Introducing the Special Guest to Talk About ‘Telephone’

In this newsletter, we introduce special guest Aimee Bender, who will join author Percival Everett and the evening’s host, Anita Felicelli, to talk about the CBC May selection.

percival everett, telephone, aimee bender

Some of the strongest California literature pushes at the boundaries of traditional genres as conceived by East Coast publishing. The novels of Percival Everett, the author of our May California Book Club selection, Telephone, are especially memorable in that regard. Satire. Heist novel. Crime novel. Surrealism. Westerns. He doesn’t care about those conventions and expectations. He is, unrepentantly, an original. And so we are delighted to announce our special guest in conversation with Everett, another original, a Southern California–based author known for blending genres: fabulism, magic realism, domestic drama, and emotional realism.

Aimee Bender is the author of six books, each a unique and resounding pleasure that has been rightfully recognized by the media as among the best books of the year. She debuted in 1998 with the often-fanciful short story collection The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, a New York Times Notable Book of 1998 that kicks off with a story told by a woman whose boyfriend transforms into a turtle and concludes with the titular story about a girl who dances too close to vanilla candles. A Los Angeles Times selection of the year in 2000, An Invisible Sign of My Own features a quirky, math-loving protagonist. Bender’s inventive and luminous short story collection The Color Master, also a New York Times Notable Book, includes a story about a seamstress who sews tigers’ stripes back on them. The Butterfly Lampshade was long-listed for the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award in 2021. If eliding genre boundaries is fairly normal for a Bender book, it is not necessarily so for the books’ protagonists; in The Butterfly Lampshade, a character thrives on delineation, on keeping things separate. Bender’s short stories have appeared in Harper’s, GQ, McSweeney’s, and the Paris Review and on This American Life and Selected Shorts.

But perhaps the book that feels most of a piece with Everett’s Telephone, at least to my way of reading these novels, is The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. Where Telephone looks at a father-daughter relationship and dysfunctional family dynamics from the point of view of a Southern Californian paleobiologist whose only young child is ill with a fatal neurological disease, Bender’s book starts with a fabulist concept—the perspective of a nine-year-old who can taste the emotions of the person who made the food she is eating—and proves to be a novel about family dynamics that are tinged with melancholia and surrealism. A tendency to glide between genres never overpowers the equal interest in atomizing the emotions of disparate, finely sketched family members.•

Join us on May 18 at 5 p.m., when Everett will appear in conversation with Bender and the evening’s host, Anita Felicelli, to discuss Telephone. Please visit the Alta Clubhouse to discuss the book with your fellow California Book Club members. Register for the Zoom conversation here.


percival everett
Dustin Snipes


Novelist Nadifa Mohamed (The Fortune Men) delves into the shared themes of Everett’s novels The Trees, Erasure, Dr. No, and Telephone in this keenly observant long-form essay. —Alta

sing her down, ivy pochoda


Critic Michael Schaub reviews Ivy Pochoda’s fifth novel, Sing Her Down, which he calls “one of the best crime novels in recent years.” —Alta

author michael connelly


Prior CBC author Michael Connelly (The Dark Hours) has won this year’s ThrillerFest Silver Bullet Award.Publishers Weekly

stay true a memoir, hua hsu, doubleday


The 2023 Pulitzer Prize winners and finalists were announced, and the list includes up-and-coming authors of the West. Hua Hsu, the author of our July CBC selection, Stay True, a memoir set partly in Berkeley, won in the Autobiography category. The finalist list included Ingrid Rojas Contreras, the San Francisco–based author of the memoir The Man Who Could Move Clouds, and Vauhini Vara, for the literary speculative novel The Immortal King Rao, set largely on the West Coast, which received a Rosebud Award from Alta Journal for Best Fiction in 2022.—Pulitzer Prizes

tom hanks
Erik Carter


Tom Hanks has published a novel, The Making of Another Motion Picture Masterpiece. In this profile, he shares his experiences of Red Bluff, California, where he spent holidays with his mother while growing up.Atlantic

lynell george
New York Times


Alta contributor and CBC selection panelist Lynell George’s interactive piece “The Visions of Octavia Butler,” cocreated with Ainslee Alem Robson and the New York Times’ Special Projects team, won the New York Press Club award for Special Event Reporting in the newspaper category. —New York Times

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.


Anita Felicelli, Alta Journal’s California Book Club editor, is the author of the novel Chimerica and Love Songs for a Lost Continent, a short story collection.
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