David Kipen, damn fine writer

At that LA bloggy thingy last Saturday, I met many interesting people and saw many blogging buddies, but there is one person I met that I haven’t written about yet: David Kipen, book editor for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Kipen struck me immediately as a man of devilish charm and understated intelligence, meaning he struck me as humble, but possibly only because he let me dominate the conversation. I tend to get overly excited when I meet book people who share my passion for words about California. I opened up immediately when Kipen told me that he what he reviews mostly are books about California.

This evening I’ve spent a little time reading some of Kipen’s work. He’s a damn fine writer, and I’m adding him to my permalinks so I can keep tabs on what he has to say.

The man can flat out write. Consider these first three graphs from his review of Marc Reisner’s final book:

What if the pioneers had settled America from west to east — from California toward the Atlantic — instead of the other way around? Just for starters, we’d probably see way more statistics calculating the economic destructiveness of nature’s most underestimated act of God: winter.

Most Californians have had a bellyful of hearing how unnatural it is to live here, coming as it usually does from people who spend half the year putting on six layers of clothing just to fetch the morning paper. But a sobering new book has just arrived that should scare every living Californian silly — and it was written by one of our own.

“A Dangerous Place” is the last public testament of the late Marc Reisner, whose landmark book “Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water” should continue to shape debate about the West’s future for as long as people are fool enough to live here. Reisner died of cancer 2 1/2 years ago, but he left behind “A Dangerous Place,” a cruelly truncated stump of a book that nevertheless helps explain the seismic haymaker slowly gathering strength enough to floor us all.

Reisner’s Cadillac Desert is one of the best books ever written about California, and I didn’t even know he was dead. David has me thinking I need to go out and pick up his new book.

Kipen’s California tends to skew northward, but what should we expect from a reviewer writing for a Bay Area paper? One thing about him, at least he’s honest. He isn’t afraid point out what’s shabby about a particular book … in fact, one refreshing aspect of Kipen’s reviews is that he actually writes about the book, instead of trying to impress the reader with his erudition, which is what you find in most LAT reviews.

If you love California, go read Kipen — you’ll find some new treasures.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged by . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply