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A Week in Culture: Matthew Specktor, Writer and Editor, Part 2

May 26, 2011 | by

This is the second installment of Specktor’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.

Photography by Lisa Jane Persky.


8:30 A.M. Breakfast, and a chunk of The Pale King.

11:40 A.M. I meet up with The Los Angeles Review of Books’ splendid poetry editor, Ms. Gabrielle Calvocoressi. Knowing her is even better than saying her name, which you could, if you wanted, skip rope to. We talk about Fairport Convention, Vietnam metaphors, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Joe Boyd, Frank Bidart, Richard Howard, and Led Zeppelin. (Always, Led Zeppelin!) We eat soup. I walk away feeling the way I always do after talking with Gaby, namely that I got the better half of the bargain.

3:20 P.M. Nicolas Jaar, and a nap. My draft of Zeroville is very nearly almost done, and I’ve gotten my licks in on a few more LARB essays. I feel semijustified in caving in to fever, and so, do.

8:15 P.M. I find myself standing in an intolerably humid Skylight Books, listening to an invisible Bret Easton Ellis—he’s somewhere up there, obstructed by the mob—read from Imperial Bedrooms. He then answers questions about The Hills, Glee, Twitter, screenwriting, loneliness. Just about everything except books. He’s charming, patient, funny, articulate, and reminds me how odd it can be when the reality of an author—or of anything—gets eclipsed by reputation. Lethem has a piece in his forthcoming Ecstasy of Influence in which he argues that notoriety is the only form of postwar American literary fame. He’s persuasive, dividing fame from regard among readers and suggesting that knife fights (Mailer), feuds (Vidal), and censorship (Nabokov, Ellis) are the royal road to visibility. Maybe. But this place is packed, largely with people half my age who are carrying thoroughly destroyed–looking Vintage editions of Ellis’s older books. Someone’s reading him, and that’s a good thing, regardless of what strains they’re locating in his work. A stray tweet I read later refers to “being here with other weirdos waiting to hear Bret Easton Ellis read.” I take that as proof positive that literature has not nearly outlived its use.

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A Week in Culture: Matthew Specktor, Writer and Editor

May 25, 2011 | by

Photography by Lisa Jane Persky.


11:00 A.M. Where better to start a Los Angeles–based culture diary than on the city’s enpretzeled freeways? I leave an editorial meeting and take the 101 to the 5 to the 10 to Boyle Heights, en route to David Kipen’s Libros Schmibros, “a community bookstore and lending library.” It’s pretty much the best bookstore in the world, not so much for its scope (its stock is superb, but it’s an average-size storefront), but for its curation and spirit. Not only is every book in the shop one that any sane reader would covet, but if you happen to empty your pockets while you’re there, you’re free to borrow books you don’t buy. Kipen is clearly some sort of a pinko, but if you can get your head around it—a store that lets you take out works of art on loan—the idea kind of grows on you. (If only someone would make so free and easy with the closely guarded spoils of the music business!) I plan on sending David’s children to college by bankrupting myself in his store. Today’s haul: some replacement Greil Marcuses, swanky hardbacks of Philip Roth’s The Counterlife and Our Gang, Leonard Michaels’s Time Out of Mind, Lewis Hyde’s Common as Air, Daniel Fuchs’s The Golden West: Hollywood Stories. Also, a handsome copy of Elizabeth Bowen’s The Last September. The rest I left, just because I was too embarrassed to ask for a dolly to carry it all to my car. (Edit—there’s no store here! I’m making this up. Book lovers, stay away! David, I’ll be back next week.)

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