Monday, April 25, 2005

In Praise of Reading...and TV Watching

This past weekend commemorated the 10th Annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, billed as "a two-day celebration of the written word and one of the country's premier literary events."

In material terms, this translated into a bibliophilic extravaganza that sprawled across the UCLA campus and featured rows upon rows of booths representing what seemed to be just about every bookshop in the L.A. area, from the major retail chains (e.g., Borders) to the obscurest of specialty shops (e.g., Abril Armenian Bookstore); panels and book signings featuring authors of equally varying levels of celebrity; workshops for writers of all ages; and your usual concession stands selling lemonade and kettle corn at above-market prices.

I visited the festival o'books today (Sunday). Gorgeous day for it, like nearly every other this month. (April may be the cruelest month, but not in California.) I didn't go to any of the panels, which required one to obtain tickets in advance. I did, however, browse the booths, and reached the melancholy conclusion that for a reasonably well-educated and well-read ex-English grad student, my literary tastes are as boring as they come. Rare books and first editions could be, and were, prominently displayed before me, and I would glance absently at these before contemplating whether Donna Tartt's "The Secret History" was worth $5. (I decided no.) It's slightly disheartening to realize that Barnes & Noble adequately meets your reading needs, notwithstanding the more rarefied charms of Baby Tattoo Books or the zen-friendly Bodhi Tree Bookstore.

Ah well. Hipness fades, but beautiful writing is forever.

At this same book fair, quite serendipitously, I met Kenneth Turan, the senior film critic for the Los Angeles Times, who was hawking (and signing) his own recently published book, "Never Coming to a Theater Near You," at the Dutton Books tent. Now ordinarily, I've never been one to seek out author signatures: to me, they carry zero personal significance - especially if you have to wait in line to get it and (s)he doesn't know you from Adam. But Turan was unbesieged and alone, except for a woman (possibly his literary agent) who was sitting next to him. He was just about to close up and leave, so on an impulse, I approached and indicated I wanted to buy his book. Which I'm sure made him happy - I don't know if I was his only customer that day, but I was certainly the only one at that moment.

We had a brief chat before he signed my book - I told him I loved his movie reviews, even if (with a smile) I didn't always agree with them, and after a moment's hesitation, I asked him, half seriously, half in jest, how one became a film critic. In answering, he didn't tell me anything I didn't already know, but he confirmed what I did know: it's easier if you're already in the journalism industry, and you just have to find someone willing to publish you, usually without pay, so as to get your name in print/out there, etc. I think he softened the grimness and slimness of the prospect because I'd just flattered him to his face, but he seemed like a very nice man generally. His book is a good read - basically a shout-out to the best of the smaller, less publicized & aggressively marketed films he's reviewed in the past ten years. Many, if not most, of them I haven't seen (though I have heard of most of them), others I didn't love quite as much as he did, but there are some that I'm heartily in agreement with him on celebrating - most notably:

"The Quiet American"
"Vanya on 42nd Street"
"You Can Count on Me"
"Eat Drink Man Woman"
"In the Mood for Love"
"Red" (possibly my favorite movie ever, the best of the trilogy)

Glancing at this list, I realize that they are all what I'd call very *quiet* films. Nothing (much) happens, and yet everything happens. They are dramas of human feeling, though a couple of them are also wonderfully comedic. As such, they're more easily lost in the flash and clamor that is mainstream cinema today. But they shouldn't be.


Speaking of artistic independence being devoured by the voracious maw of capitalism, here is a rather long but *excellent* article on the predicament of theater in Los Angeles today:

(Can some kind soul enlighten me on how to activate these links? Blogging idiot that I am, I don't understand's instructions...)

Amid Morris' sharp, if undisguisedly partisan, sociological observations regarding the push & pull between artists and the developers that always seem to trail in their wake is some fairly astute commentary on the relation between the arts and the notion of "community" or "neighborhood." Nothing we haven't heard before, but a well framed analysis.


On a more upbeat note, it cheered me to discover today that contrary to conventional wisdom, popular TV has become "more cognitively demanding, not less"---such that TV watching may actually be making us smarter, not dumber:

This, coupled with those recent studies showing that a drink a day may actually be good for the health, is a great rationalization for the inordinate amount of time I spend watching my favorite prime-time TV shows while partaking of my daily glass of wine...As if I needed a rationalization...


Blogger echan said...

1. Have you read Tartt's The Secret History? It's one of my favorite books (comfort reading at times).

2. Very cool that you got to speak with Mr. Turan. One of my favorite reviewers.

3. To insert an active link, all you need to do is to click on the paperclip/globe icon (it is the third button from the left), after italicize. It will also let you re-name links, instead of pasting the full link.

1:48 PM  

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