Notebook on Cities and Culture
(Formerly The Marketplace of Ideas.) Colin Marshall sits down for in-depth conversations with cultural creators, internationalists, and observers of the urban scene all around Los Angeles and beyond.
S1E32: Genuine New York Novelist with Joshua Henkin

Colin Marshall sits down in West Hollywood with novelist Joshua Henkin, author most recently of The World Without You, for their first conversation in four and a half years since his previous appearance on The Marketplace of Ideas. They discuss how the new book makes a space for characters to converge rather than occupying the space between two people, like his last one; the authorial balance between knowing too much and knowing too little, and the need to address the same question in fiction you would on Passover of "why this night is different from all other nights"; his bringing in a divorce, a death, the war in Iraq, and July 4th, and how much is too much; his tendency to throw away thousands of pages when refining each novel, observing the economist's principle of sunk costs; how character is plot, and how stories go wrong when character isn't plot; his ways of fictionally repurposing pieces of his own life that few readers would guess; the dangers of writing about recent-past events, and doing so while achieving the universal with a laserlike focus on the particular; the importance of writing no character as an authorial mouthpiece, especially when dealing with sensitive political and religious issues as The World Without You does; his use of teaching as a feedback look for his own writing, and how early in his career he managed to expose himself to a great amount of what doesn't work in fiction; his writer's life in Brooklyn, and why that borough has become such a writerly place; his childhood in and return to New York, and what that has to do with his characters existing in perpetual relationships to the place; the writer's need to hang out primarily with non-writers; his techniques for achieving a sense of place, and the American difficulty of having any sense of place at all about somewhere as distant as Iraq, which seems to have become a theme of the war itself; the press' eagerness and the author's wariness to discuss the "aboutness" of a book; and the irreducibility of fiction meaning that the easier you can summarize a novel, the worse that novel is.

(Photo: Matthew Polis)
Direct download: NCC_S1E32_Joshua_Henkin.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 8:10pm UTC

S1E31: Freedom and Ugliness with Christopher Hawthorne

Colin Marshall sits down on top of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles with Christopher Hawthorne, architecture critic at the Los Angeles Times and co-author of The Green House: New Directions in Sustainable Architecture. Last year, he conducted Reading Los Angeles, a yearlong study of the city through the books written about it. This year, he's doing a series of essays and video explorations of Los Angeles' boulevards: first Atlantic, then Sunset, and soon Crenshaw and beyond. They discuss the break from the city's previous connection with the automobile, the single-family house, and private amenity; the unusual number of existential questions Los Angeles has faced and continues to face; outsiders' visceral reaction to Los Angeles "inconsistent" architecture (especially as manifested by Randy's and Dale's Donuts), and the way freedom and ugliness can go hand-in-hand; his having grown up in Berkeley, a process that subjected him to a certain anti-Los Angeles "indoctrination"; the sense that Los Angeles is its "own thing," and how that motivates deadening choices like freeways as well as enlivening choices like turning away from Europe and toward Latin America and Asia; Woody Allen and his attitudes about cities and urbanism, as revealed in films like Annie Hall and Midnight in Paris; how the stereotype of Los Angeles' superficiality conceals its layered nature, and whether the city's best elements can ever be made directly accessible; how to read cities versus reading objects, and how familiarity with Los Angeles helped him read a city like Houston; the complicated relationship between public and private space in Los Angeles, as exemplified by streets that simply give up on sidewalks and beloved midcentury modern houses in terribly alienating locations; and the tendency of tourists to see only the worst of Los Angeles and go no further — unless they go much, much further.

