Alta’s California Book Club Announces Next Three Authors

This week’s CBC newsletter: upcoming books, Nina Revoyr, and Annalee Newitz.

california book club, spring 2021 books, mean, myriam gurba, the mars room, rachel kushner, voyage of the sable venus, robin coste lewis

Alta’s California Book Club is excited to announce that our selection panel has named the three books that will carry us through the spring. Each is by a highly acclaimed writer, who charts the finer contours of California and its history with a distinctive voice and electric perspective. These books will no doubt offer us moments of respite, along with opportunities for rigorous critical conversations.

Here are the books, with a synopsis of each from Alta’s books editor, David L. Ulin:

mean, myriam gurba
Coffee House Press

Mean, by Myriam Gurba

Mean is a book of ghosts, a series of refrains and recollections, a memoir that is also a true-crime narrative, written in a voice that is sharp and poetic, that gets underneath the skin. It is also a book of guilt and responsibility, a book of reckoning. Gurba connects the sexual assault she experienced as an undergraduate with the rape and murder of another woman by the same assailant to frame a pointed investigation of misogyny, identity, and class. In the process, she reminds us of the need to speak for those who cannot speak any longer, as well as the need to speak for ourselves.

When: Thursday, April 15, 5 p.m. Pacific time

the mars room, rachel kushner

The Mars Room, by Rachel Kushner

The Mars Room begins as its main character, an exotic dancer and single mother named Romy Leslie Hall, is transported to a women’s prison in the Central Valley, where she will serve two consecutive life sentences. As for how she got there, this is one of the narratives Kushner’s third novel explores. As a young woman, the San Francisco–bred Romy lived something of a feral existence. Or maybe she lived day to day. In prison, she must confront the fallout of this life, while worrying desperately about the welfare of her son, with whom she wants nothing more than to be reunited.

When: Thursday, May 20, 5 p.m. Pacific time

voyage of the sable venus

Voyage of the Sable Venus, by Robin Coste Lewis

Voyage of the Sable Venus is a tour de force that uses art, desire, and expectation as lenses through which to examine the tragic legacy of racism. Built around a 79-page title poem, made entirely out of descriptions of Western art depicting the Black female form, Lewis’s first poetry collection pulls no punches and lets no one off the hook. The verse here is lyric, and it is beautiful. But it is also ruthless in what it exposes. What gives the collection its vivid power is context, the sense that history moves through, and mediates, every image, every poem.

When: Thursday, June 17, 5 p.m. Pacific time

In the meantime, be sure to mark your calendars for the upcoming CBC gathering with Nina Revoyr, author of Southland, on March 18.

To sign up for Alta’s California Book Club for free, click here.

southland, nina revoyr
Akashic Books


In preparation for our March 18 gathering, here is an excerpt from the opening of Southland, a literary crime novel about the complex history between Black American and Japanese American communities. Alta

paul beatty, oscar villalon


Did you miss last week’s CBC event with Paul Beatty and host Oscar Villalon? If yes, then be sure to check out our recap and recording of the event. Alta

four lost cities, annalee newitz
W.W. Norton


Annalee Newitz’s latest book, Four Lost Cities, is a deep dive into the history of urban life, showcasing the rise and decline of several ancient cities. In a book review, Judith Lewis Mernit suggests that Four Lost Cities should be read as a cautionary tale. Alta

karen tei yamashita
Carolyn Lagattuta


Santa Cruz writer Karen Tei Yamashita talks with Abbie Reese about her short story collection Sansei and Sensibility, Japanese American identity, and Jane Austen. Los Angeles Review of Books

wayne thom
Los Angeles Times


Photographer Wayne Thom captured some of the most iconic images of Los Angeles architecture during the ’70s. Now he is finally getting the recognition he deserves. Los Angeles Times

movie theater screen
Literary Hub


Jen Silverman, author of We Play Ourselves, explores the meaning of artistic freedom, creative risk, and writing across different media. Literary Hub

jackie robinson
New York Daily News Archive


Occidental College professor Peter Dreier argues that Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility distorts the process of integrating baseball in the United States and obscures the networks of institutional and systemic racism. Boston Review

amanda gorman


Viet Thanh Nguyen outlines the power of Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem and what it teaches us about the “greatness of our unfinished country.” Time

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.


Rasheeda Saka is a graduate student in fiction at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
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