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


The Culture Diaries

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.

11:45 P.M. Home, doped up on Theraflu, and listening to the entire Faces discography while engaging in a thoroughly academic e-mail dispute about the Rolling Stones disco period. I should go to sleep. I should make some less virtual friends. I should listen to “Debris” again. And again. Yes, “Hey Negrita” is a masterpiece, better than anything on Aftermath. And yes, I have awakened from even more troubling fever dreams than that one.


8:00 A.M. Miraculously, I feel better. I disable my Internet connection and plow into fiction. What once was second—hell, first—nature now feels a little like a reward.

10:30 A.M. Editing, and titling pieces for LARB. The latter is not my strength. I conjure, and discard, one lame pun after another. Evan Kindley, our nimble-witted managing editor, comes to my rescue, as he so often does. For Jeff Wasserstrom’s Orwell-Huxley essay, he proposes “Hot Dystopic.” Nicely done.

11:00 A.M. E-mail Stephen Elliott, asking him for permission to excerpt something. Of course, he says. “My writing is your writing.” The sentiment pleases me. I’ll skip the whole copyright/plagiarism debate for now and just note that I appear to be awfully fond of socialists. Elliott is someone I admire tremendously. His work seems to me infinitely generous, wonderfully alert. The Adderall Diaries is a beautiful book.

1:30 P.M. Lunch in Culver City with Tommy Pallotta, an insanely gifted director-producer. We talk about a TV show we might develop together, and then about our experiences with different specialty arms of film studios. Specifically, about the cluelessness that tends to dominate the more the bankers and lawyers horn in. He tells a story about an investor claiming to have developed an algorithm that would calculate hit movies. I’d be more amused than depressed if this sort of thinking—rearguard, retrograde, and defensive in the extreme—didn’t seem to have a toehold in other industries as well. Books, for example. Time spent surfing publishers’ fall catalogues this morning reminds me of that sad tendency to use past successes to predict future ones. Sometimes it works. Others, not so much.

8:00 P.M. Bedtime for Wonder Woman. I read her a big chunk of The Phantom Tollbooth and wonder what she makes of the Princesses Rhyme and Reason, the lattice of puns that makes up the bulk of that text. Probably more than I can imagine. I fall asleep not long after she does, after catching a sliver of Rio Bravo on TV.


1:00 P.M. I’m doing a panel at the Silverlake Jubilee and Beard Expo. Ben Ehrenreich, Grace Krilanovich, Cecil Castellucci, Tom Lutz, and I are set to discuss “The Electrocution of The Book,” whatever that means, before a rapt crowd of thousands. Actually, the audience does seem pretty into it. It’s hot. The dosa truck is delicious. And the green room is mixing up cocktails involving coconut water and tequila, which I’m smart enough not to get into before the panel. Grace is needlessly self-effacing about her groovy and psychedelic novel. Cecil admits that she’s writing something about hoboes. Ben continues to be dashing on the topic of biblionecrophilia, and Tom Lutz is his urbane, infinitely charming self. I provide interstitial stammering and semi-adequate responses to unanswerable questions, mostly revolving around print versus screen. In truth, I don’t really feel that I have a dog in that fight. I write, and edit, texts. How people choose to ingest them matters very little to me, although whatever encourages the texts’ wide, easy, and immediate availability can only be a good thing. It feels like a great time to be a writer and, perhaps, a lousy one to be a publisher or a retailer. Fair enough. It’s been the other way around for too long anyway.

3:00 P.M. I work the LARB booth at the Jubilee, which we share with Black Clock. People wander past, ask questions, eyeball our swanky new Emily Dickinson T-shirts. Occasionally, we grab the attention of passersby ourselves. “Hey, d’you like to read?” I ask a handsome couple who linger for a moment in front of the booth. “Not really,” one of them says. I believe him. He’s just too good looking. If a book really is a mirror dawdling down a lane, he’d be struck blind by his own radiance if he ever opened one.

5:15 P.M. Green room. Now I let myself at the tequila, and then at the beer. Lots of smoking, lots of very hairy dudes. I feel distinctly, but not at all unpleasantly, middle-aged. My friend Heather abducts me, and we go eat vegetarian food in Echo Park.


8:00 A.M. It’s Wonder Woman’s birthday. I lie in bed on a sort of culture diarist’s holiday. Ignoring the paper, reading William Gerhardie’s Futility, which is either the greatest Russian novel ever written by an Englishman or vice versa. Listening to Spacemen 3’s Dreamweapon, which appears to meet some minimum definition of the term music, assuming you don’t ask for anything fancy like a chord change. It’s lovely, in fact. The sort of music I listen to—in fact, the only sort I can listen to, these days—when writing.

11:00 A.M. Swimming, and cake. Really, how much more culture does a person need? I’ll wrap up the day having dinner with my folks, my father the talent agent and stepmother the clothing designer. Both self-made successes with massive personalities and only a passing interest—at best—in literature. I love them to pieces, in part for that reason. For being the Los Angeles I have always known and will never stop quarreling with. A productive quarrel, as I’ve known it thus far.

Matthew Specktor is the author of That Summertime Sound and The Sting. He is senior editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books.