The New York Times no longer runs a book review on Friday, the day it publishes a two-part arts section crammed with film, theater, art and music reviews.
Instead of reviewing a new book, the newspaper offers critic Dwight Garner's American Beauties column, in which he looks back at a forgotten American classic. World literature lovers will claim provinciality in the U.S. focus, and Garner would perform a worthwhile service giving attention to authors from other countries.
But in concentrating on American literature, Garner can explore a multitude of voices, reflecting the country's vibrant mix of cultures, ethnic backgrounds and literary genres. Combining critical depth and a witty, readable style, the column gives Garner the chance to roam outside of the book-review format.
Garner in his May 5 column gives an appreciation of the wonderful Los Angeles writer Eve Babitz, concentrating on her racy, fluent memoir, "Eve's Hollywood." Babitz's style is like Nora Ephron by way of Joan Didion, with "more lust and drugs and tequila," Garner says.
A Hollywood native who ran in LA rock and young film auteur circles - she designed album covers for Buffalo Springfield and Linda Ronstadt and dated Jim Morrison - Babitz with all of her flippancy and satirical flair also brings an underlying wistfulness to her writing, along with a deep fondness for her hometown. She understands the city's shallowness and facile worship of glamour and fame, while defending its creative spirit. Her work replicates the city's freeway style and social flash.
As Garner points out, Babitz was also a pioneer food writer, one of the first to appreciate the city's ethnic street dishes. She also vividly portrays the city's restaurant milieu, in which lunch and dinner dates blend business, gossip and pleasure.
Babitz's book, along with other writings including the impressionistic "Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, the Flesh and L.A.," was republished by the New York Review Book Classics series, which gives new life to significant books fallen out of print. The series includes foreign and American titles. Garner en route to his appreciation of Babitz's work salutes the New York Review's book publishing venture for bringing forgotten classics to a new generation.