Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Book reviewer, LA Times: memoir 15

In 1977 the campus of Cal State Dominquez Hills was a quick drive from Manhattan Beach. In my quest to be a writer, I had signed up for a class taught by a familiar name: Art Seidenbaum. I felt I knew him from the years of reading his thrice-weekly column about culture and oddball life in the LA Times.
     He welcomed us students as if all were his friends, insisting we call him by his first name. Art was bald with great bushy eyebrows and a smoker's deep voice. His cheer and quick humor put us at ease. When it came time to read our assignments aloud some of us raised our hands only as far as a ribcage, but he spotted the shy ones and called on us. He was kind. At the end of the semester, he and his wife Patty hosted a party at his home in the hills of West Los Angeles. RSVP-ing was easy. His name and number were listed in the phone book.
reviewing book, age 2
     After Charlie Ferrell had hired me for his associate at Southern California Business, Art sent congratulations, which began our friendly correspondence lasting until his death, more than two decades. I thrilled to find a letter in my mailbox from The Times with "Seidenbaum" typed in the upper left-hand corner. When he was named Book Editor in 1978, I wrote to him and asked if he would please trust me to be one of his reviewers. I confessed that my only qualifications were that I loved to read and that in 6th grade I got an A+ for my report on Rascal by Sterling North.
     Two days later a padded envelope arrived with a book inside, and a brief note: write 250 words, pay will be $50 upon publication probably the following month. I about came unglued. I scoured the book, spent a couple days writing and rewriting. How could I possibly summarize in just 250 words? I counted each one and did not exceed the limit. It was my first review of what would be hundreds over the next twelve years.
     A few weeks later I answered the phone, "Southern California Business, may I help you?"
     I recognized Art's deep voice.
     "I need an assistant," he began.
     "It's only part-time though, compiling the local bestseller list and some editing. Would that interest you?"
     "Yes!" It felt as though I shouted, but no one in the office looked up. Their heads were down working or they talked on phones.
     "Come for coffee and we'll talk."
     I grabbed my purse and drove the few blocks to The Times. Parked. Walked slowly through sidewalk crowds, staring up at the imposing stone building. Wow, I kept thinking.
     A guard in the lobby asked my name. My heart pounded, seriously it did, from nerves and excitement. I could hardly believe I was at the Los Angeles Times.
     Art took me upstairs to the cafeteria for coffee. I chatted his ear off I'm sure, so elated and now revved up on caffeine. "Thank you," I said several times.
     He had a bemused smile. "When can you start?"

From BLUE SKIES: ONE'S AUTHOR'S JOURNEY, to be published this Fall.

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