It’s been a tumultuous summer, and here we are, already brushing up against autumn. There’s a magic to reading when the air gets crisper and cooler and, at least in some parts, you can hear crickets chirp in the oaks or smell the drought-resistant night-blooming jasmine through your open window at twilight as you consider which book to read next. September’s book is Julie Otsuka’s slim, spare, artistically bold third novel, The Swimmers. If you haven’t had a chance to peruse it yet, you’ll find that it is a moving look at how the mind changes with age and illness, bending our sense of how we are when we gather.
We’re also eager for you to catch a glimpse of our fall lineup, three books united by their authors’ interest in developing a social vision. As usual, our distinguished selection panel mixed it up genre-wise and in terms of small-press and larger book publishers: a family history, a speculative novel, and a short story collection.
In the coming months, to accompany your reading of these books, we plan to bring you literary essays, Q&As, essays about place and migration, food writing, playlists, and commentary on the future of the Golden State, the home of many different kinds of utopians.
What have Californians dreamed of in the past, and what dreams will fuel what they build in the future? Here are our autumn selections.•
A PLACE AT THE NAYARIT, by Natalia Molina
Our October selection is by a historian, her fourth book, revolving around food and race and belonging. It tells the history of the Nayarit, Molina’s grandmother’s Mexican restaurant on Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park, Los Angeles. The restaurant opened in 1951 and turned into a community center for workers and patrons alike. Alta Journal’s books editor, David L. Ulin, comments on the book: “Molina’s work here walks the line between personal history and research, framing the restaurant as an essential landscape and highlighting the necessity of placemaking, especially in a city where divisions can be fueled by ethnic differences and entrenched discrimination.”
THE GOLD COAST, by Kim Stanley Robinson
In November, we’ll be reading a novel by a legendary science fiction author. Set in Orange County, an area like others in California that has been affected by water insecurity, the second novel of Robinson’s utopian Three Californias can stand alone, though we also recommend the first book in this trilogy, The Wild Shore, and the third, Pacific Edge. Robinson acknowledged earlier this year that utopian novels are not usual—“Novels are really about what happens when things go wrong.” Ulin comments that The Gold Coast understands that “if the future is unwritten, anything is possible, for good or for ill. This…is a novel that asks us necessary questions about who we are and who we want to be.”
GORDO, by Jaime Cortez
Like John Steinbeck’s In Dubious Battle, Chicano writer Cortez’s debut story collection is set around Watsonville, a small city in Santa Cruz County. This compassionate collection gathers 11 pieces about Gordo, a boy growing up gay, heavyset, and economically struggling in a migrant worker camp in the 1970s. He navigates the insecure but also joyful process of growing up. It is a book in which, as Ulin puts it, “we cannot help but be reminded yet again of the complexities of living and all the small details and experiences upon which identity depends.”
Join us on Friday, September 16 at 5 p.m., when Julie Otsuka will talk to host John Freeman and a special guest, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author Michael Cunningham, about The Swimmers, the CBC September selection. Please visit the Alta Clubhouse to let us and your fellow California Book Club members know what you think of the novel. If there is a type of essay or commentary you’d enjoy seeing at the California Book Club, please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know. Register here.
Read the first pages of Julie Otsuka’s unique and absorbing new novel, The Swimmers, in which she sets up a central metaphor. —Alta
If you missed our event with Rabih Alameddine, actor Susan Sarandon, novelist Rebecca Makkai, and host John Freeman in conversation about The Wrong End of the Telescope, you can still catch it or read a recap. —Alta
John Freeman writes beautifully about Rabih Alameddine’s sixth novel and its refusal to ratify preconceived emotions. —Alta
Critic Michael Schaub comments that Alan Heathcock’s fascinating novel, 40, set in a drought-decimated portion of California, might previously have been considered dystopian but is “uncomfortably close to realism.” —Alta
ART V. COMMERCE
Commenting on the U.S. Department of Justice trial to stop the Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster merger, critic Katy Waldman says that despite their “aura of idealistic adventure,” publishing executives have demonstrated their averseness to risk. —New Yorker
RISE AND FALL
Santa Fe author George R.R. Martin’s prequel to Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon, set 200 years before the events of that show, premiered on HBO. —New York Times
On Friday, Stories on Stage Sacramento will return to feature an in-person performance of mystery stories about tough heroines by authors Catriona McPherson and Shelley Blanton-Stroud. —Eventbrite
SEEDS OF THE FUTURE WORLD
Robin Lee Carlson’s The Cold Canyon Fire Journals: Green Shoots and Silver Linings in the Ashes documents the effects of fires on Stebbins Cold Canyon and finds hope and beauty in the natural life, including newts, thriving in a burned landscape. —Zyzzyva
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