davis to Octavia Butler), probes its religions and spiritual practices, its languages and cuisines, and seeks the keys to its future. It is a protean, vibrant place — vastly more than its many, many parts.

Welcome to Los Angeles, the Great American City-State.

Rosecrans Baldwin’s Everything Now is due to be published by MCD in North America and in the UK, on June 15th, 2021.

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Quick Review: UNCANNY VALLEY by Anna Wiener (MCD, FSG / Fourth Estate)

WienerA-UncannyValleyUSHCA page-turning memoir of contemporary Silicon Valley

In her mid-twenties, at the height of tech industry idealism, Anna Wiener — stuck, broke, and looking for meaning in her work, like any good millennial — left a job in book publishing for the promise of the new digital economy. She moved from New York to San Francisco, where she landed at a big-data startup in the heart of the Silicon Valley bubble: a world of surreal extravagance, dubious success, and fresh-faced entrepreneurs hell-bent on domination, glory, and, of course, progress.

Anna arrived amidst a massive cultural shift, as the tech industry rapidly transformed into a locus of wealth and power rivaling Wall Street. But amid the company ski vacations and in-office speakeasies, boyish camaraderie and ride-or-die corporate fealty, a new Silicon Valley began to emerge: one in far over its head, one that enriched itself at the expense of the idyllic future it claimed to be building.

Part coming-of-age-story, part portrait of an already-bygone era, Anna Wiener’s memoir is a rare first-person glimpse into high-flying, reckless startup culture at a time of unchecked ambition, unregulated surveillance, wild fortune, and accelerating political power. With wit, candor, and heart, Anna deftly charts the tech industry’s shift from self-appointed world savior to democracy-endangering liability, alongside a personal narrative of aspiration, ambivalence, and disillusionment.

Unsparing and incisive, Uncanny Valley is a cautionary tale, and a revelatory interrogation of a world reckoning with consequences its unwitting designers are only beginning to understand.

This memoir received a lot of buzz prior to release. In some ways, this was inevitable — Silicon Valley remains a perennial fascination for so very many people. However, one thing that was coming out of the early buzz was that this is a rather different kind of Silicon Valley memoir/book. I started reading it pretty much as soon as I got a review copy, and I’m happy to report that the hype was justified: this is a superb book. Continue reading

Upcoming: THE MERE WIFE by Maria Dahvana Headley (MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

HeadleyMD-MereWifeUSMaria Dahvana Headley‘s latest novel sounds really interesting. It is a “modern retelling of the literary classic Beowulf, set in American suburbia as two mothers — a housewife and a battle-hardened veteran — fight to protect those they love”. The Mere Wife is due to be published by MCD/Farrar, Straus & Giroux in July 2018. Here’s the synopsis:

From the perspective of those who live in Herot Hall, the suburb is a paradise. Picket fences divide buildings — high and gabled — and the community is entirely self-sustaining. Each house has its own fireplace, each fireplace is fitted with a container of lighter fluid, and outside — in lawns and on playgrounds — wildflowers seed themselves in neat rows. But for those who live surreptitiously along Herot Hall’s periphery, the subdivision is a fortress guarded by an intense network of gates, surveillance cameras, and motion-activated lights.

For Willa, the wife of Roger Herot (heir of Herot Hall), life moves at a charmingly slow pace. She flits between mommy groups, playdates, cocktail hour, and dinner parties, always with her son, Dylan, in tow. Meanwhile, in a cave in the mountains just beyond the limits of Herot Hall lives Gren, short for Grendel, as well as his mother, Dana, a former soldier who gave birth as if by chance. Dana didn’t want Gren, didn’t plan Gren, and doesn’t know how she got Gren, but when she returned from war, there he was. When Gren, unaware of the borders erected to keep him at bay, ventures into Herot Hall and runs off with Dylan, Dana’s and Willa’s worlds collide.

Not going to lie — my eye was definitely caught by that cover. Really looking forward to giving this a try. The Mere Wife is published on July 17th, 2018, by MCD.

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