My friend Xarene introduced me to Norman Klein a few months ago at the reading for his new book with Margo Bistis The Imaginary 20th Century. I hadn’t read any of his books, but they began to pop up everywhere I went in Los Angeles (which, at this point is just an ever widening circle of bookstores with art and poetry sections, to be honest). I put it on my list, and finally got around to his History Of Forgetting: Los Angeles and the Erasure of Memory.
The book is really beyond description– a collection of essays, fiction and a novella that describe the urban space of Los Angeles, not as a built environment but as a lived in one. Los Angeles becomes a sort of fever dream in this book– I read the chapter about downtown with a quote from Mike Davis about how the shortest distance between heaven and hell in America is 5th Street in DTLA, while downtown at my favorite coffee shop on fifth street, and realized how little of Klein’s LA I knew. It was written in the mid nineties– a good decade before I got to town. And I’ve lived here more than a decade. My friend Jordan lived in Angelino heights, where a lot of the essays are about, but I never thought about the history of the place. I just knew that it was neither Echo Park or Silverlake, which were the cool neighborhoods. But his apartment was close to the Gold Room, with the 5 dollar beers and shots of Tequila.
You see, I don’t think you can really talk about Los Angeles without talking your own biography– your first apartment was in Koreatown, you had a girlfriend who lived in Culver City, you used to hang out in the Arts District when it was all speak easy’s and drug dens.
There are so many movies about Los Angeles because this place forces you to construct a narrative. You came here for a reason, and most likely, it didn’t pan out like you had hoped, so now you have to tell a story to make yourself into some kind of a hero. It is why people can be so cruel here, and also why they are so often so generous and forgiving.
Anyway, it’s a book that keeps me up at night with fevered thoughts. A great book. And now I’m going to find and read all the rest of his books.