William Finnegan Is the Next Guest of Alta Journal’s California Book Club

This week’s California Book Club newsletter: Keenan Norris, Joan Didion, and Stephen Kessler.

william finnegan
IDRIS SOLOMON

To discover a passion, to cultivate and nurse it, to pursue it to your very limits—perhaps that is the meaning of a life well lived. This is certainly an ethos that washes over readers in William Finnegan’s extraordinary 2015 memoir, Barbarian Days—which Alta Journal’s California Book Club will discuss at its July 15 gathering (at 5:30 p.m.)—though, of course, it is not without some challenge, anxiety, or danger.

Barbarian Days—which was awarded the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Biography—charts Finnegan’s acute fascination with surfing, which dates to his early adolescence in California and, later, Hawaii, where his father worked as a producer for television. From his formative years of learning the social and physical contracts of life in the water, beating against and riding along tides, currents, and waves, we follow Finnegan into his adult years, as he continues to surf in San Francisco, Fiji, Australia, and even New York.

Surfing, for Finnegan, is not simply a hobby; indeed, it feels akin to a spiritual vocation, one that elevates, intersects, and amplifies all other parts of his life. Barbarian Days, then, is more than a devoted surfer’s memoir: it is a coming-of-age narrative; it is a piece of travel writing; it is at times quite (and rightfully) ethnographic, covering the political, social, and cultural contours of a place. More important, though, Finnegan is deeply concerned with unraveling what it means to be a person in the world and how surfing became a point of entry for self-discovery, self-fashioning, and community-building.

Finnegan presents a luminous account of surfing in all its textures and aspects: there is a brute physicality to the sport that is never obscured or elided—we witness the bruises, the scrapes, the burns, the unfortunately grave injuries. But there is still great beauty that anyone can access, whether they’re an avid surfer, a curious spectator, or an inquisitive newcomer. Barbarian Days might even inspire you to check out some surfboards just in time for California’s fall-season waves.

To join Alta’s California Book Club conversation with Finnegan on July 15 (at 5:30 p.m.), click here. I also invite you to join your fellow CBC members in the Alta Clubhouse for an ongoing conversation about Barbarian Days:

JOIN THE CLUBHOUSE CONVERSATION


barbarian days, william finnegan
Penguin Books

FINNEGAN PREVIEW

In preparation for our July 15 gathering, here is an excerpt from the opening of Barbarian Days. Alta


robin coste lewis, john freeman
Alta

MORE LEWIS

Did you miss last week’s CBC event with Robin Coste Lewis and host John Freeman? If so, then be sure to check out our recap and recording of the event. Alta


keenan norris, the confession of copeland cane
Akubundu Amazu-Lott

CAUTIONARY TALE

Alta Journal contributor and Zyzzyva managing editor Oscar Villalon marvels at how Keenan Norris’s sophomore novel, The Confession of Copeland Cane, depicts “a future that may already be barreling toward us.” Alta


zora neale hurston, federal writers project
George A. Smathers Libraries

FEDERAL WRITERS PROJECT

Mary Ann Gwinn reviews Scott Borchert’s Republic of Detours, about the Federal Writers Project of the 1930s, and muses briefly on what it would mean to have a similar project today. Los Angeles Times


andrea ventura, joan didion
Andrea Ventura

A LONG VIEW

“What is it about Joan Didion that seduces and then betrays?” Haley Mlotek asks about Didion’s demeanor and style of writing. Nation


stephen keller
Stephen Keller

BYGONE POETRY ERAS

Stephen Kessler considers what is squandered when pursuing a life of poetry becomes more of a career path than a spiritual calling. Los Angeles Review of Books


neal allen, anne lamott
Cayce Clifford

USUALLY SECOND BEST

Writer Neal Allen describes what it’s like to be married to the successful and famous writer Anne Lamott. Literary Hub


weller album, patti notes
GAY & LESBIAN ARCHIVES OF THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST

PRECIOUS QUEER HISTORY

Emma Banks charts the crucially important and painstaking work of archiving queer histories of the Pacific Northwest. Atlas Obscura


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Alta

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