All posts by LARB Blog

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Into the Shanghai Trenches: A Psychogeography of Sin in Old Shanghai

By Paul French

Shanghai’s sin districts that catered to foreigners were many and varied. They appeared moments after the city became a treaty port in the 1840s and survived through to the 1950s. Whoring at the brothel shacks in Hongkew, gambling at the first race course on Honan Road, illicit betting at the adjacent Fives courts and knock-down-&-drag-out shamshu bars in Pootung (Pudong), were popular pursuits for sailors, all up and running by 1850. Sin existed across the city — in the French Concession and the International Settlement, around the edgelands of the foreign concessions in the Western External Roads (Huxi), as well as the Northern External Roads that ran across the Settlement’s borders from Hongkew (Hongkou) into Chapei (Zhabei). All of these districts shifted, morphed, rose, and fell over the decades thanks to a variety of factors — from suppression by the Chinese and/or foreign authorities, and as a consequence of the Second Sino-Japanese War after 1937, the liberation of Shanghai from the Japanese in 1945, and the arrival of the communists in 1949. All these places were the subject of legend and anecdote, exaggeration, and not a little official embarrassment. The sin districts fill the pages of the files of the Shanghai Municipal Police and the jotter books of the Garde Municipal in Frenchtown. They were patrolled by the Japanese Gendarmerie that, in the late 1930s, controlled the Western and Northern External Roads, and by the Chinese police that governed the fringes of the settlements beyond foreign control. All saw prostitution, drug abuse, and gambling alongside murders, mayhem, and bloodletting. The stories are legion, and the tale of the murder of Eliza Shapera in 1907, of which there is an excerpt below from a new anthology of true crime writing, is but one of the many, many unsolved murders among Shanghai’s floating multi-national foreign underclass. Continue reading

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Letter From the Chairman

Wouldn’t it be of great interest and value if we could watch filmed interviews with our favorite authors from previous eras? Who would you want to see? Tolstoy? Melville? Proust? Dickens? Jane Austen? Henry James? Anaïs Nin? Emily Dickinson? F. Scott Fitzgerald or Nathanael West? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had a library of filmed author interviews and short documentaries on literary and cultural subjects, including the rich literary history of LA? That is exactly what the Los Angeles Review of Books has set out to do in launching the LARB Audiovisual Library.

To date, LARB has filmed and posted some 125 professionally edited author interviews, including such luminaries as Margaret Atwood, Judith Butler,T.C. Boyle, David Shields, and Leo Braudy, along with mini-documentaries such as “Living History: The John Feathers Map Collection.” To view these and other projects from our audiovisual division, LARB AV, please click here. We have set for ourselves a goal of building a library of 500-1,000 interviews and short films by the year 2020. This means we will need to do at least 100-200 filmed interviews per year, at a cost of $50,000+ per year. The result will be a library that benefits not only LARB readers but also students, teachers, academics, librarians, and cultural historians worldwide.

LARB was conceived as a digital online magazine dedicated to playing a prominent role in the literary community by connecting with the people, books, and ideas that enliven and explain our world. Today it is that and more. Since launching our full website in 2012, LARB has a print publication program, including the LARB Quarterly Journal and the Los Angeles Review of Books: The Magazine; we hold and participate in various kinds of events, including our LARB Luminary Dinners and Tom’s Book Club; we have a weekly radio show on KPFK called the LARB Radio Hour; we produce podcasts and short films; we serve as the home base for an array of independent literary and cultural websites that operate as LARB Channels; and much more. The LARB Audiovisual Library is an important component of our multidimensional program.

As a nonprofit, LARB is funded by your donations. It is not only tiresome to you, our friends and readers, to be solicited for donations throughout the year, it is tiresome and difficult for us. But we have no choice. LARB is independent, provocative, timely, and free of charge. We publish digitally, in print, and in audiovisual forms the best thinking and writing about books and culture today. In 2014 we published some 1,500 reviews, essays, podcasts, and short films! Fundraising is what makes this possible. Our members make this possible. Giving to our cause – whether through a single donation or by signing up to be a member – matters.

