Sidewalking: Coming to Terms with Los Angeles



David L. Ulin
Sidewalking: Coming to Terms with Los Angeles
(UC Press, October 6 2015)

Nominated for the 2016 PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay

In Sidewalking, David L. Ulin offers a compelling inquiry into the evolving landscape of Los Angeles. Part personal narrative, part investigation of the city as both idea and environment, Sidewalking is many things: a discussion of Los Angeles as urban space, a history of the city’s built environment, a meditation on the author’s relationship to the city, and a rumination on the art of urban walking. Exploring Los Angeles through the soles of his feet, Ulin gets at the experience of its street life, drawing from urban theory, pop culture, and literature. For readers interested in the culture of Los Angeles, this book offers a pointed look beneath the surface in order to see, and engage with, the city on its own terms.


Praise for Sidewalking

“Both a personal history of a city and an account of how cities shape a person​…[an] always engaging, often riveting guide.”
—Matt Seidel, Los Angeles Review of Books

Sidewalking is a profound and poetic book. It is a meditation not only on the strange and marvelous nature of Los Angeles but also on the nature of history, memory, and community itself. This is nonfiction writing at its very best.”
—Susan Orlean, staff writer for the New Yorker and author of seven books, including the New York Times bestseller The Orchid Thief

Sidewalking will cement David Ulin’s already well-deserved reputation as a leading literary critic. Like a good, long walk, his book is an exercise in patience, observation, and reflection. At the end of the journey, you feel you’ve been someplace—and you feel illuminated and enlightened.”
—Héctor Tobar, author of the New York Times bestseller Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free

“An inspiring challenge to engage with urban life, Sidewalking raises unprejudiced questions about city and ‘city’—the built environment and the individual’s own experience of it. L.A.’s famous sprawl and very human neighborhoods, its uneasy meld of public and private spaces, its legendary gridlock, its organic and artificial environments, all feature in what is no less than the teasing out of a new and nuanced interpretation of the nature of ‘urbanity’ itself.”
—Janet Fitch, author of Paint It Black and White Oleander

“I see this book as a benign remake of [the movie] Falling Down. In this version, Michael Douglas, after abandoning his car, has the good fortune to bump into David Ulin, who not only offers to accompany him on his journey home but also suggests a few extensive detours. In the course of their walking-talk tour, Douglas learns that he has the good fortune to reside in a fascinating city and goes on to live a fulfilled—and inquiring—life.”
—Geoff Dyer, author of numerous books, including But Beautiful, winner of the Somerset Maugham Prize

“There are so many lines in this book I’d like to have at my fingertips, so many rational, logical, wholly original arguments for why Los Angeles is deeper and more soulful than it can seem, that I almost wish I could keep it in my pocket for whenever an outsider coughs up the usual hoary insults. As it is, Sidewalking has taken up welcome and necessary residence in my mind. And, to be precise, David Ulin doesn’t argue on behalf of his adopted city. He observes, he challenges, he shows his abiding and complicated love for the place. Which is only right, since when it comes to L.A.’s status as the most surprising and mysterious city in America, there is no argument.” —Meghan Daum, author of The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion

“In this brief but engaging book, the author chronicles his wanderings through the streets and his conversations with friends, entrepreneurs, and officials, and he makes it clear that he has read every book and seen every movie on his subject. Those who know the city will have the advantage, but Ulin casts his net widely, so most readers will enjoy his observations of Los Angeles in literary and popular art as well as his thoughtful personal views.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“A brisk rumination on urban life as filtered through a city that has famously—even notoriously—flouted the conventions of urban life…The omnitemporal Los Angeles of Sidewalking is a hybrid of personal observation, literary quotation, pop-culture anecdote, and manifesto from local kingpins.”
—D.R. Haney, The Rumpus


Read the Los Angeles Review of Books review of Sidewalking

Read the Lit Hub conversation between David Ulin and Mark Haskell Smith on Sidewalking

Read the Kirkus review of Sidewalking

Read The Rumpus interview with David Ulin



David L. Ulin is the author or editor of eight previous books, including The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time and the Library of America’s Writing Los Angeles: A Literary Anthology, which won a California Book Award. A 2015 Guggenheim Fellow, he is book critic, and former book editor, of the Los Angeles Times.