Review: Ghettoside by Jill Leovy

Ghettoside: A Story of Murder in AmericaGhettoside: A Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ghettoside, by LA Times reporter Jill Leovy, is a book that is simultaneously easy and hard to read. Well-written, literary, intelligent, human…and filled with the commonplace tragedy found in certain neighborhoods of Los Angeles, leaving this reader with tears in virtually every chapter.

Leovy brings stories to vivid life, accounts that are mostly missing from TV news or even her own newspaper, of the thousands of black men killed, maimed, and traumatized on the streets of South LA. Using the investigation into and subsequent trial about the murder of an LAPD detective’s son as her primary thread, the author attempts to break the bubbles of clich├ęs — e.g. “senseless violence”, “community policing”, etc. — used to keep accounts of violence and socio-economic oppression at arm’s length. These are real families, real people undergoing real trauma, every day.

These are our brothers and sisters — why are their neighborhoods policed by underfunded, undersupported cops? Why are their deaths not treated with the same respect and effort as other neighborhoods? What can we all do?

There are no facile answers, and Leovy has the reporter’s instinct to write the story and leave solution-finding to others. But certainly we can point to segregation, income inequality, inequality of policing, and other connections that go back to Emancipation and beyond as places to start, which she rightly says are not out-of-date conditions. The legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and Reconstruction backlash are alive and well in the 21st Century.

While the book is not flawless — there are many stories to tell and some details inevitably blend together — it is pretty near to it.

Attending a Q&A/signing with Leovy and LA Times CEO/Publisher Austin Beutner (the book was the first selection in the newspaper’s new book club), I had a question there wasn’t time to ask. The book ties the lawless circumstances in South LA to other historically troubled areas around the world. My thought was that in such places, the use of Truth & Reconciliation Committees is often found to aid in the recovery and progress to the next stages of history. What would a version of such an effort look like in Los Angeles, and how could the LA Times (as the witness for the People) facilitate that?


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Review: The Art of Eating, by M.F.K. Fisher

The Art of Eating: 50th Anniversary EditionThe Art of Eating: 50th Anniversary Edition by M.F.K. Fisher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are five books contained in M.F.K. Fisher’s voluminous omnibus The Art of Eating, covering a wide swath of her writing (and eating) in the first half of the 20th Century. There is autobiography, gastronomy, history, even strategies for eating well during wartime rationing — a vast feast of thoughts on cuisine and the enjoyment thereof.

That avalanche of rich commentary threatens to overwhelm the reader’s senses at times — breaks are recommended between books, perhaps within each book as well. I was also amused to find that what makes a meal for Fisher, both in preparation and components, is at times nearly as archaic and wondrous as her recitations of Victorian-era meals were to her.

But sprinkled throughout all five books are these particular moments: stories of love or melancholy or friendship or nostalgia that leave you suddenly speechless and heartbroken in the middle of your workday lunch. You slide the bookmark into that spot, close the book, and try to piece your life back together so you can finish a ham and cheese sandwich before heading back into the office.

It is not hyperbole for me to say she changed how I think about food writing or indeed what such writing can be. There is a blurb on the back cover from Julia Child, in which she quotes Fisher: “When I write about hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth, and the love of it…and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied.”

Fisher is just that good a writer, able to weave the tendrils of real, emotional, human life into a subject that can be pretentious or ostentatious in the wrong hands.

Five of five stars is not enough for The Art of Eating, so given there are five books in it, I will multiply 5 x 5 and give it a gluttonous 25 out of 5 stars. Heartily endorsed for anyone who lives to cook or eat.

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