All posts by LARB Blog

The Generalissimo’s Ghost

By Jeffrey Wasserstrom

“In Taiwan, Teens Protest Statues Honoring Former Ruler Chiang Kai-shek,”

Los Angeles Times headline, August 11, 2014

Like other historians of modern China, I give a fair number of class lectures that deal with Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975), aka “The Generalissimo,” who was the most powerful man on the Chinese mainland from the late 1920s until 1949 and held that position in Taiwan from that point until his death.  Not many of us, though, really warm to him.  I know I never have.  He comes across in most accounts as stiff and autocratic, and even sympathetic biographers seem impatient to switch from talking about him to telling stories about his glamorous Wellesley-educated wife, Soong Mei-ling.  I’ve always been left cold by his speeches and writings, feeling they awkwardly tried to fuse two things that don’t really go together: adulation of Sun Yat-sen and his revolutionary vision, on the one hand, and veneration of traditional values and orderliness a la Confucius, on the other.  And yet, seeing that Los Angeles Times headline last month, I almost felt sorry for the Generalissimo.

Continue reading

Introduction to Young Adult Week, From YA Editor Cecil Castellucci

Photo: Cecil Castellucci, our Young Adult Fiction Editor. 

School’s started. In just a few hours (10:29 p.m. EDT) it will officially be fall.

Right about now classrooms across the world are settling into their routine. Students have figured out where their second- period class is. Which teachers they love and hate. Who they are going to call friend for the rest of their life. Everything is still fresh. The year is full of potential.

We know that every single one of you fell in love with reading when you were young. And this most lasting of love affairs was probably sparked around this time of year, when you went back to school. Continue reading

Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs Art and Essay Contest Winners

Photo: J. Soto-Gonzalez, first prize art contest winner ages 14–18

Let us congratulate Lizeth and Zulema for the impossible trek they have conquered.

Lizeth speaks of the extremes of heat, self-reliance at an early age, the round the clock labor universe of farm worker (“plant — pick and pack”) and the all encompassing knowing that all this is to sustain all life. It is incredible to know that a 10 to 13-year-old wrote this with such wisdom and compassion — a hard earned essay.

Zulema charts the long cycle of migrant generations, the year-long calendar — from Asparagus to Apples — crushing through school schedules and towns. She wants to break the cycle of poverty — the same one my father dreamed of dismantling in the 1950’s. Zulema has succeeded.

So we congratulate these chroniclers of migrant struggle and continuity, these wisdom-word writers for a just Now.

Juan Felipe Herrera

Poet Laureate Continue reading

Right to Raft

Photo: Nadine Cordial

By Elizabeth Lauren Winkler

There’s a quality to youthful American summers that sets those childhoods apart. I’ve sped far enough forward now from that time that my memories have condensed into a series of vivid, if fractured, images: my parents parked on their canvas beach chairs (Dad slack-jawed in a heat-induced nap); crabs strewn like the bodies of a defeated army across a long brown-papered table; the sea of Fourth of July patchwork quilts; fireworks, post-explosion, dripping color through the night; heat throbbing on the courts at tennis camp; melting popsicles; tangled, sunburned limbs; and the cool, chemical blue waters of the country club pool. Continue reading

Robert Buscemi, of Surprise! Comedy, Nominated for Andy Kaufman Award

In early August LARB AV ran a feature on a new Los Angeles comedy circuit called Surprise! Comedy. One of the comedians featured, Robert Buscemi, has just been nominated for an Andy Kaufman Award. Here’s the video from the award voting:

And here’s the video from the original feature by LARB AV:

We won’t tell you to vote for Robert, but if you like comedy, you should vote for somebody! The link to all of the videos and voting is here. 

Take Me Out to the Ballgame, in Taipei

By Maura Elizabeth Cunningham

At precisely 6:35pm on a Thursday night, exactly as scheduled, the ChinaTrust Brother Elephants took the field at Taipei’s Xinzhuang Stadium, their bumblebee-yellow uniforms sharp against the deep green of the grass. Alone, with nearly an entire section of the outfield stands to myself, I leaned back in my seat and watched the first Uni-President 7-Eleven Lion step into the batter’s box. I had no idea who he was or how his season was going. I didn’t know who was pitching, or which team had the better record.

