Obama’s Memoir a Big Boost for Bookstores

This week’s California Book Club newsletter: Obama’s latest book goes on sale, Jonathan Lethem returns to his science-fiction roots, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez picks Rebecca Solnit.

a promised land, barack obama

Barack Obama’s latest memoir just might be the book that keeps a number of independent booksellers in business. A Promised Land goes on sale today. Bookstores across California and the country are relying on it to help boost sales at a time when many independents have been seriously hurt by the pandemic.

“The timing couldn’t be better,” says Elaine Petrocelli, co-owner of Book Passage, which has stores in Corte Madera and San Francisco. “In retail, the last two months of the year are crucial. In this pandemic year...A Promised Land could make a huge difference for Book Passage and all independent bookstores.”

Petrocelli says Book Passage, a California Book Club partner, has ordered 2,000 copies of the memoir. “Between our two stores and our web orders,” she adds, “I bet we will need to reorder soon.”

Books Inc., another California Book Club partner, also says it has ordered 2,000 copies for its 10 Bay Area stores. And Book Soup in Los Angeles and its parent store, Vroman’s in Pasadena—both California Book Club partners—have ordered 1,000 copies of the 768-page work, the first of two volumes.

Calvin Crosby, executive director of the California Independent Booksellers Alliance, says he hasn’t seen “this kind of enthusiasm” for a book since the release of the final Harry Potter installment in 2007. He adds, “I think the true significance of this title is this is the first book to garner this much interest since George Floyd’s murder.”

Washington Square Press


Alta’s California Book Club is hosting its second gathering on Thursday, November 19, at 5 p.m. Pacific time. John Freeman will be in conversation with Reyna Grande, author of the acclaimed memoir The Distance Between Us. To join the event on Zoom, click here.



Happy reading, everyone: Alta’s California Book Club has announced its first three selections for 2021: America Is Not the Heart, by Elaine Castillo (January 21); The Sellout, by Paul Beatty (February 18); and Southland, by Nina Revoyr (March 18). Alta

Ecco Press


Alta contributor Paul Wilner reviews Jonathan Lethem’s latest novel, The Arrest. It’s a return to the author’s science-fiction roots: “Dystopian dangers haunt Lethem’s work, although he leavens them with antic wit.” Alta

Elias Williams


Chanel Miller has won the $10,000 Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Know My Name. In the memoir, Miller indicts Brock Turner, the man who sexually assaulted her at Stanford, and reclaims her identity. Publishers Weekly

Justin J. Wee


Time magazine has named 100 must-read books of 2020. Among them are these titles by California authors: Obit, by Victoria Chang; Golden Gates, by Conor Dougherty; The Purpose of Power, by Alicia Garza; Conditional Citizens, by Laila Lalami; Why We Swim, by Alta contributor Bonnie Tsui; and Interior Chinatown, by Charles Yu. Time

Library of America


Paul Beatty, who will be the California Book Club’s guest on February 18, is one of the authors whose poetry is in a new Library of America anthology, African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle & Song. The book’s California poets, past and present, include Maya Angelou, Wanda Coleman, Bob Kaufman, Robin Coste Lewis, Ishmael Reed, and Al Young. Critic Parul Sehgal calls the collection a “monumental tribute.” New York Times

Andria Lo


Vanessa Hua, an Alta contributor, writes about the joys of foraging—“a form of resourceful thrift familiar to me as the daughter of Chinese immigrants, and a small measure of control when so much has felt out of control.” Zora

Haymarket Books


Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, by San Francisco author Rebecca Solnit, is one of 10 books that U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says she would want on a desert island. Bookshop

california book club bookplates

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