An ebullient and often moving way to organize history ... consuming [Dear Los Angeles is a bit like watching an orange-scented, palm tree-lined, gin-soaked version of Christian Marclay’s 24-hour film montage, The Clock ... Kipen doesn’t have the historical richness to work with that Carpenter did in New York Diaries. Among this collection’s more obvious blind spots is pop music. This book’s joys are pomegranate joys, feeling for seeds among the pith.
... what Dear Los Angeles: The City in Diaries and Letters 1542 to 2018 shows us is that L.A. is a place that can’t be rationalized, explained or excused ... Kipen’s new compendium collects fragmentary views of Los Angeles, from nearly 500 years of letters and diaries, turning the City of Angels into a city of angles, glimpses, shards of perception, like a million little slivers of a broken mirror, all reflecting different images of our disparate city back to us ... A number of the fragments in Dear Los Angeles are master classes in micro-storytelling ... Though many of the entries offer riveting views of and perspectives on Los Angeles, the juxtapositions sometimes feel less meaningful, determined mostly by the impediments of the book’s idiosyncratic formal conceit ... Even if one snapshot doesn’t seem particularly enlightening, each gains iridescence by rubbing shoulders with the rest in the calendrical procession of partial portraits.
Maybe the biggest surprise to be found in Dear Los Angeles is that the giant whales of 20th-century literature — Pound, Joyce, Eliot, Hemingway, and e. e. cummings — are all here ... Many readers of this little roller-coaster (or rolodex?) of a book will go to the index to hunt for a favorite name, and many will come away disappointed that somebody they wanted to find is missing ... Speaking of things left out, one is surprised to find not even one angry journal entry or panicked telegram (from, say, a mother to a soldier) in response to the existential shock of Pearl Harbor, which happened on December 7, 1941. Everyone felt Los Angeles was the next target. This is quite an omission, and while it might be in tune with Kipen’s more or less 'pacific' mood, it will no doubt puzzle many history-minded readers ... Is Kipen’s calendar method some kind of Nietzschean, Viconian, Spenglerian eternal recurrence device?... The answer is no, but it does give Dear Los Angeles a strangely 'living' quality. The jumpy effect of these voices and moods in such strange proximity to each other, across centuries, creates the sense of a vibrant community — of creators, searchers, thinkers, explorers, leaders, and a few lost souls — engaged in constant conversation ... [a] good-looking and compact keepsake of a book. It’s the Southland’s diary, and a book for the ages.
There’s a bemusing, sometimes frustrating randomness to the experience of reading straight through, a feeling not unlike catching glimpses of a city from a moving car. What’s that? Who’s that? What’s down that street? The correct attitude seems to be not to worry too much about the answers ... the knownness of celebrity provides useful context in a largely context-free book, and Kipen... also makes good use of literary novelists like William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Aldous Huxley ... Phantom plotlines appear and disappear... but individual narratives, however tantalizing, aren’t the point of this book. The point is accumulation.
The love-hate relationship between L.A. and its inhabitants comes alive in this scintillating collection of letters and diary entries ... Readers fascinated by the town will find an engrossing trove of colorful, witty insights here.