May 17, 2007


Cal Godot

They get to Metropolis on the back-end of the articles, in the "A Few of Our Fav Neighborhood Bookstores" section. Small blurbs about other bookstores. You'd have to read the entire article to find it.

Overall, I thought this article was poorly written, the kind of thing you might find in a really bad campus newspaper. The author fails to connect LA bookstores to LA itself, fails to analzse any trends in bookselling, fails to explore or even suggest why these stores succeed when others fail. The author engages numerous cliches and falls back on "personality reporting," which is I suppose the meat of the "inside" story.

It's too bad really because something very intelligent and informative could have been written about these stores. Each of them manages to survive and thrive in a mostly illiterate city in times where Amazon commands 30% of the market and "superstores" stalk the land, with Wal-Mart becoming one of the larger "booksellers" in America.

Instead, the inexperienced and inarticulate author chose to focus on the people, calling one bookshop owner a "goof" and managing to portray one staff member as barely sane. It's no wonder that no one takes the LA Weekly seriously. They assign a feature story like this to a "reporter" who until recently was the "calendar editor," one who lacks writing talent as well as the ability to properly interview subjects. Such is the state of contemporary journalism, I suppose.

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  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."


  • The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald


    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
  • The Rider by Tim Krabbe


    Tim Krabbé's superb 1978 memoir-cum-novel is the single best book we've read about cycling, a book that will come closer to bringing you inside a grueling road race than anything else out there. A kilometer-by-kilometer look at just what is required to endure some of the most grueling terrain in the world, Krabbé explains the tactics, the choices and – above all – the grinding, endless, excruciating pain that every cyclist faces and makes it heart-pounding rather than expository or tedious. No writer has better captured both the agony and the determination to ride through the agony. He's an elegant stylist (ably served by Sam Garrett's fine translation) and The Rider manages to be that rarest hybrid – an authentic, accurate book about cycling that's a pleasure to read. "Non-racers," he writes. "The emptiness of those lives shocks me."