Enjoy these essay collections by contributors to Alta Journal, including California Book Club host John Freeman, and Alta books editor David L. Ulin. The works are part of a special guide of 83 titles published in 2020 and 2021.
The Library of America’s second Joan Didion collection celebrates the author’s midcareer writings. Challenging the idea that the 1980s and ’90s were mostly a time of prosperity and happiness—a notion promoted by U.S. politicians and the media—Didion offers in-depth reports on civil war in Central America; immigration, drug wars, and exile in Miami; and life in Los Angeles and New York City. Didion’s two novels from this period, Democracy and The Last Thing He Wanted, are included in this definitive edition. Library of America, April 2021, 851 pages, $40 hardcover
In this collection of essays, poet Dana Gioia pays homage to six figures who played prominent roles in shaping his identity and determining his trajectory as a writer: Elizabeth Bishop, John Cheever, James Dickey, Robert Fitzgerald, Gioia’s own uncle, and a mostly forgotten poet named Ronald Perry. Studying with Miss Bishop draws a vivid portrait of each individual and shares personal anecdotes that capture key moments of his growth as a poet and thinker. Paul Dry Books, January 2021, 184 pages, $16.95 paperback
Rachel Kushner, celebrated author of the novels The Flamethrowers and The Mars Room—an Alta Journal’s California Book Club pick—presents select pieces from two decades of writing on real-life subjects. Covering politics, art, nostalgia, and literary criticism, The Hard Crowd ruminates on an eclectic array of topics, such as illegal motorcycle racing and the Fiat strikes of the 1970s, inviting readers to participate in Kushner’s colorful life and to consider often overlooked subcultures of society. Scribner, April 2021, 272 pages, $26 hardcover
Steffie Nelson collects essays from 24 writers (including Alta Journal’s Heather John Fogarty) in Slouching Towards Los Angeles, which revisits the work of Joan Didion through the places and events that most influenced it—namely, the city of Los Angeles, the Summer of Love, Hollywood, and the Manson murders. The essays straddle commentary, history, and personal reflection but center on the life and writings of Didion. Rare Bird, February 2020, 312 pages, $27 hardcover
Guard the Mysteries compiles five lectures that Cedar Sigo gave as part of the Bagley Wright Lecture Series, which trace his artistic journey as a poet. The lectures address his experiences with California Buddhism, growing up on the Suquamish reservation, and being a member of the LGBTQ community. Sigo spotlights artists, teachers, and revolutionaries who helped shape his voice and analyzes how identity politics and modern criticism have influenced his work. Wave Books, June 2021, 152 pages, $20 paperback
Los Angeles is a polarizing city. Some are charmed by the romance of its mythical past; others find its freeways, architecture, and infatuation with gaudiness to be repulsive. D.J. Waldie, who has made a career writing about Los Angeles, delves into the city’s past in Becoming Los Angeles, reviving historical anecdotes and digging up forgotten individuals whom he believes must be remembered for the city to understand itself—and to find its way into a better future. Angel City Press, September 2020, 232 pages, $30 hardcover