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Hitting the books, L.A. fashion

October 24, 2011 | 12:10 pm

Vromans

Sometimes L.A. needs reminding that Hollywood is not its only bread and butter, and that movies and TV are hardly the only form of entertainment.

There’s books. Remember books? Here’s just my weekend’s serendipity of things book-ly:

On Friday evening, as I’m walking out of Vroman’s bookshop in Pasadena, I run into an acquaintance, Ann Binney, administrator of the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books (a bigger and more thrilling literary event than anything put on by that supposedly book-besotted publishing powerhouse, New York).

And who is that man she’s with? Michael Ondaatje! The Booker Prize Michael Ondaatje! "The English Patient" and "Anil’s Ghost" Michael Ondaatje! In Pasadena! 

Then, as I was organizing next month’s to-do list, I found my invitation to an authors event from Red Hen Press. It’s a Southern California publishing house that’s included some of my works in its anthologies.

I know in this part of the world, I never expect an invitation with the regal dress code of "tiaras and orders." Appropriate attire for this event and for this gaggle of writers, among them my friend T.C. Boyle, he of the singular red high-top sneakers, is detailed in the invitation as "dressy-casual." 

Exactly what does "dressy-casual" mean here? Is it what I’m seeing lately in the mismatched couples –- she’s the "dressy" in a soignee cocktail frock and high heels, he’s the "casual," slouching toward Soho House in jeans and an untucked shirt?

If "dressy-casual" is instead what each person should be wearing, I wish that, rather than the probably compromise –- say, pressed khakis –- my fellow scribes would match one extreme with the other. Frock coats and flip-flops. This would be the whimsical California version of "tiaras and orders" -- the Duke of Windsor, styled by the Marx Brothers.

Also on the November calendar, the ingenious Libros Schmibros is a popup store in Westwood. 

Historically, this cross-town geography would work the other way: some Westside bookstore would generously consent to swan through the less prosperous regions of L.A. This time, with the demise of so many independent Westside book shops, Libros Schmibros, the nifty used bookshop-lending library in Boyle Heights  (for all you Silver Lake/Echo Park poseurs, Boyle Heights is in the one, the only, the original Eastside) is giving the Westside the benefit of its cool.

And lastly, I finally took a good and overdue look at "Afterimage: A Brokenhearted Memoir of a Charmed Life." Its author, Carla Malden, is the daughter of my sweet friends Mona Malden and her late husband, Karl, the matchless Broadway and film actor.

Mona and Karl were married, if I remember correctly, between the matinee and the evening performances of some play; they were a few months short of their 71st anniversary when Karl died.

He was 97, and his death was sorrowful but not, at that age, a complete surprise. What was a surprise was that, about two and a half years earlier, Mona and Karl’s son-in-law, Laurence Starkman, married to their daughter Carla, died of cancer, leaving his childhood sweetheart-wife and a daughter, Cami.

It is a bittersweet beauty of a book, measured and unsparing. Carla writes of Cami climbing into the bed where, hours earlier, Laurence had died, "the sheets still clammy, even gamey with his sweat. But it was only there, on that bed" that the girl was able to sleep. Carla busts up all the platitudes and sentimental "certainties" of mortality and wrestles mano-a-mano with the angel of death. It is as good a book as I have read about our own deaths and surviving others', the two inevitabilities awaiting us all.

ALSO:

Patt Morrison Asks: New master Ed Ruscha

Patt Morrison Asks: George Regas, keeping faith

Patt Morrison Asks: The pill's author Carl Djerassi

Patt Morrison Asks: Benefit buster Lanny Ebenstein

Patt Morrison Asks: The brain, Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa

-- Patt Morrison

Photo: Patrons browse at Vroman's bookstore in Pasadena. Credit: Hyungwon Kang

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