LAtitudes: An Angeleno’s Atlas (2015)

Los Angeles!

I hope these letters find you well. I just got in after some smooth rickety-rolling through the 210 freeway, and the night is ours.

I’m with the InsideOUT Writers program at a juvenile camp in San Dimas through October, and while the ride up is a solid hour’s drive past mid-day heat and glaring metal, the ride back is beautiful.

The City gleams like a nebula from the 210 in the evening, and it was like an orchestra tonight: every driver was part of a great ballet on the road, slipping and swerving at each curve in such synchrony that although we were separate, we really acted like just a single passage of light through the darkness.

Speaking of light-speed, I’ve been reading voraciously over the last few weeks! Ever since I got back from Chicago, one thing has been clear: there’s only so much time to research my passion for what makes up a great city, and I absolutely do want to take advantage of every minute of it.

For August’s book review, I’m excited to feature LAtitudes: An Angeleno’s Atlas by Patricia Wakida, in which L.A. aficionados can find one another through a stream of pages dedicated to uncovering the roots of this place we call home.
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With over nineteen different authors from all across the L.A. spectrum, the writing in LAtitudes is highly aware of the multiplicity which makes up The City. As Luis Alfaro notes at the outset, there is no ‘one L.A.’, but over 18 million of them.

And as Anthea Hartig and Josh Sides point out, L.A. is not just in downtown or Hollywood, or in the east or south sides, but it’s in the pedestrian friendliness of Burbank, and the vastness of Sunland-Tujunga, and in sun-baked Sylmar. It’s also in the historic city of Inglewood, as well as in lesser known Hawthorne, and the laid back South Bay. Los Angeles is also in San Pedro, as well as in Long Beach, and Norwalk and Cerritos! The list goes on, as 60% of The City is actually outside of The City.

Of course, anyone browsing through the web can tell you that L.A.’s made up of 88 different “communities”, but what’s special about LAtitudes is that you won’t just discover the hard facts about the land but also the stories attached to it.

For example, did you know that L.A. was once little more than a string of cattle ranches across a couple of dozen prairies? I sure didn’t, but Teddy Varno’s essay makes it a live experience.

And did you know that L.A. was attacked one early February morning during World War 2, though not by the Axis powers, but by a UFO?! Yes, it sounds like the stuff of movies, but Jason Brown’s essay places readers right in the middle of the incredible sequence for an unforgettable ride.

LAtitudes goes beyond the wild and quirky, however, and features truly historical work. Cindi Alvitre’s Coyote Tour describes the Tongva and Yaangna tribes who trailed through the land before the Spanish crown decimated or acculturated their people, while Nathan Masters’s Gridding the City identifies the true genius of the grid masters who gave The City its ‘sprawling’ form.

Laura Pulido’s Landscapes of Racial Violence moved me so much that I’ll have a separate review for it later, and David Ulin’s Freeway Jam left me with a vivid image of the beautiful if broken promise of L.A.’s freeways.

From there, it continues! Angelenos will get a taste of life in the L.A. River from Andrew Wilcox’s Stalking Carp, while historians will be unable to deny the power of the legendary Luis Rodriguez’s How Xican@s Are the Makeweight of Los Angeles’s Past, Present, and Future.

So, what are you waiting for? If you want to have some fun with L.A. in the comfort of home on the couch or underneath the breeze and shade of its palm trees, LAtitudes will not let you down.

In true L.A. fashion, the book will refresh the reader’s imagination of the metropolis, one fantastic intersection at a time. For this, it gets The L.A. Storyteller’s full approval.

J.T.

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