We hope you’re enjoying Steph Cha’s social crime novel Your House Will Pay, our June California Book Club selection. Closing out our spring quarter, on June 16 at 5 p.m., Cha will appear in conversation with CBC host John Freeman and special guest Tod Goldberg, a noir novelist. Be sure to register for an illuminating conversation about race and power and Cha’s crime stories.
The temperature is rising, the sun is out longer, and many of us have been gathering a little more frequently, but there are still so many books to read. It is our pleasure to announce our next trio, a collection of deeply personal summertime reads. By beloved masters of their craft who also have a background in art, these books are especially striking for their eidetic scenes of group dynamics, of how humans are in relation to one another, but they run the emotional gamut. A Los Angeles poet laureate’s memoir. A narratively unusual novel about refugees by a San Francisco author. A slim, meditative novel that considers aging.
Here are the books chosen for the CBC this summer, with comments by Alta Journal’s books editor, David L. Ulin.
ALWAYS RUNNING, BY LUIS J. RODRIGUEZ
When: Thursday, July 21, at 5 p.m. Pacific time
Rodriguez’s Always Running is a 1993 classic about the Chicano poet’s adolescence in East Los Angeles. In his own words, he goes from “victim to perpetrator to witness to revolutionary.” While his eventful early life—shaped by poverty, racism, violent gang life, and juvenile incarceration—is rendered in gritty and visceral language, the book drives home a moving revelation about the power of art to transform lives. As Ulin puts it, Rodriguez “recounts the story of his becoming, beginning with his youthful involvement with drugs and gangs. That could have been a dead end, but for Rodriguez, art and literature became essential forces of salvation through which he was able to see, and then express, himself.” This is an autobiography that has been frequently banned, the author notes in a new introduction written in 2005. For two decades, it was one of the 100 most-censored books in the country, and that was only to the detriment of readers. For you’ll find tremendous generosity in these pages, honest writing that seeks not absolution but connection. Always Running is a gift.
THE WRONG END OF THE TELESCOPE, BY RABIH ALAMEDDINE
When: Thursday, August 18, at 5 p.m. Pacific time
In The Wrong End of the Telescope, Alameddine focuses on the story of a transgender Lebanese doctor who goes to the Greek island of Lesbos to work with Syrian refugees. Alameddine’s sixth novel is unusual and irreverent and features a character whose biography resembles the author’s. The second chapter, titled “You Made Me Do It,” begins with a daring direct address to this character: “You suggested I write this. You, the writer, couldn’t. You tried writing the refugee story. Many times, many different ways. You failed. And failed again. Maybe failed better. Still you couldn’t.” Ulin writes that the novel’s ambition is “to address the question of displacement…on both political and personal terms. In a world where we are all displaced, not least from one another, how do we find a way to come together? How do we find a way to get along?” For the first time on record, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 100 million people around the world have been forcibly displaced from their homes. We need to pay attention, and this timely novel offers a fascinating way into the crisis.
THE SWIMMERS, BY JULIE OTSUKA
When: Thursday, September 15, at 5 p.m. Pacific time
Otsuka’s lyrical and quietly heartbreaking third novel, The Swimmers, begins in a first-person plural and paints a group portrait of swimmers at an underground pool that develops a crack that “flits briefly into view as you swim over it and then, once it has passed out of your field of vision, is instantly forgotten, like a dream that vanishes upon waking.” One crack turns into many. Ulin writes that it is “a book of voices. A chorus, yes, but also a collective, beginning with a first-person-plural accounting of the swimmers at a community pool. It’s a vivid way to start a narrative, reminding us of not just our shared spaces but also our shared destinies.” As this insightful novel progresses, you’ll see that the cracks in the pool serve as a potent metaphor for all that can be forgotten, big and small. The book’s narrative lens zooms in on the relationship between one of the swimmers we meet on the first page—nisei Alice, who has dementia—and her daughter.
Join us June 16 at 5 p.m., when Cha will appear in conversation with CBC host John Freeman and special guest Tod Goldberg to discuss Your House Will Pay. Be sure to visit the Alta Clubhouse to let us and your fellow California Book Club members know what you think of the book.
Author Leland Cheuk considers the assumption of injustice that is baked into Your House Will Pay. —Alta
Crime novelist and journalist Sarah Weinman asks Steph Cha about the idea for Your House Will Pay, which came in a “burst, like a lightning strike.” —Alta
Alta Journal’s books editor, David L. Ulin, recommends Your House Will Pay as a novel that resets “the parameters of crime fiction.” —Alta
Meron Hadero’s exceptional debut, the short story collection A Down Home Meal for These Difficult Times, tells of Ethiopian and Ethiopian American characters but transcends borders. —Alta
Alta contributor Paul Wilner calls The Red Arrow, by William Brewer, “exhilarating.” It is three books in one, including a look at “the redemptive power of mind-altering substances.” —Alta
This month, we are excited about 14 new books by authors of the West, including those by Kirstin Chen, Mat Johnson, Kali Fajardo-Anstine, and Joseph Han. —Alta
Bay Area authors share their favorite LGBTQ reads with Alta contributor Vanessa Hua. —San Francisco Chronicle
SALE OF AN ICONIC BOOKSTORE
The Elliott Bay Book Company, which will turn 50 next year, was sold to its general manager of 32 years and two married Seattle bar and business owners. —Seattle Times
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