We are asking you today to please show your support for LARB in general and the LARB Audiovisual Library project in particular. Please donate as generously as you can, whether that be $5 or $5,000, by clicking here or by sending a check made payable to the Los Angeles Review of Books to Los Angeles Review of Books, 1614 S. Central Ave., Glendale, CA 91204.

We are making literary and cultural history. Please take this exciting journey with us. On behalf of the LARB staff and board, we thank you for your involvement and generous support.

With appreciation,

Albert Litewka

Chairman of the Board

Los Angeles Review of Books

 

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The Golden Notebook

LARB’s Naked Bookseller Program is a collaboration with independent bookstores to help tell their stories and broaden their visibility across the country and around the world. A basic membership to LARB gets you a 10% discount at our participating partner stores through our Naked Bookseller card. By becoming a member, you support both the Los Angeles Review of Books AND independent booksellers. Below is the story of our newest partner in the program, The Golden Notebook bookstore in Woodstock, New York, told in their own words.

Named after original owner Ellen Shapiro’s favorite Doris Lessing novel, The Golden Notebook opened its doors on June 23, 1978. Shapiro and business partner Barry Samuels leased the storefront that had formerly been Joe Forno’s Colonial Pharmacy. Though there were already two bookstores in town – Twine’s and The Juggler – the pair was convinced theirs would be a cut above. Together they took out a Small Business Administration Loan, and with the help of legendary publisher Betty Ballantine renovated and stocked the store. Continue reading

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In Every City, A Forest

Image: Felix Kiessling

By Joanna Chen

The fact that a Lufthansa plane had crashed the day before I flew to Berlin did not deter me in the least. El-Al is safer, a neighbor told me, referring to Israel’s national airline. Their security is better, she said. On my walk to the forest the morning of my flight, a friend made a face when I said I was flying Lufthansa. “Oh well,” she said, realizing I really was going. “Lightning doesn’t strike twice.”

I’ve been to Berlin several times in the past few years. Last autumn I got on the plane with hand luggage only – a pair of flip-flops, my laptop and a couple of swirly summer skirts. My dismayed partner, accustomed to my dubious packing talents, handed me his sweater and bought me an umbrella when we met up at Berlin’s Tegel airport. Continue reading

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The Case of the Mistaken Maps

By Austin Dean

Maps are at the center of every territorial dispute. My map says this parcel of land over here belongs to me and always has; your map says that same parcel of land has belonged to you since time immemorial. Armed with supposed cartographic confirmation of competing claims, border dispute can last for decades.

In the midst of a territorial dispute, it is important to put maps on display. During Chinese National Day festivities last October, a large exhibit titled “Diaoyu Islands: History and Sovereignty” dominated the first floor of the National Library in Beijing. The intent was to overwhelm. Featuring a number of old documents, manuscripts, and maps, the message was clear: these rocks in the middle of the sea belong to us and always have. Continue reading

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A Letter from Editor-in-Chief Tom Lutz

Hello friends of LARB, 

I’m writing you from Iowa City, which, primarily because of the legendary Writers Workshop and its International Writing Program, was named a UNESCO “City of Literature” – a distinction it shares with seven other cities, including Dublin and Prague, for instance. (It’s the only city in the US with the distinction, but it seems to me Los Angeles should be on that list…)

I’m here for the Mission Creek Festival, a music and arts festival with a lot of literary activity – Lorrie Moore read last night; Eula Biss, Kiese Laymon, Ander Monson, Luis Alberto Urrea, and others are taking part. I’m reading from a new travel book I’ve just finished, and sitting on a panel on publishing “in a digital landscape.”

I’ve sat on a number of panels like this over the last several years, and what always comes up, not surprisingly, is the question of the basic economic problem of the web: how do you pay for quality content when the old methods of doing so – advertising and subscriptions – no longer work. Our answer at the Los Angeles Review of Books has been to appeal directly to our readers; thousands of you have responded over the years and pitched in. We thank you, and literary culture thanks you.

