Sunday, March 16, 2008

City of Quartz

Now Reading: City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles by Mike Davis (1990).

This book is a must-read for anyone who loves L.A. (Which I think I do, though I may be confusing love with nostalgia, since I haven't spent any time in L.A. in almost 15 years--and that was just for a week.) This one has been on my reading list for about 10 years. I finally found a used copy, so I'm just digging into it.

Mike Davis writes with a lot of energy in this leftist critique of the city. It's a fasinating look contrasting the mythology of L.A. sunshine with the city's noir undercurrent. City of Quartz also looks at L.A. as a postmodern warning of things to come when a megacity falls apart into warring tribes -- a warning that pretty much became reality with the Rodney King riots which happened just a couple of years after this book was published.

A couple of personal connections:

  • One of L.A.'s earliest boosters was a journalist named Charles F. Lummis. Lummis' writing in the early 1900s built a romantic image of an L.A. rooted in the so-called harmony of the Spanish mission era. This image drew many of Lummis' East Coast readers to Southern California, in one of the first great migrations of Americans to the city. The personal connection is that my great-grandmother Rita Rivas was Lummis' secretary for 14 years while he was involved in this boosterism.
  • City of Quartz opens with a look at "L.A.'s final frontier," a socialist colony which was built in the early 20th century near the high desert town of Llano and collapsed in 1918 (see here and here). In the 1940s, the writer Aldous Huxley lived in the ruins of the Llano colony where he pursued his pioneering psychedelics-aided mystical journeys (see here). It is not far from Phelan where I lived in my teens. The ruins of this colony off of Highway 138 were well known to us back in the 1970s. As far as I know they are still out there. Ironically, in the 18 years since City of Quartz was written, my Mom (who visits the area) and brother (who lives there) tells me "L.A.'s final frontier" has now extended far beyond Llano, deep into the Mojave.

Maybe I'll add more about this book when I finish it up.


  1. Probably for some strange return-to-the-roots type compulsion I've developed an interest in LA lately. More like from a fiction writer's perspective though.

  2. As an L.A. native (well, as much as any white girl can be), Mike Davis has been on my reading list for years. But you've inspired me to finally crack open the book.