Direct download: NCC_S1E31_Christopher_Hawthorne.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 7:59pm UTC

S1E30: The Stories of Los Angeles with David Kipen

Colin Marshall sits down in Boyle Heights with David Kipen, founder of that neighborhood's combined bookstore and lending library Libros Schmibros and a true man of both letters and Los Angeles. He gives commentary on books and literary culture on KPCC-FM and Sirius XM's The Bob Edwards Show, he's written the book The Schreiber Theory: A Radical Rewrite of American Film History, he recently translated Cervantes' The Dialogue of the Dogs for Melville House Books, and he spent over four years as the National Endowment for the Arts' Director of Literature, where he got their Big Read program started. They discuss how to sell paper books in neighborhoods the Kindle hasn't penetrated; his interest in getting into conversations about books on both the low-profile person-to-person level and the high-profile media one; whether we have indeed left an actual lost golden age of American reading; the lack of "slack" in American life to use for reading; how rail makes up a city's skeleton, and how Los Angeles' skeleton is growing with new additions like the Libros Schmibros-proximate Gold Line; 1939, the annus mirabilis of Los Angeles literature, and the city's modern desire, as exemplified by Mike Davis' City of Quartz, to fetishize its own depredations and destruction; whether it's hard to keep your mind in the narrative of this city, where even the natives have to immigrate; and that undervalued observer of Los Angeles and the whole of California, Thomas Pynchon.

(Photo: Alissa Walker)

Direct download: NCC_S1E30_David_Kipen.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 4:46am UTC

S1E29: Great Mistakes with Alissa Walker

Colin Marshall sits down in Silver Lake with Alissa Walker, writer on urban design, architecture, and the cityscape — especially Los Angeles' — for publications like GOODDwell, the LA Weekly, and more. She also associate-produces KCRW's DnA: Design and Architecture. They discuss Sunset Triangle Plaza, the area of reclaimed street where they sit, and what it says about the Angeleno "mind shift" toward getting out of the car; how many small, cheap improvements can alter the urban experience in the same way as a few large, expensive ones; her friends' lingering fear of getting "all sweaty" while riding bicycles, buses, and trains; the complacency Los Angeles instilled in its residents in the seventies, eighties, and even nineties; increasing the "stumble upon" factor in a large, spread-out city; her experience building a more accurate narrative of Los Angeles, a city that hasn't done much to brand itself lately, than the ones in the New York Times; the urban projects that work in this city and the ones, like a "living wall" being torn down right behind them, that don't; Los Angeles' tendency to create spaces in which to compress and imitate itself; the lack of markers, literally and figuratively, to show you "where the stuff is"; learning and showing Los Angeles through its architecture, and other works of public design more interesting than the artisanal chairs so popular last decade; her part in the GOOD Ideas for Cities project, especially when it went to her native St. Louis, and how it got her thinking about the possibilities of American cities; and her recommendations on how best to keep your eyes on the streets in Los Angeles.

Direct download: NCC_S1E29_Alissa_Walker.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 5:08pm UTC

S1E28: No Such Thing as Free Parking with Donald Shoup

Colin Marshall sits down at UCLA with urban planning professor Donald Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking and the man who's made us aware of the fact that our cities' problems come not from too little parking, but too much. They discuss the academic tendency to believe, without verification, anything bad about Los Angeles; how this city became the densest car-oriented one in America, as well as the most car-oriented dense one; falsely perceived parking "shortages," how they led to minimum free parking requirements, and how those have worsened our urban experience; Los Angeles' parking requirement-skirting Adaptive Reuse Ordinance, which made even monstrosities like 1100 Wilshire usable; the development of technology needed to allow parking prices to respond to demand, and how it works in systems like San Francisco's SFPark; the importance of treating parking space just like any other real estate, and how irresponsible we've been about that; how Ventura streets got free wi-fi through their parking program; what ruined Westwood, and what parking policy had to do with it; how he realized parking mattered so much, and why the general public has only begun to; the necessity of humor when you're writing about parking for 800 pages; and how cycling makes it users happier than any other mode of transportation (perhaps because of its lack of parking complications).

Direct download: NCC_S1E28_Donald_Shoup.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 6:58pm UTC