"I cannot live without books." -- Thomas Jefferson

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

5 Questions with Matthew Specktor, author of American Dream Machine

1. You are a founding editor of LA Review of Books.  Tell us how that came about.
As you know, Los Angeles is one of the largest book markets in the country. All of us were a little surprised there wasn't a Los Angeles Review of Books already. (After all, New York has one, London has one . . . ) Tom Lutz, LARB's editor in chief, had a strong belief that books coverage was declining in many traditional venues--newspapers cutting or shrinking their Sunday book review supplements and so on--but that readership, and interest in books, hasn't declined in the slightest. As it happens, he was absolutely correct. But we saw a need for it, for an expansive site that would provide essays and cultural commentary of all sorts, including thoughtful, provocative pieces about books. Between the five of us (the original founding editors of LARB: Tom, myself, Evan Kindley, Julie Cline, and Lisa Jane Persky), we knew a lot of writers we felt might be willing to contribute to such a site, if it existed. And so we started working the phones, so to speak. It was that simple.

2. Favorite stop in LA?

Besides Book Soup? Well, I have to give a certain amount of credit to King's Road Cafe, since I wrote most of American Dream Machine there at a corner table, under the influence of their astonishingly strong coffee. I'm partial to Musso & Frank, when I want to old school it. Pizzeria Mozza when I'm feeling flush.

3. Who are your literary influences?

Too many to mention. Writers to whom I return often include Philip Roth, Wallace Stevens, Henry James, Jane Austen, George Eliot, Denis Johnson, Nabokov, Saul Bellow, James Salter, Pynchon. Contemporaries I love would include Jonathan Lethem, Dana Spiotta, Maggie Nelson, John Jeremiah Sullivan. Right now I'm reading the first volume of Karl Ove Knausgaard's "My Struggle" and it's thrilling me to bits.

4. American Dream Machine is about many things, but very much an LA book.  Do you have a favorite book about Los Angeles or the film industry in particular?

Again, there are so many. It really varies according to mood. Ones I've enjoyed (or re-enjoyed) recently include Robert Stone's Children of Light and Steve Erickson's Rubicon Beach, though I guess the former is more an "industry novel" than a "Los Angeles" one. I just started David Freeman's A Hollywood Education, which I'm told is quite wonderful as well.

5. You wrote a book about George Roy Hill's 1973 film The Sting. Any chance you will publish more film criticism?

I certainly hope so. I love writing criticism, whether of film, literature, music. Really I don't distinguish terribly between fiction and criticism. Writing of any kind is essentially reader-response. I'm talking back to the texts that have made me. Criticism is just a little more direct in doing this, is all. I loved writing about The Sting, which delights me every bit as much today as it did when I was a kid (and I've surely seen it more than twenty times, by now. At least). I'd love to write at length about Altman, or about Hal Ashby . . .

Matthew Specktor discusses & signs his novel American Dream Machine at Book Soup on Wednesday, July 10th at 7pm.

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