The City in Diaries and Letters, 1542-2018
edited by
Email this review


A Los Angeles native and lion of the city’s literary culture gathers writers’ impressions of the City of Angels from across several centuries.

Editor Kipen (Writing/UCLA; The Schreiber Theory: A Radical Rewrite of American Film History, 2006, etc.), the creator of the National Endowment for the Arts’ Big Read program, is a longtime champion of books as a way of forging community. Here, he uses the written word to give readers a complex portrait of “the Italy of America—no wait, we’re the capital of the Third World—hang on, now we’re the Ellis Island of the West. What next? Yesterday’s hyperbole is tomorrow’s ephemera.” For the format of the book, Kipen took inspiration from Teresa Carpenter’s New York Diaries (2012), spending seven years scouring the diaries, journals, letters, and, occasionally, blogs, tweets, and speeches of people who lived in or visited LA. With almost 500 years of entries, the book covers a lot of territory, from the small mission town under Spanish rule to the Hollywood glamour of the 20th century and the teeming multicultural city of today. Kipen selects one (or usually more) excerpt written on each day of the year, which leads to numerous revelatory, odd, and entertaining juxtapositions. Jan. 7, for example: In an 1861 letter, botanist William H. Brewer complained about 70 straight hours of rain, while in 2017, actor Ryan Reynolds tweeted, “People in LA are deathly afraid of gluten. I swear to god, you could rob a liquor store in this city with a bagel.” In a 1926 letter, Valeria Belletti, Sam Goldwyn’s secretary, exulted that she finally persuaded her boss to take a look at “that boy I raved to you about, Gary Cooper.” Kipen also includes entries from a wide-ranging assortment of writers, including Christopher Isherwood, Hart Crane, Tennessee Williams, Theodore Dreiser, William Faulkner, Octavia Butler, Susan Sontag, and Truman Capote.

Like the city itself, the book mashes wildly diverse sources into an intriguing and surprising whole.

Pub Date: Dec. 4th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-8129-9398-1
Page count: 576pp
Publisher: Modern Library
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2018


NonfictionWHERE I WAS FROM by Joan Didion
by Joan Didion
NonfictionTHE MIRAGE FACTORY by Gary Krist
by Gary Krist
FictionHOLLYWOOD NOCTURNES by James Ellroy
by James Ellroy