Literary Death Match in L.A., and beyond

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Literary Death Match, a competition specially built to make attending a reading fun -- or at least slightly inebriated -- is going global, doing 100 readings around the world. Or 100-ish. 100, give or take.

Founder Todd Zuniga, editor of organizer Opium Magazine, was in Los Angeles Sunday night, wearing a shiny blue jacket and ably performing his duties as host. He alternately riled and quieted the crowd, needled the judges and kept things moving along like a drunk lurching toward the bar before last call.


Apologies to Seth Greenland, who used that metaphor to much better effect in his book ‘Shining City,’ from which he read.

The event is in two parts: two head-to-head readings and an ever-changing, not-reading competitive round for the two finalists. On Sunday, D.R. Haney read first, from his book ‘Banned for Life.’ Below, he listens to the verdict from the judges (from left), Jesse Thorn (The Sound of Young America), actress Maria Thayer and performer Maggie Rowe. Haney was bested by Greenland, who in addition to writing novels is a writer on the HBO series ‘Big Love.’

I go to a lot of readings and spend a lot of time surrounded by books, so I was not much looking forward to the latter two readers. Ah, let my skepticism be a lesson to you: Jennine Capó Crucet killed it. And remember her name, Jennine Capó Crucet, because if she generally writes as hysterically and cleverly as the piece she read Sunday, it’ll come up again.

This is one of the challenges of a worldwide reading series curated by one globe-trotting editor. How can anyone be expected to know who to line up in New York, Kansas City, Baltimore, London? The L.A. lineup was a bit haphazard, but the two finalists were terrific, crowd-pleasing performers. As was Jesse Thorn, who proved he doesn’t need radio’s quiet room and a microphone to be funny.

In the final, Jennine Capó Crucet lost a memory game to Seth Greenland, who took home a medal. There are only (approximately) 100 of these, so she’s appropriately saddened.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Top right, Todd Zuniga. Center, from left: writer D.R. Haney, judges Jesse Thorn, Maria Thayer and Maggie Rowe. Bottom: The audience. Credit: Heather D’Augustine