Book 4 of 2019: Chronicles of Old Los Angeles by James Roman

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A history/ tour guide for LA, chronicling the city’s foundation, it’s violent beginnings, and the inception of Hollywood all the way to the present day. Far from comprehensive, Chronicles of Old Los Angeles delivers twenty four concise chapters on the sordid history of La La Land.

I really enjoyed this book. Roman doesn’t get bogged down with every detail of LA history. He skips to the shimmer and scandal in true Los Angeles fashion. Chronicles is an excellent introduction to Los Angeles History.

Some highlights:

  • California’s first attorney general, Edward J.C Kewen attempted to shoot the opposing lawyer during a criminal trial, ended up shooting a spectator and causing the jury to flee.
  • Henry Huntington birthed LA’s enormous sprawl by buy cheap real estate, installing a station on his Pacific Electric Railway and profiting off the communities that grew around the stations.
  • The Warner Brothers missed the premiere of The Jazz Singer, the first talkie which would cement their place in history, to attend a funeral. Sam Warner, chief proponent of talkies, had over worked himself in the weeks before the premiere and died the night before.
  • West Hollywood spent decades as an unincorporated area, separate from Los Angeles and Beverly Hill, mostly to skirt the law. Operating under the authority of LA County meant that gangsters like Bugsy Siegal and Mickey Cohan could run their speakeasies and gambling operations without the city police breathing down their neck. It also meant that the LGBT+ community could live their lives in relative safety at a time when homosexuality itself was a crime. Weho was the site of the first known gay rights group in the US, The Mattachine Society. They later elected Valerie Terrigno as the first mayor of West Hollywood and the first openly lesbian mayor in the US.

Los Angeles is a fascinating city. Chronicles of Old Los Angeles is a great starting point for those who want to learn more.

Book 3 of 2019: The Pout Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen

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I read this book with a small child. It concerns a blue fish, the titular Pout Pout fish. Through out the story, Pout Pout is admonished to smile and be happy, while he insists that he is “A Pout Pout fish, with a pout pout face,” destined to “spread the dreary wearies all over the place.”

SPOILERS:

After pouting all over the ocean, he meets a beautiful fish who “instead of saying “hey” … plants a kiss on his pout and then she swims away.” Pleased, Pout Pout Fish declares he’s been wrong all along, that he is in fact a “kiss kiss fish,” and proceeds to smooch the entire ocean.

Yikes.

There’s a lot to unpack here.

First, this book was published in 2013 so somebody should have caught these issues. I kept waiting for someone to ask the Pout Pout fish what was wrong or tell him that he’s still liked, despite his melancholy. No such luck. One fish literally says that pouting is a “unattractive trait”! That’s right, kids! Fake a smile or no one will ever love you! Maybe he’s a pout pout fish because his “friends” keep insulting him for the way his face looks!

Second, where’s the consent? Don’t smooch without asking, children, no matter sad they look. It was such an easy fix. Beautiful fish could have easily said “maybe you’re a kiss kiss fish.” Pout Pout agrees to experiment and decides she’s right. Boom! Now your kid’s book is about how you can improve your spirits through friendship and affection, rather than the origin of an aquatic serial harasser.

Third, I don’t like the message that physical and romantically coded affection will save anyone from depression. Pout Pout fish literally has a pout pout face. It’s the face he was born with. Can he change the connotation and be a kiss kiss fish with help from those who care about him? Sure, but it takes a hell of a lot more than non-consensual smooches to get over than hurtle.

The Pout Pout Fish does have its charms. The illustrations are bright and engaging. The prose is lively and bright, with fun, tight rhymes. It’d be great if children weren’t tiny sponges who can soak up all sorts of wrong messages if you couch them in clever words and charming images. I can’t recommend The Pout Pout Fish, but I’ll probably pick it up again, considering the kid is obsessed with it.

Book One of 2019: Pet Sematary by Stephen King

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A young doctor, Louis Creed, moves with his family to rural Maine where he discovers an ancient burial ground with the ability to resurrect the dead.

Sometimes dead is better.

Stephen King is one of my favorite authors. His work has terrified me since I was a child with television and movies like IT and The Shinning, though King disavowed the Kubrick film. In the forward in the 2018 audiobook, which I consumed in my car, King considered Pet Sematary to be his scariest book. For me, that honor goes to Misery but a tale of resurrected children going after their parents with scalpels is nothing to read before bed. I listened to the audiobook, read by Michael C. Hall (Dexter) which upped the creep factor by about a thousand.

However, if you’re just reading Pet Sematary for creepy cats an children or iconic lines delivered in the thickest Maine accent then you’re missing out on King’s real genius. Pet Sematary isn’t about a problematic Indian burial ground (I get it was written in the 80s but yikes) that resurrects pets and people as homicidal zombies with knowledge of their victims’ deepest fears and secrets.

[Spoilers} Pet Sematary is about death and the terrible price people pay when they try to ignore it.  Louis’s wife, Rachel, developed an extreme phobia of death after witnessing her older sister’s long illness and eventual passing at the tender age of eight. She refuses to attend funerals and becomes enraged when her daughter is introduced to the concept of mortality via the pet semetary. Her son’s violent death in a hit and run forces her to confront death again in horrible immediacy. Her husband’s refusal to accept death results in Rachel’s demise at the hands of her resurrected son, possibly his own. King posits that the burial ground itself caused the deaths it undid, but the entire plot could have been avoided if the characters just accepted the inevitable deaths of their loved ones. Or if the Creed family had installed a perimeter fence around their highway adjacent properties.

Either way, Pet Semetary is an exciting and spooky tale, definitely worth a read and re-read. I will definitely see the film adaptation in April.

And now, The Ramones