We also continue to write grants and go after advertising dollars and corporate sponsors, and we continue to rely on an enormous amount of volunteer labor. But until “the digital landscape” changes, we will continue to need you to donate, as you have done so far, to keep us growing and thriving. We are launching our spring fund drive today, and hope you will once again help us do our part to build not just a city of literature, but the world of literature.

With very best wishes,

Tom Lutz

 

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Dreaming the Chinese Dream

Image: A bridge under construction in Chongqing, China. For some time now, China has been a world leader in infrastructure investment. It sometimes uses infrastructure spending to hedge against economic downturns.

By Tong Lam

Since 2013, the Chinese government has been promoting the idea of the “Chinese Dream.” While the specific meanings of the dream remain vague, the official propaganda has repeatedly emphasized that a central part of it is a yearning for national rejuvenation. This narrative of national revival not only builds on persistent sentiments of victimhood and pride; it also highlights the role of the Communist Party in leading the country out of a “Century of Humiliation” said to have begun with the Opium War (1839–1842) and returning it to the status of a great power. Continue reading

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Muammer’s Last Day

Today’s post was originally published by LARB Channel The Offing.

By Maruan Paschen

Translated by Amanda DeMarco

Muammer’s last day is my first day. I stand, eyes on the floor, in a classroom full of Arabs. Ms. Whyy from the Schiller Institute introduces me and immediately cracks a joke. Then another.

The new teacher has a really hard German name, she says, it’s hard to remember it: Said Maruan, she says and laughs, really loud.

Besides her, I’m laughing too, but not so loud.

I rub a piece of chalk between my fingers until it’s gone. A student in the last row understands the joke and grins retroactively. Ms. Whyy from the German Schiller Institute says her goodbyes and wishes me luck — don’t worry, the Arabs are a polite little tribe. Then she wishes the Arabs luck with me, but they don’t understand the joke, and neither do I. Continue reading

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Cookie on My Mind

By Magdalena Edwards

It’s Wednesday again and I miss Cookie. I know I’m not the only one, given how Fox’s runaway hit show “Empire” increased its tune-in audience by 43.75% over the course of the season, from 9.9 million for the January 7th pilot to 17.6 million for its regular 9pm time slot during last week’s double-episode finale.[1] The numbers are higher if you factor in DVR[2] and Internet views. The show, featuring the roller coaster life of former drug dealer turned hip-hop mogul and CEO of Empire Enterprises Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) and his extended Philadelphia clan by business and by family, most notably his three sons Andre (Trai Byers), Jamal (Jussie Smollett), and Hakeem (Bryshere Gray), and his ex-wife Cookie Lyon (Taraji P. Henson), is not without its critics[3] and controversy,[4] which only adds to the fun. Even Alessandra Stanley, of The New York Times and the Shonda Rhimes debacle,[5] deemed the season “pretty perfect.”[6] Continue reading

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The People’s Republic of Amnesia and Age of Ambition Revisited: A Quick Q&A

By Jeffrey Wasserstrom

Many twelve-month periods witness the publication of one or two significant books by talented journalists with long experience covering China. 2014 was special, though, due to seeing not just an unusually large number but also a great variety of works of this sort appear. It was the year, for example, of Howard French’s China’s Second Continent, an ethnographically minded work based on interviews conducted with Chinese migrants in Africa, and also of the largely Beijing-set spy thriller Night Heron, by Adam Brookes. These two books have nothing in common save for the fact that both are by authors with a deep understanding of China, derived from their long experience covering the country — in French’s case for the New York Times, in Brookes’s for the BBC. And neither of those two 2014 publications were much like either of the ones flagged in the title of this post, which were part of the same bumper crop of China books. The first of these, by Louisa Lim, offers a detailed look at the legacy and contested memory of 1989’s protests and massacres, while the second, by Evan Osnos, provides a profile-driven survey of the current Chinese political and social scenes. Continue reading