Toni Margarita Plummer: Writing Her Way Home in The Bolero of Andi Rowe


With hardly any traffic, she was soon at the Santa Anita exit. She drove over the bridge bordered by chain-link fences, the signs of the Ramada, Mobil, and Burger King growing from their stems, until the car reached the crest, and she eased her foot off the gas pedal, coasting into the outstretched street. —“All the Sex Is West,” The Bolero of Andi Rowe by Toni Margarita Plummer Thousands of books and movies have been set in the Los Angeles landscape, but only a handful of works—including those of Salvador Plascencia and Michael Jaime-Becerra—take place in El Monte. The Bolero of Andi Rowe, a collection of interconnected short stories by Toni Margarita Plummer, is another example, but it … [Read more...]

El Monte Forever: A Brief History of Michael Jaime-Becerra

Michael Jaime Becerra book talk close up

“I was born in San Gabriel. [...] There was no hospital in El Monte at the time.”[1] Here is what you should know about Michael Jaime-Becerra: he loves El Monte so much he bought a house there, he used to write poetry he now calls the “demo tapes” of his writing career, he's interested in writing about a Los Angeles the public never reads about, he's an excellent professor but he could be a famous DJ, he changed his name so that people would know a Mexican-American is the one writing his stories, and like many other writers, he has been scribbling down stories since middle school. But we will start with El Monte, since that's what this project is all about: mapping this place, its corners … [Read more...]

7 Books to Make You Grateful for Your Own Family on Thanksgiving

full house family

Visual media have the advantage of providing quick comfort; if you need a change of mood or just an easy distraction, a TV show or a movie or even a YouTube clip can get the job done without too much effort, so long as said visual media is not designed by Ingmar Bergman or Lars von Trier.  Earlier this week ToM offered up its suggestions for films that touch on the variegated vicissitudes of family, on the theory that watching Pan's Labyrinth or Rachel Getting Married might put the craziness of one's own family in gratifying context.  Books, however, don't offer the same kind of instant remedy.  As Meatwad once said, "Books is from the devil, and TV is twice as fast!"  However, we humbly … [Read more...]

Trying to Be Someone in Irish, Working-Class Brooklyn: Alice McDermott’s Someone

bruce davidson 1959 brooklyn gang photo

At the end of Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil, we see Tanya, a jaded gypsy, reflecting on the death of her ex, Hank Quinlan, a corrupt detective who had just been shot by his partner.  “He was a lousy cop,” she says matter-of-factly. “Is that all you have to say for him?” asks Schwarz, another cop.  Tanya brushes aside the question.  “He was some kind of man,” she says.  “What does it matter what you say about people?” What indeed.  If Breaking Bad recently reminded us of the futility even the most powerful and dynamic people face when they attempt to preserve a legacy (linking Walter White to Shelley’s "Ozymandias"), we might wonder what the everyman and everywoman may hope to expect … [Read more...]

Using Science Fiction to Teach History (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Distant Future)


I have been reluctant to use fiction in my courses.  This is despite the fact that my own high school and college educations introduced me to most of the fiction I know; as a recalcitrant and noncommittal reader of non-nonfiction, I still find it difficult to get through even the best literary prose.  But the diminutive and terrifying Sharia Isenhour got me to read Crime and Punishment and Cry the Beloved Country in 10th grade—this was a woman who was utterly distinguished by a mien somewhere between drill sergeant and Communist re-educator. My college courses, at a public university not much different from the one where I currently teach, demanded an ambitious diet of literature; at UNCC, … [Read more...]

Frankie Fitzgibbons, the Coen Brothers, and the Free Market

gordon gekko annie lennox and american psycho

Some of them want to use you Some them want to get used by you Some of them want to abuse you Some of them want to be abused The Eurythmics’ synth-pop anthem seemed to speak for something about the 1980s—a cold, cool attitude that if you wanted it, you could find it on the free market (no matter how self-destructive it was).  Yet Annie Lennox’s lyrics also evoked a classical kind of of sexual supply and demand.  The whole system would approach equilibrium between those who wanted to abuse and those who wanted to be abused, and ultimately the market would align everyone’s interests, resulting in a kind of kinky harmony—the greatest good for the greatest number. Other pop cultural … [Read more...]

Desperate Characters: Best of 2012 Part II


As part of ToM's Best of 2012 our contributors reflect on books, movies, music, and other pop culture stand-by's that they discovered this year, no matter when their source of inspiration originated.  That's right, it's a vaguely "objet trouvé" Best of 2012.   Art historians everywhere are recoiling. ToM's Adam Gallagher serves up our second installment.  Click here for part I. Anyone that even pays a minuscule amount of attention to current events should be given a free pass to a certain type of quiet resignation. Here are a few salient reasons why: Climate change, gun violence killing children in American schools, drone strikes killing children abroad, abject poverty, and metastasizing … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: Lanny Budd, Upton Sinclair’s Ideal Idler


"It was profoundly true that movements of the spirit came first, and that events of history were consequences thereof." -Upton Sinclair, Wide is the Gate Several years ago I was directed toward Upton Sinclair’s socialist-minded quasi-spy novels about a young man named Lanning Prescott Budd. The 11 books span the breadth of time from the onset of The Great War to the rise of the Cold War, but as I have been able to acquire only the first half of the series, my investigation has followed Lanny only so far as the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. A New York Times reflection on the books gives a decent introduction to the protagonist: Born in 1900, he was the illegitimate child of an … [Read more...]

Manic Depressive Gunslingers, Presidential Vampire Slayers, and Emo-Rock Frontiersmen: Refracting History through a 21st Century Lens


When Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter hit the big screen this past summer, some critics hailed it as a surprisingly entertaining, if ridiculous, take on Lincoln, vampire movies, and American history. Roger Ebert gave the film a thumbs up, noting tongue in cheek: “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is without a doubt the best film we are ever likely to see on the subject.” Though one should probably not expect James Madison: Zombie Slayer anytime soon. The market for dead president horror films seems, well, a less than promising industry. Other writers, noting the movie occupied a region of summertime mediocrity, applauded the idea but struggled with the end result. “It's not quite Inception. But … [Read more...]

Chasing Narrative: Jennifer Egan’s Sometimes Non-Linear Take on Time, Age, and Technology


High school didn’t leave much time for movies.  Maybe that’s not entirely true; movies were there and time for them existed, but the level of analysis one marshals as a college freshman or high school student probably lacks the kind of insight more seasoned individuals can bring to the table. In other words, it’s hard to say how much adolescents attend to issues like structure, perspective, or the relationship between audience and the art; those heady thoughts tend to come much later as successive waves of pop culture and literary canons continually crest and recede.  But it was 1994 when Pulp Fiction first introduced a new generation to the complex marriage between the visual, the … [Read more...]


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