Trying to Get Away

Here are five stories and series for the titular hero of the February CBC selection, Less, to listen to, watch, or read. You might like them, too.

the secret life of walter mitty, disney, how to fail, elizabeth day, heavyweight, jonathan goldstein, the curious case of dassoukine's trousers, fouad laroui

This month’s California Book Club selection, Andrew Sean Greer's Less, confronts reality with fantastic humor. It is a story of running away—a fantasy of being the leaver rather than the abandoned. The dream of the dumped is, after all, to leave first, and in this, the novel’s main character, Arthur Less, succeeds, but just barely. He takes the bit a little too far, fleeing his ex-boyfriend’s wedding for a marathon eight-city trip around the world.

Arthur contemplates his life, including his writing difficulties, on planes and in transit—in airports, hotel rooms, taxicabs, and faraway locales. Travel serves as tiny pockets of time during which to get lost in a conversation partner’s words, but it can also provide comfort. Here are five stories and series we suggest for Arthur as he travels, to get lost but also to find himself.

The podcast Heavyweight allows the listener to ruminate on the many what-if scenarios the mind builds after a difficult breakup or even after just an uncomfortable, complicated moment. Host Jonathan Goldstein provides retrospection exposure therapy. He brings guests on to dive into “the moment everything changed” and reunite with the person that moment was about. For Arthur, on the move, Heavyweight might provide some much-needed wallowing and what-if-ing. Perfect for his first flight away from home. Suggested episode: “Galit

Failure feels a little more bearable in good company. That’s the idea behind the podcast How to Fail with Elizabeth Day, which brings successful people into honest conversations about where they have failed in their life and what that failure has taught them about how to succeed better. In one episode, a bestselling author reflects on a trip to Italy to attend an award ceremony where he would perhaps or perhaps not receive an award for a book published in English—sound familiar, Arthur Less? Suggested episode: “How to Fail: Sebastian Faulks

In my mind, Arthur carries a paperback copy of The Curious Case of Dassoukine’s Trousers, by prolific writer and economist Fouad Laroui, translated by Emma Ramadan, in the bottom of his suitcase and pulls it out on the flight between Paris and Morocco. His finger traces a page just barely into the book before he falls asleep over the sea. And he has merely dived into a few of its humorous and political stories in the fateful days leading up to his birthday in Morocco, where many of Laroui’s stories are set. As he reads, however, the stories bring him laughs and contemplation, and he gets caught for hours on one refrain in the playful story “Dislocation” (and its near-Oulipian variations): “What would it be like, he asked himself, a world where everything was foreign?” A collection of stories for a special time in Arthur’s life, because everyone deserves to read—and laugh—on their birthday.

With its sense of opportunity and optimism about the journey ahead, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty may be the best airplane movie of all time. Based on the short story by James Thurber, the film tells the tale of introverted Mitty, played by Ben Stiller, as he heads out on a grand adventure to retrieve a photo negative for Life magazine, a trip that takes him through Greenland, the Himalayas, and Los Angeles. There’s a sense of awe and accomplishment in the movie, which promises that a perfect achievement can fix what has been lost or is just out of reach. Arthur would surely shed a tear in his economy seat.

And like Arthur, journalist Brendan Francis Newnam started a travel adventure on the heels of a breakup. Newly single and done with a work project, Newnam journeys through North America and talks with strangers over dinner for his podcast, Not Lost. In his offshoot miniseason, called Not Lost Chat, he brings the travel writers to him, talking planes, trains, and queer-owned bed-and-breakfasts. For one episode, Newnam interviews Greer after he reads Less and says of the book, “If it had been a podcast, I’d have a copyright claim.” Suggested episode: “Not Lost Chat: Road Work” (featuring Greer and Jay Pharoah)

Join us on Zoom on Thursday, February 16, at 5 p.m. Pacific time, when Greer will join CBC host John Freeman to discuss Less. Please drop by the Alta Clubhouse to let us and your fellow book club members know your thoughts about the book. Register here for the event.


andrew sean greer, less, novel, fiction, california book club, february selection, alta journal
Back Bay Books


Critic Anna E. Clark writes about how Greer’s Less is a rejoinder to the bildungsroman. —Alta

andrew sean greer, author, writer, less, novel, fiction
Chris Hardy


Greer writes about the glee of playing with language. —Alta

new february 2023 books


We’re looking forward to these books by authors of the West publishing in February. —Alta

california bestsellers


Here are the top-selling titles at independent bookstores across California as of January 25. —Alta

against the written word, ian f svenonius
Akashic Books


Writer and artist Jackie DesForges reviews Ian F. Svenonius’s provocative Against the Written Word: Toward a Universal Illiteracy. —Alta

waco, book, nonfiction, texas monthly, jeff guinn
Texas Monthly


Critic and journalist Chris Vognar writes about Jeff Guinn, whose third book about cults, Waco: David Koresh, the Branch Davidians, and a Legacy of Rage, was just published. —Texas Monthly

castro theater, san francisco


At a session of the Historic Preservation Commission, prior CBC author Rebecca Solnit (River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West) spoke movingly about the closing of the Castro Theatre, an essential part of San Francisco cinematic history, for renovations before it reopens, reconfigured as a live-entertainment venue. —YouTube

new york, new york november 16 jon fosse attends the 73rd national book awards at cipriani wall street on november 16, 2022 in new york city photo by dia dipasupilgetty images
Getty Images


The finalists have been announced for the Republic of Consciousness Prize. Texas bookstore owner Lori Feathers started the North American edition of the award for small-press books, and this is its inaugural year. Among the exciting titles: City Lights–published Family Album, Transit Books–published A New Name: Septology VI–VII, and Cristina Rivera Garza’s New and Selected Stories.Kirkus

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.


Jessica Blough is an assistant editor at Alta Journal.
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