Media Relations: media commentary and criticism

Sunday, May 07, 2000

ex libris: depthless deeps

OK, first, let's just explain that little logo to the left.

Unabridged Books in Chicago has this huge overstock of stuff that's been remaindered. Somehow, it's all stuff that either I never saw the first time, or saw and thought that it cost too much. And now that they've got it all concentrated in one section and I can see it all, I've been buying all this stuff for sometimes 25% of the original cost. And thus, reviews of older works will sometimes appear here. Hopefully relatively short reviews. But who can tell? Any road, they'll all carry the "remaindered" logo.

And so, onward!

Depth Takes a Holiday : Essays from Lesser Los Angeles
by Sandra Tsing Loh (1996)
trade paperback from Amazon or Barnes and Noble: $10.40
hardback remainder from Unabridged Books, Chicago: $5.99
(the cover of the trade paperback, shown here, is quite different from the one on the hardback.)

My goodness, this is a fun read!

OK, first off, the title is NOT misleading. Depth takes a holiday is almost a perfect title for this book. A collection of essays, some original to this collection, some collected from her other gig in the (now defunct) Buzz magazine, and almost all frothy and fun. After all, with chapter/essay titles such as "IKEA! Cry of a lost generation", "Nudes on Ice", "Lost in CD-ROM Land" and so on, one really wouldn't expect essays of incredible ... er, depth.

That said, you do occasionally veer with Sandra into moments of rather startling seriousness. For example, "Is this ethnic enough for you" has moments of sincerely grim irony:

Then, as internationalism waned in the self-centered seventies, a new aesthetic called multiculturalism washed up on the dreary beaches of academe. Unlike internationalism, which viewed the world through the rose-colored lens of global brotherhood, multiculturalism was concerned about making sure everyone got a piece of the pie. Unlike international people, multicultural people seemed to spend much of their time hurling things at each other and fighting over gristly bits of grant money.
     In arts, multiculturalism has become prized over all other qualities--over talent, over beauty, over ideas. As a result, emerging playwrights are discovering their one-sixteenth cherokee roots. SEcond generation Asian-American actresses who never even bothered to learn Chinese are suddenly yearning for their grandmothers in Shanghai (not enough to go there, perhaps, but enough to do a monologue about it). And Caucasians are suddenly developing pieces about the terrible angst of having no actual ethnic roots on which to base their art.
---page 72

The best of the essays, for me, were actually the first two: "IKEA! Cry of a lost generation" and "The Joy of Temping". The latter in part because of a rather grim summer spent as a statistical typist for the University of California--a great deal of your reaction to this book, especially for those in their thirtysomethings, is going to be because of the types of experience that you bring to it. Generally in your late twenties or early thirties, you hit a certain stage of your life, a certain stage of mind--almost, but not quite, settled and not entirely sure whether you want it or no--and this collection brings up all those memories, resonates with them. (Well, OK, most 30 year olds haven't been to Club Med. And I do want to know where in New Mexico she saw pale green cornfields shimmering under an azure sky.) Going through phases of eating too much take-out, the trials and tribulations of dating, the search for satisfying employment--we've all done that, or most of it, and when she works on those common experiences, her writing is at its best. (In fact, the two Club Med essays are among the weakest. Possibly because if you're going to read about someone vacationing in the lap of luxury, the least they can do is enjoy it and not feel guilty about it.)

Overall, though, it's mostly a breezy examination of the Los Angeles landscape through the eyes of a "late Boomer" (of which I happen to be one, so I sometimes understood her rather better than I wanted to). And she doesn't limit herself to Los Angeles; in "Nudes on Ice", she actually goes to Las Vegas and takes the opportunity to see the show "Nudes on Ice":

Nude blonde women ... in big Las Vegas Lido hats ... on ice skates. As dinner theater [...] As the drums rolled, the announcer gaily introduced "NUDES ON ICE" ... by saying who was in it! And to my horror, it appeared as though its participants boasted actual skating credentials. It was so unutterably dark ... apparently, one of tonight's Nudes had actually won the Olympic Bronze medal in Helsinki!
---pages 32-33

(For the record, Helsinki does not seem to have ever hosted the Winter Games. In fact, FINLAND doesn't seem to have hosted them.)

The Nudes, in fact, turn out to be rather less than she's expecting.

In any event, it's a nice fun afternoon read. For the most part, the writing is crisp and entertaining and evocative. Buy it and save it for the summer, then take it to the beach. Read it when you're on a trip somewhere. You won't regret it.

And parts of it will lodge in your brain and stay there, whether you want them to or not.

Posted by iain at 10:13 PM in category