Dog Days Classics: Tolkien and Martin in Love and War

tolkien and martin

By the time I gave up on finishing The Lord of the Rings, I like to think that I had outlasted a good portion of those who try. It was early on in The Return of the King, the third book of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy series, when the cumulative weight of the sheer number of pages, the chapters full of elf poetry, and the walking—God, the endless walking—finally beat me down. My middle-school-aged brain, prompted by nothing in particular, told me that I was done. This was unexpected. I had cruised through The Hobbit, a compact fairy tale that was divided into neat little easily digestible episodes. It was fast-paced, exciting and, though ostensibly a children’s book, contained hints … [Read more...]

Riding Waves, Forging Communities: Surfing, Gender, and Feminism in 20th Century California

frieda surfing

"I like surfing because I feel like the true me. I think that surfing can show off to people that you can actually do something," Salinas, CA resident and pre-teen surfer, Mari Howarth, told filmmaker Jay Dunn. "If somebody says really mean things like 'Boys can do this and girls can't,' that's a stereotype. If you really want to do it, just believe in it and you can do it." As a participant in the Wahine Project, an organization and movement founded by Salinas native and surfer Dionne Ybarra, Howarth represents the upcoming generation of female surfers, and Ybarra's program embodies the multiracial, transnational, boundary eschewing nature of the sport. Established in April of 2010, the … [Read more...]

What Our Contributors Have Been Up To


Each year we ask our contributors to tell us what else they have been writing, publishing, or otherwise working on.  Incredibly, as it turns out, the writers of ToM do not spend all of their time working on material for this site.  In fact, their work has been landing in the esteemed pages of The Nation, Dissent and more, while our friends at the South El Monte Arts Posse's East of East project has been blowing up both at ToM and KCET. Below you will find the latest news from some of our contributors and links to some great pieces.  If you're a ToM contributor and would like to add something to the list, hit us up. Alex's essay "Atlanta's Beltline Meets the Voters," based on a 2012 ToM … [Read more...]

Journalists vs. Academia: The Case of William Deresiewicz and Lawrence Buell’s The Dream of the Great American Novel


Everybody seems to have a problem with academics these days.  We've known for a long time that the American right hates us for our intellectual elitism and armchair radicalism, but now the mainstream left-leaning media has also acquired a taste for the game.  A number of recent articles and op-eds in newspapers and magazines like The New York Times, Slate, and The Atlantic have taken humanities professors to task for everything from their "tin-eared arrogance" (Ron Rosenbaum) to their "bat-shit analysis" (Rebecca Schuman), for being "too sociological" (editors of N+1) and for not paying enough attention to contemporary society (Nicholas Kristoff).  We are condemned for our tenured loafers … [Read more...]

Sloping toward the Future?: Generation X and Malaise in Richard Fulco’s There Is No End to This Slope


  “Hurt people hurt people,” the damaged Roger Greenberg tells a pre-Frances Ha Greta Gerwig in Noah Baumbach’s 2010 film Greenberg. Stiller’s character, a fortyish former indie rock star turned carpenter returning to California after years in New York, writes angry correspondence to local newspapers, letters of complaint to companies about poor service or accommodations and spends most of his time not doing stuff.   The dissolution of his old band, in part because he harbored fears about more or less selling out, might have seemed like a sign of integrity back in the day, but now his extremism seems to stem from some sort of pathological state of arrested development. He exudes passive … [Read more...]

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...]

Dog Days Classics: Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas


History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of “history” it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time—and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened. - Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream I know this quote is probably not the ontological narrative or historiographical prose you expect to see at the beginning of one of these posts.  My passion is cultural and intellectual history, but when I developed this interest as an … [Read more...]


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