A Week in Culture: Carolyn Kellogg, Part 2


The Culture Diaries

This is the second installment of Kellogg’s culture diary. Click here to read the first.


7:00 A.M. I wake up to finish Bound by Antonya Nelson, and then spend the rest of the day running errands, sorting through books that have arrived, and trying to wrap my head around what to say in my review. It’s due Monday and runs next Sunday.


1:00 P.M. It’s back to Book Soup, this time for my friend Cecil Castellucci’s midday reading from her young-adult novel Rose Sees Red. I give Cecil a ride to the airport—she’s off to Wordstock in Portland—and head right back to Book Soup. There are plenty of other places to go for readings and signings in Los Angeles, I swear, but it’s become Book Soup week. This time, Lorin Stein talks to a full house about The Paris Review with David L. Ulin. Nobody gets punched in the nose.


6:00 A.M. Up and trying to finish the Bound review and blog at the same time. Coffee helps.

5:00 P.M. Leave the paper to drive the hour-plus to UCLA for the Look at This F*ing Panel: A Sociological Discussion on the Hipster, a follow-up to one held last year in New York. The audience, mostly students, is not overly hipsterized, except for the proliferation of crocheted hats, which can only be an unfortunate fashion statement on an eighty-degree day.


6:00 A.M. Writing up the hipster panel for Jacket Copy, Tao Lin and his fans in the audience look good, and my admiration for Gavin McInnes, shirtless and full of counterintuitive interruptions is too subtle. Alas, McInnes, a cofounder of Vice Magazine, later tweets that my review is “wimpy,” which I tell myself is marginally better than “boring,” his other critique.

11:30 A.M. At my desk at the paper, trying to sort out ongoing login problems and prepping for the Man Booker Prize announcement. There are people in London gathered at a gala event; me, I’m frustrated that the BBC, which is broadcasting it, isn’t making the stream available in the U.S. Luckily, someone tweets a version of the feed I can see. It’s jittery, a hack I think, but it does the trick.

1:50 P.M. Howard Jacobson wins for The Finkler Question. I don’t know diddly about the man or the book, but I slam out a blog post and then race for feedback for a print piece.

2:30 P.M. All hail Jonathan Safran Foer, a longtime fan of Howard Jacobson who quickly responds to my query about his Booker win. If you want someone to say nice things about your writing, you’d have a hard time finding someone better than Foer, who is effusive, articulate, warm, and sincere.

Foer would probably never tweet that an event review was wimpy.

I understand that it’s hard to value Foer and McInnes simultaneously. The sincerity and the grand prank, the kindly thoughtful and the baldly obnoxious. Can I admire them both? Because I do.

5:00 P.M. It’s back in the car for another hour-plus drive to the west side, this time to the Getty. No matter how bad the traffic, by the time I get to the top of the hill, I always feel at ease and liberated. It’s the views, and Richard Meier’s grand architecture, arrogance and all, and the vastness of the project. Like the Huntington Library, this is a space built from the proceeds of tycoonery of an earlier generation; but the Getty’s recent construction, and its hilltop isolation, makes it seem all the more impossible. Was this really created? Do we really get to go here?

And am I really getting five minutes to talk to Steve Martin?

There was some last-minute reconfiguring about who was going to cover the event (it was me, and I blogged it). Someone else at the paper has Tuten and Martin’s new books, but there I was, afterward, being ushered into the greenroom. Steve Martin shook my hand, asked my name, then looked at me as if he wasn’t sure if I was the right person (maybe I wasn’t). In the short interview, I asked Tuten and Martin questions with my iPhone recording on the table between them—yes, there’s an app for that.

Behind me, around two walls, other interviewers waited their turns. I’d never been surrounded by other journalists before while conducting an interview, and when it was over I felt odd, like I’d been asking questions naked. I couldn’t figure out why, at first, but then I realized that an interview, when it’s done to be transcribed and shaped later, is a process with room for fits and starts, for returning from a different angle, for saying the wrong thing, even when that might be the way to discover the most interesting answer (this, of course, is ridiculously obvious to anyone who reads The Paris Review’s interviews). It’s strange to have others watching the process.

Not that five minutes is room for anything much. Tuten is gracious and thoughtful; Martin a bit wary. He takes one of my questions sideways and explains how he’s exacting in his writing so readers (he slows down) actually take note … of what they just … read. “In fact, my greatest horror is a sentence that I know just went by, and they didn’t really note what was just said.”

I look up from my notebook: “I’m sorry, what?”

It gets a laugh—it’s an obvious joke, but the timing wasn’t bad, and it’s the kind of moment that can help an interview along. Martin relaxes a little bit—he can trust me not to completely miss the point—but just a few minutes later we’re done.

There’s the long drive back to Echo Park, and my alarm is set for 5:15 A.M. The National Book Award finalists will be announced the next morning, and I’m going to be up just as soon as they slip the early notice under my e-mail door.

Carolyn Kellogg is a staff writer at the Los Angeles Times.