Meet the Hero of ‘America Is Not the Heart’

This week’s California Book Club newsletter: Elaine Castillo, President Obama, and gratitude.

On behalf of Alta Journal and our partners, I would like to thank you for your participation in the California Book Club. The club has proved far more successful than we ever imagined. C Pam Zhang! Reyna Grande! Walter Mosley! And you!

The California Book Club returns in the new year with Elaine Castillo and her debut novel, America Is Not the Heart, on January 21. Named one of the best books of 2018 by, among others, NPR, Literary Hub, and the Boston Globe, Castillo’s Filipino American family saga spans three generations. The book’s heroine—named Hero de Vera—flees the political upheaval in her homeland to join her uncle and his family in the Silicon Valley suburb where Castillo herself grew up. Castillo’s strong characters and powerful writing offer a contrast to the bland strip malls and beauty salons of Hero’s adopted home as she and those around her wrestle with questions of national, sexual, and personal identity.

Thanks again for joining us in the California Book Club. Our newsletter will be off next week and return on January 5. Wishing you happy holidays and all the best for 2021!



Were you unable to attend last week’s CBC event with Walter Mosley, special guest Edwidge Danticat, and host John Freeman? No worries. Watch a video of this memorable event. Alta



Tod Goldberg reviews Ryan Gattis’s crime novel The System, which involves drugs, gangs, and a shooting in South Los Angeles. Goldberg describes the book as “a detective novel in reverse…. Every deposition, every filing, every meeting with a client feels gritty and potentially criminal.” It’s a book where, he writes, “there’s not a hero to be found.” Alta

Victor Juhasz


Alta publishes fiction distinguished by lively writing that conveys a strong sense of place and by narratives that move us. Last year, we published new work by Charlie Jane Anders, Steph Cha, Philip K. Dick, Anita Felicelli, Dagoberto Gilb, Jonathan Lethem, and Susan Straight. Alta

Brad Curran


Alta’s commitment to celebrating the literature of California and the West includes publishing original poetry that could come from one place only—here. In 2020, we showcased works by Anastacia-Reneé, Sara Borjas, Robert Frost, Forrest Gander, Robert Hass, Jane Hirshfield, D.A. Powell, Tess Taylor, and Matthew Zapruder. Alta

Pari Dukovic


President Barack Obama chose C Pam Zhang’s How Much of These Hills Is Gold (our October California Book Club selection) as one of his favorite books of the year. Congratulations, Pam! Twitter

Chris Pizzello/AP


The American Dirt controversy. Struggling independent booksellers. Industry consolidation around big publishers and Amazon. Yet, “through it all, books managed to sell, keeping a steady pace at a time when film and theater, among other industries, faced dire questions about their future.” AP

Andria Lo


San Francisco Chronicle columnist and Alta contributor Vanessa Hua put out a call for poems of gratitude in the face of the turmoil of the past year. Take heart and keep the faith. San Francisco Chronicle

Charmian Kittredge


Iris Jamahl Dunkle’s new biography of Charmian Kittredge London releases this trailblazing writer and adventurer from the long shadow of her famous husband, Jack London. Norcal Public Media

california book club bookplates

Alta’s California Book Club email newsletter is published weekly. Sign up for free and you also will receive four custom-designed bookplates.


Blaise Zerega is Alta Journal's editorial director.
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