Stein, Laing write provocative books on film, arts |

Stein, Laing write provocative books on film, arts

L.A. stories, NYC vignettes

Jean Stein’s previous books include “American Journey,” an oral history of Robert Kennedy and “Edie: American Girl,” a biography of Edie Sedgwick, a superstar darling of Andy Warhol’s Factory Years.

Her latest book is “West of Eden: An American Place” (Random house). It’s an off-kilter and compulsively readable account of five significant extended families who played major roles in the development of Los Angeles.

These individuals — Edward Doheny who drilled the first commercially successful oil well in L.A.; Jack Warner who, along with his brothers — founded the movie studio bearing their names.

There’s also Jennifer Jones, the troubled Academy Award winning actress; Jane Garland, another actress, the daughter of a real estate tycoon, who was quasi-institutionalized and squired about town by several rising art stars; and her own father, Jules, who founded MCA—the Music Corporation of America.

Based on several series of oral interviews she weaves together a collage of often overlapping tales of the big three endeavors that shaped the makeup of Los Angeles—movies, oil and real estate.

Her conjuring of the characters responsible for these over the top, dark and hypnotically transgressive stories both conjure Raymond Chandler and Nathaniel West and make for a gossipy, page turning read.

Another city, New York, is evoked in “The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone” (Picador) by Olivia Laing.

When she first moved to the city, the author found herself dealing with loneliness all too frequently and decided she would explore the big city — and its contradictions, just how can you be along in a city of more than 8 million souls through the world of art.

Putting together vignettes of the lives of several visual artists — Henry Darger, Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol and David Wojnarowicz, along with glances at Sci-Fi writer Samuel R. Delany and New Wave vocalist Klaus Nomi — she relates her own daily encounters of life in the city and attempts at connection via social media.

Have you ever noticed a café or coffee shop full of people — all oblivious to one another and the room in which they’re sitting — intently focused only on their screens large and small?

Olivia Laing certainly has.

Kirk Robertson covers the arts and may be reached at