What are three favorite books of 2020 from California and the West?
I’ve concentrated mostly on rereading lately, so I hope you don’t mind if I share three books I’ve read over the last year.
First, The Last Season, by Eric Blehm, a real-life account of a backcountry ranger who went missing in the Sierra Nevada.
Second, Steph Cha’s 2019 thriller, Your House Will Pay. It takes courage to address racism the way this novel does; no one gets entirely off the hook.
Third, Felicia Luna Lemus’s Particulate Matter, which is a 2020 book. Felicia and I are married—we celebrated our 10th anniversary this year—but I’d love this book as much if I didn’t know her.
What’s a California story that deserves its own book?
We think of California as a state with largely progressive cities and rural areas that are mostly conservative. Yet parts of rural California are very diverse—particularly the Central Valley, where there’s a huge population of Mexican immigrants and a large Sikh population. I’d like to see more of these places in stories: the unexpected mixtures of people—like the African American settlers who created the all-Black town of Allensworth, near Delano, in the early 20th century.
You oversee the Ballmer Group’s work to fight poverty in California. Has this informed your writing?
Not yet, but I imagine it will. I never write directly about my day jobs, but things have a way of slipping in. Right now, it’s making me more conscious of the struggles of families living in poverty and the systems stacked against them.