Sunday, June 21, 2009

Noir, Los Angeles style

There is a great deal of conjecture about books and “the future of publishing.” What that basically means is that major publishing’s empire has been forced to contract and consolidate.

Amidst all of this hand wringing about books and their demise, small press publishing continues to experience healthy growth. There are a wealth of innovative small press publishers, particularly those publishing new fiction.

One of the things I enjoyed when I was in Los Angeles, and attended the LA Times Festival of Books, was meeting some of these small press aficionados and seeing the diversity of titles they were bringing out. All of the publishers I talked to were optimistic and saw opportunities in the particular niches they occupied.

One of my favorites of these various presses has to be Akashic Books, a Brooklyn-based small press, founded by former Girls Against Boys bassist, Johnny Temple. With a focus on urban literary fiction, Akashic has developed an expansive catalog of quality titles over the past decade.

Their noir series is pure genius. Launched back in 2004 with the first title, Brooklyn Noir, this innovative concept has expanded into double digits, including noir books highlighting Baltimore, Chicago, Manhattan, Portland, Oregon, and Los Angeles.

After tooling around Los Angeles for a week, I knew I had to read Los Angeles Noir when I returned to the sedate environs of my home state.

What I really like about the two noir books I’ve read, the one set in Los Angeles (and also, Baltimore) was how each story is centered in a particular neighborhood, or section of the city.

Each one of the books is edited by a writer hailing from the featured city. The Los Angeles book’s editing duties were handled by Denise Hamilton. Hamilton is a native Angeleno and former reporter for The Times. She now regularly shows up on best seller lists for her crime novels.

Hamilton clearly knows about noir and the city’s penchant for that writing genre. Interestingly, Hamilton shares with readers in the introduction to the book that she was surprised given LA’s noir tradition that a similar book hadn’t already been done.

With each subsequent story being set in a neighborhood/section of Los Angeles, the book mirrored my own take on the city, which Hamilton echoes when she describes the city as a “grab bag of ethnic clusters, neighborhoods, communities, subcultures.”

LA Noir captures the best of the genre, with a 21st century take on it. With each story’s twists, turns, double-crosses, characters drawn to Hollywood’s former myths, and deals gone awry, given to readers by some of the city’s best writers, it shouldn’t be a surprise when they find themselves eagerly turning pages, disappointed once they reach the book’s final one.

[Johnny Temple of Akashic Books/(LA Times photo)]



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