While he is from Lakewood, D.J. Waldie has always been an avid Los Angeles observer.
The author, born in 1948, has captured the history, culture, and everyday life of Los Angeles in a handful of books known for shedding light on commonplace things that create a sense of place.
He is perhaps best known for having said this kind of thing in his book, Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir, his account of growing up in Lakewood in the 1950s, who later worked for the city and retired as deputy city administrator Spotlights turned on its own neighborhood by Lakewood in 2010.
Lakewood resident D.J. Waldie wrote a new book entitled “Becoming Los Angeles: Myth, Memory and Feeling of Place”, which illuminates the city through a collection of essays. (Courtesy photo of Angel City Press)
Waldie's other published works include Real City: Downtown Los Angeles Inside / Outside and Where We Are: Notes from Los Angeles, a collection of his essays and observations on the development of the city.
In his latest book, Becoming Los Angeles: Myth, Memory, and Sense of Place, Waldie takes on the sprawling city with a mixture of poetry, historical, and cultural criticism to explore the myths and realities of Los Angeles in a collection of Los Angeles essays.
The work touches on the history of the city well into the 19th century and deals with issues such as pedestrians, the density of the city, smog, weather, homelessness, real characters, and even the transplants that define the city and convey place.
Waldie spoke to the Southern California News Group about his latest book, which will be published August 18 by Angel City Press. Some of the answers have been lightly edited and condensed for space.
Q: is this a history book? Is it a memory Is it a criticism of the city?
A: It's all of these things. It's part history, part personal memory, part reflection on the role of nature in Los Angeles, and part a collection of examples of men and women who became Angelenos.
Q: Why did you want to write this book?
A: I think it is incredibly important right now that the people who live here know better how to get a feel for a place. I think the lack of a sense of place is a disadvantage for the type of city and region we want to live in.
Q: Is it a celebration of the city or a hard look at LA?
A: I think this book is an example of a critical imagination. It is a view of Los Angeles from different perspectives that is intended to provide the reader with new perspectives on his whereabouts, so that he can draw more attention to this place and ask the right questions about it.
Q: You write a lot about Los Angeles. What was it about this city that inspired you so much?
A: I have a deep interest in how people live their everyday lives, and while I'm not a trained historian, I love history.
Q: What does it mean to be an Angeleno?
A: It means being ready to be mixed, hybrid ethnicity, race, attitude, what you eat, what you hear. The truth of Los Angeles is that the world meets here and sometimes it was a brutal collision and sometimes it was a redeeming gathering.
Q: What will readers of this book learn about Los Angeles that you think will surprise them about the city?
A: I think you might be surprised how much the 19th century city is still part of the 21st century city. We tend to think of Los Angeles as a kind of constant erasure of the past. I think the reader will find that the book suggests that the past lingers, it lingers.
Q: what is an example of this?
A: Go to downtown Los Angeles and have a look around. The street grid for downtown Los Angeles follows the pattern established by Spanish law of India in 1781, according to which the street grid had to be angled 45 degrees from true north and south due to the location of the river. Other cities have roads go north, south, east, and west, the familiar grid you see all over America. But downtown Los Angeles has a crooked heart and hints at a Spanish colonial past.
Q: In the book you talk about well-known LA personalities like Huell Howser, but you also talk about everyday people like a woman who sold buttons who have a personality all of their own. Who is the Button Lady, as you call her, and why was it important to you to include her in this book?
A: She is in the book because she represents someone who will turn the everyday chores of trading into an extraordinary encounter. Buying a button should be the least interesting thing you do in life, she makes it fabulous. And that's an interesting aspect of Los Angeles, that a lot of what is very ordinary can become wonderful here.
Q: You say in the book that Los Angeles has always been a "place of becoming." What do you mean by that?
A: This means that Los Angeles has been a city not only in the present but also in the future throughout its history. That has some good aspects like innovation, creativity, but also some negative aspects. If the real Los Angeles is not here and now, but always out there in the future, it leads to a certain disregard for the here and now. We always wait for the next Los Angeles and don't pay attention to the current Los Angeles.
Q: What would you like people to know about LA through this book?
A: I would hope that while reading this book, people will learn a little more about how to fall in love with this place.