I didn’t care. I just wanted to watch a baseball game. Continue reading

Futures Past

Today’s post was originally published on LARB Channel Boom, which describes it as “exploring California landscapes with the San Francisco Estuary Institute.”

By Erin Beller, Ruth Askevold, and Robin Grossinger

Heading home from a successful duck hunting trip near the Sacramento River one rainy winter evening around 1850, William Wright got hopelessly lost in a muddy maze of ice-covered tules. Navigating in the pitch dark only by the direction of the wind and sleet, he trudged through a series of cold, waist-deep lakes, falling into beaver holes full of icy water. Disoriented, soaked, cold, and hungry—and lugging dozens of duck and goose carcasses—he and his companion gave up for the evening. They set up camp, making a dinner of raw goose meat and a bed of tules and goose wings—”the worst camp I ever made in my life,” Wright wrote.

At the San Francisco Estuary Institute’s Center for Resilient Landscapes, we use accounts like Wright’s to discover California as it was before the rapid and often profound transformations of the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Our ecological detective work synthesizes clues found in naturalists’ field notebooks and surveyors’ sketches; diary entries by Spanish explorers, Forty-Niners, and farmers’ wives; and photographs of camping trips and family picnics, to name a few of the colorful and idiosyncratic sources left behind by previous generations of writers and artists, scientists and surveyors, residents, and travelers. These early observations allow us to reconstruct past ecological patterns and create detailed maps of long-gone landscapes across the state. They let us visualize change through time, providing a spatially explicit view of how prior generations of Californians shaped their landscapes into the ones we have inherited and continue to reshape today. Continue reading

A Wellness Memoir: Suzanne Koven on Gail Caldwell’s New Life, No Instructions

By Suzanne Koven

In 2005, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History mounted an exhibit titled “Whatever Happened to Polio?” The Salk vaccine, first available in 1955, all but eradicated the virus which killed thousands of Americans and paralyzed many more — most famously, Franklin D. Roosevelt — during the first half of the 20th century. “All but” is significant, though, as the exhibit highlighted. Despite the introduction in 1963 of the Sabin oral vaccine, making it easy and cheap to immunize large populations, there are still a few hundred cases of the disease each year, primarily in Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and, most recently, Syria. Global health experts fear that war, mass movement of refugees across borders, and prohibition of vaccination by extremist regimes could cause a renewed spread of polio in the twenty-first century. Continue reading

Literary Santa Barbara: A Travel Piece

By Jerry Griswold

While the movie “Sideways” presented Santa Barbara as the regional capitol of mid-life wine tasting, it has also been a place where writers have come and set up shop for over 150 years. These have included Ross MacDonald, Sue Grafton, Wallace Stegner, Kenneth Rexroth, Randall Jarrell, T.C. Boyle, John Sayles, Gretel Erlich, and many others.

Writers have also written about the place. One of the first was Kate Douglas Wiggin (best known for Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm) who found Santa Barbara a “tropical revelation” after moving from snowy Maine. Among the more recent is Pico Iyer, travel writer and sometime resident of the city, who described Santa Barbara as “softer than L.A. but harder than Santa Cruz.” Continue reading

Grief, Investigation, and Mulholland Dr.

Today’s post was originally published on LARB Channel Avidly.

By Lisa Beskin

month or so after my mother’s death in 2001, I found myself in an awkward situation involving David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. I had just seen it in the theater, loved it, and desperately wanted to talk about it with a certain friend. But I hadn’t yet told him my terrible news, and because my mother had committed suicide, it couldn’t be told quickly or summarily. Every time I told someone what had happened, I flinched for both of us. It just wouldn’t do to call him up and chip, “There’s been a tragedy, but guess what? I went to the movies and saw Mulholland Dr.!” This little dilemma was the love-child of survivor guilt and Miss Manners. Eventually I settled on emailing my friend about my mom and telephoning a couple of days later. I was learning that this new, strange life had room for grief and pleasure both—and ways to live with that excruciating truth. Continue reading