Slouching toward Los Angeles on an alternately pleasant and frustrating detour-filled highway.



A kaleidoscopic view of Los Angeles that looks beyond stereotypes of “freeways, sprawl, movie stars, and New Age nonsense.”

Lunenfeld, a native New Yorker who is now a professor of design media arts at UCLA, pens a valentine to his adopted city, where he moved to attend graduate school. Erudite and fact-packed but self-indulgent and inefficiently organized, his book rests on the conceit that LA has moved through interlocking phases corresponding to the five elements of alchemy—“from earth to fire to air to water” and the more elusive “aether” or “the quintessence.” That framework gives Lunenfeld ample and welcome room to cover often overlooked topics such as the city’s once-powerful aerospace industry and the ports of LA and Long Beach, whose waters are “the largest and busiest in the United States.” Throughout, the author forges many offbeat connections. He links, among others, Walt Disney and Hugh Hefner (both of whom let people enter a “dreamscape” and interact with its denizens, Mickey at Disneyland and the bunnies at Playboy clubs) and two married couples who blazed trails as they combined work and love: midcentury-modern designers Charles and Ray Eames and the authors Will and Arial Durant. Lunenfeld’s “alchemical” stages overlap and progress in nonlinear ways, which leads to continual jump-cuts back and forth in time, place, and theme, an approach that can be disorienting. The text sometimes devolves into tourist-board prose: No other metropolitan area, writes the author, “can boast of the presence of two presidential libraries,” Nixon’s and Reagan’s. Unlike Joan Didion—that austere, minimalist bard of California—Lunenfeld is a maximalist who overstuffs his argument that LA triumphed through “its ramp-up of the arts, architecture, design, cuisines, music, theater, and literary cultures, not to mention technical and scientific accomplishments, at a speed and with a reach unprecedented in human history.” He makes a strong case for the city’s exceptionalism, but via a route that requires the patience of navigating the LA freeways.

Slouching toward Los Angeles on an alternately pleasant and frustrating detour-filled highway.

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-56193-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.


Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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