Friday, April 30, 2010

I Feel Earthquakes More Often than They Happen

I Feel Earthquakes More Often than They Happen: Coming to California in the Age of Schwarzenegger
by Amy Wilentz
Hardcover, 322 pages
Simon and Schuster, 2006
ISBN-13: 9780743264396

From Publishers Weekly:
For those living outside the Golden State, it's easy to forget that somewhere "out west" there is a land of sunshine and Schwarzenegger that may be a bigger force in shaping America's idea of itself than any self-respecting New Yorker would admit. Into this California-"the New World's new world, America's America" as Wilentz describes it-plunges the former Jerusalem correspondent for the New Yorker and lifelong East Coaster. Her book is both social criticism and the memoir of a self-described "catastrophist," who fled New York not long after 9/11 (having first bought an inflatable boat to escape her Upper West Side apartment in case of emergency). With pessimistic wit that is pure East Coast, Wilentz regards California, and Los Angeles in particular, as the same kind of strange and dark-hearted place it was for Nathanael West. Through Wilentz's Gulliveresque chronicles of the gubernatorial recall, natural disasters and Hollywood, there surfaces a clear affinity for the "showmanship" and "blowhardism" upon which California is founded. It is, Wilentz writes, America's "sunny coast of the imagination"-a dreamworld with all the confusion and awesomeness that implies. (Aug.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
My Thoughts:

Although I was mildly interested in the whole book and agreed with Wilentz occasionally, I Feel Earthquakes More Often is essentially the thoughts of a wealthy east coast transplant on why she doesn't like the west coast, specifically L.A. First, it should be noted that California is much more than just L.A. To be honest, the whole east coast versus the west coast attitude can get very tiresome for the rest of us. (There are places in the United States besides the coasts.) In some ways it felt like the only reason this book was published was to give east coast intellectuals another anti-west coast book. The trouble is that it's a very incomplete book to fulfill that purpose. She never mentions illegal immigration or homelessness, both huge issues. I also hope someone points out to Wilentz that people in other places besides California also prepare for disasters. I know there are families who take measures to be prepared for hurricane season or storm season or even harsh winter storms.

Having lived for several years within walking distance from the California border, I've seen and experienced plenty of California bashing first hand. Sometimes the detractors have a point. Many of the Californian's who moved to Northern Nevada did have a superior attitude. (Of course, many of the native Nevadan's had an attitude too.) I did learn to dislike most California drivers. They did follow too close while driving too fast. Additionally, I always felt that the attitude toward water usage was... odd. Yes, they have water available and talk about water all the time, but should they be using it so carelessly and thoughtlessly? Really, homeowners associations requiring grass lawns when you are living in a desert climate is irresponsible. Even keeping and watering large expanses of grass is wasteful. I don't even like to water the lawn when living in a climate that gets plenty of rain. (I'll have to admit that the whole water issue gets me going and I could go on and on so it's best to end that topic - but not before I mention that we paid less for water while living in Nevada than we paid any place else.)

This is one of those books that I'm glad I read but I can't do more than give it a simple recommendation only to those who think they might already be interested in reading it. Recommended


All along 58, a lesser road, the desert rolled out around me like a faded rug, shaken for cleaning, twisted and contorted, it's design, if it had one, indistinguishable. It was another planet out here: that's how it feels, when the land takes over....You begin to go blank in these conditions, counting miles, zoning out, hoping the big rigs don't run out of control on the downhills and ram you off the road. pg. 2

In L.A., you keep your car or cars outside, because the garage is often not a garage, it's an office or a playroom or a pool house, or a studio, or a guest room. pg. 20

Knowledge does play a part in controlling fear, although too much knowledge can exacerbate tension. It's best not to know how many moving parts are involved in lowering the landing gear, for example. pg. 27

I've now become like my friend who was so deranged after September 11 that he became a virtual survivalist. But the major difference between me and him is this: most of my friends in California have similar supplies. This is a state of the disaster-ready.Now that I too am prepared, I await my earthquake with something like interested, even eager, anticipation. In fact, I feel earthquakes more often than they happen. pg. 28

People here talk as if they are on extended leave or on assignment or on sabbatical from real life. They're all doing field work. pg. 29

I hope one day to be able to feel the seduction of the forest again; California has a tormented relationship with nature, and now I'm suffering from the syndrome. pg. 55

There was, as is common with movie stars, little concern about whether you were interested in what he was saying. Of course you were interested. pg. 57

This water also comes down to me from Northern California and means that I can have grass - a great water consumer - growing in my backyard. It means that my neighborhood can be green and lush even in a place that would normally be sagebrush, pine, and cactus. pg. 114

As anyone knows who has seen the movie Chinatown, water is traditionally California's most controversial commodity, because it is - simply put - the basis for everything, and yet there is not enough of it to support both the state's growing population and the state's growing agriculture. Since the beginning of it's modern development, there hasn't been enough water in California, and hence major fortunes in the state have famously (and infamously) been made on water rights, water infrastructure, water banks, and water control. pg. 125

It's not easy to notice much when you're driving on a freeway in L.A., other than how closely Californians follow each other, and at what high speeds. I am always dropping back and allowing space in front of me, which someone always switches lanes to fill. pg. 231

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