cover image Dear Los Angeles: The City in Diaries and Letters, 1542 to 2018

Dear Los Angeles: The City in Diaries and Letters, 1542 to 2018

Edited by David Kipen. Random House, $26 (560p) ISBN 978-0-812-99398-1

The love-hate relationship between L.A. and its inhabitants comes alive in this scintillating collection of letters and diary entries. Literary critic Kipen (California in the 1930s) gathers passages from 16th-century explorers, 18th-century missionaries, 19th-century soldiers, and 20th-century writers, actors, producers, and movie business wannabes. Common themes emerge—golden climate, far-flung geography (Henry Miller: “[i]f you want to take a walk, you get in your car”), Hollywood absurdism (P.G. Wodehouse: “they didn’t want what I did, but they paid me $5,000 for something I hadn’t done”), the heartbreak of creative differences (F. Scott Fitzgerald: “Oh Joe, can’t the producers be wrong? I’m a good writer—honest”)—and provoke wildly different reactions from the well-chosen observers quoted. The result is a Los Angeles that’s good (Edgar Rice Burroughs: “I never loved any place in my life as I do this”), bad (Westbrook Pegler: “that big, sprawling, incoherent, shapeless, slobbering civic idiot”), ugly (Hart Crane: “this Pollyanna greasepaint pinkpoodle paradise”), and unique (Ryan Reynolds: “People in L.A. are deathly afraid of gluten.... You could rob a liquor store in this city with a bagel”). Readers fascinated by the town will find an engrossing trove of colorful, witty insights here. (Dec.)