Perhaps one reason literature seems dead is that book reviewing is such a delicate, nepotism-prone profession. Where writers on movies, art, television, music, film and even ballet often convey some measure of scorn for or exhilaration about their subjects, too many book reviewers sound exclusively concerned with their opinions’ reverberations within publishing itself. Imagine what would happen if, say, movies were overwhelmingly reviewed by working and wannabe movie directors, and you’ll get the idea. Great alternative book-boosting, agenda-busting organs like the WLS are the antidote to all that pussyfooting around, fighting the good fight from an all but incorruptible distance.
When I was offered the guest editorship of this particular WLS, I wanted (and was asked) to do something different. So I decided to get personal. Everyone I know who writes or reviews books tends to love or hate them, rave or bitch about them, all the time — just not within earshot of the public. There’s nothing like hearing an impassioned writer riff on the heroes and villains of his or her art. Not that an overtly subjective or idiosyncratic approach is any more correct than a measured, quasi-objective one; it’s just rarer to see it in print. So this WLS is nothing but unique voices making unqualified literary judgments.
Basically, I tried to match up some of my favorite L.A.-based wordsmiths with current books that I thought would get under their skin in one way or another. Then I asked them to write responses in their inimitable styles. Prose writer Benjamin Weissman, critic/curator Bruce Hainley and the L.A. Weekly’s F.X. Feeney are established maestros of the lucid opinion. Trinie Dalton and Casey McKinney are relatively new, triple-threat figures on the L.A. literary scene, as fiction writers, critics and editors respectively of the magazines Rodentia and Mall Punk. I invited another new literary hotshot, Vanessa Place, to espouse in essay form what she believes is an emerging, as-yet-unidentified aesthetic. I also encouraged the great poet Amy Gerstler to bare her passion for another great poet, Elaine Equi. My own contribution is equally pointed: I’d always wanted to talk to Clive Barker, so I did. Here’s hoping the results pique your interest, one way or another.