[The following interview is used with permission from the rightsholder.]
Revista Literária Eletrônica: Today we want to share about a project in Los Angeles, Although we are one hemisphere away in Brazil, and regretfully cannot participate, we decided to schedule an interview with the founder of the Los Angeles Book Scavenger Hunt. We sit back, sip a caipirinha, play Vinicius de Moraes and Baden Powell’s Os Afro Sambas, and begin the interview.
R: Here we are in Southeast Brazil looking at photos on our computer of some very good books. It is with some surprise that I see Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities and Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas by Machado [de Assis].
A: Thank you for writing, and I’m glad that you love the books as well!
R: Tell us, where did you think about working on such a project?
A: I had wanted to open a bookstore in Los Angeles for several years, and during the pandemic I kept dreaming about a bookstore where I could find the books on my reading list; many of the titles are hard to find and some are out of print. I thought a book scavenger hunt would be as close to a bookstore as possible while the city was closed and people had to social distance. I find that my interests and activities blend together, so that when I work in one area I simultaneously address many others. In this sense I am fortunate that my interests converged with my work at Morphkey, a website where people can talk with others about music, books, and film over internet phone calls. One of my tasks is to gain publicity for Morphkey, so I began thinking, "instead of buying ads, why not buy books?" It would be so much more interesting to take all the hard to find books on my reading list and hide them around Los Angeles in a scavenger hunt for people to discover! It can create a community around LA of people who love literature while exploring Los Angeles’ many disparate neighborhoods.
R: That is incredible. Even for us we have spent a lot of money on electronic advertisements trying to promote our magazine, and yet most of our readers hear about us from their friends. But your list of books is unusual as often we would expect to see books grouped by genre, like surrealism, or classics, but you do not seem to do that. Do you have a theme, or how do you choose your books?
A: Hahaha since we’re writing to each other in real time I hope you don’t mind my reaction. I was lucky that I was looking for an interview of my professor in Portuguese on his new book and happened to find your site. But to return to your question, there is no theme: I am always searching for books that are whimsical and full of wonder, or that are innovative and push the boundaries of what the novel is capable of. Most just fit my own interests and aesthetic approach, very few were originally written in English, and though I’ve read many of the books featured, I have discovered many new ones too.
R: We have also learned of many new books. My editor wanted to listen to Idle Moments by Grant Green to relax yesterday after a long day of work, and viewed your entire collection of books while listening to the album. He was surprised by the many different locations. Do you travel around Los Angeles in advance to hide your books?
A: I hide all the books within a three-hour period on Saturdays from around 6:30AM to 10AM, when I post the photos and books’ locations to the website. I also don’t have a car, and since I am living with family during the pandemic, they are kind enough to drive me around. Firstly, my coworkers and I are always driving around and looking for new locations with the understanding that the locations be accessible, public, safe, and visually interesting. We often use street utility boxes, painted by LA artists, as well as other public artworks, or hide books in trees, staircases, or even buried under sand at the beach(the book was claimed within one day!).
When hiding books I have under five seconds to take a photo of each book’s location, so speed and precision are imperative. Since we are in Los Angeles there is usually no available parking or we are behind schedule because of traffic, I have to jump out of the car, snap a photo, and jump back in. I love street photography and collect photobooks, and the scavenger hunt has forced me to start taking photos regularly. I will create a photobook comprising my favorite photos from each week; my interests and activities converge in ways that I cannot initially anticipate. I also impose a constraint when I take photos of the individual books: I can only use what is available where I live for props and backgrounds. I carefully select the books from personal inventory, private booksellers, and small second-hand shops around the country, as well as a few stores in Los Angeles. Before I forget, Grant Green is one of my favorite jazz guitarists, especially Matador and Idle Moments.
R: We recently read an interview with a prominent philosopher on the “Symptoms of the Present” who suggested that definitive solutions and Progress have been replaced by risk management. Future pandemics will not be prevented, but managed. In closing, what does the Los Angeles Book Scavenger Hunt say as a symptom of the present?
A: I think that is a different order of magnitude, but it is true that the LA Book Scavenger Hunt could be read as a symptom of the present, though not in the way that would confirm the opinion. It’s important to remember that the present is often just what we see around us and attributing non-historical qualities to it and then conceptualizing it may not be that helpful. With regard to the LA Book Scavenger Hunt, all of the literature and academic bookstores in my area of Los Angeles closed several years ago due to increasing rents, and I was hoping that a new bookstore would open, but it never did. However, there are always interesting possibilities that can be realized, so it is definitely possible to have agency today. Publicity was a problem for Morphkey, but the same resources can be used to create something as wonderful and special as The LA Book Scavenger Hunt, promoting Morphkey and at the same time addressing one of my personal goals, and despite the closure of the city and its many cultural opportunities, the city has become more interesting through the scavenger hunt. People all over Los Angeles, from students to families, look forward to Saturday mornings and the books that they can find. So I definitely believe the future is still open, and the present isn’t set in stone either.