California Book Club Author Wins National Prize

the national book foundation's picks for 5 under 35

You can’t say we don’t pick winners. C Pam Zhang, the first author who will take part in the California Book Club—on October 15—has been named a 5 Under 35 honoree by the National Book Foundation. Now in its 15th year, the prize recognizes debut-fiction authors under age 35 whose books stand to “leave a lasting impression on the literary landscape.”

Zhang’s novel, How Much of These Hills Is Gold, was selected by Marlon James, a National Book Award finalist for his 2019 novel, Black Leopard, Red Wolf.

The four other young authors awarded the $1,000 prize are K-Ming Chang (Bestiary), Naima Coster (Halsey Street), Raven Leilani (Luster), and Fatima Farheen Mirza (A Place for Us).

Zhang’s novel was also long-listed for the Booker Prize in August.

John Freeman, who will host the California Book Club discussion with Zhang, writes in his introductory essay, “It might be a stretch to call it California’s Beloved, but C Pam Zhang’s How Much of These Hills Is Gold moves with the same rough magic and has a similar relationship to history as Toni Morrison’s haunted and beautiful book. Only here history, too, becomes a ghost.”

In his review of the novel for Alta, Christian Kiefer calls it a “superb…reinvention of the Old West.”

A reminder: you can register for the book club here. It’s free and open to all. And you can order Zhang’s novel—and our next selections—at the California Book Club store, hosted by Bookshop. All the profits from each sale are divided between our bookstore partners: Book Passage, Books Inc., Book Soup, and Vroman’s Bookstore.



Laila Lalami, the Los Angeles novelist and essayist (The Moor’s Account and The Other Americans), has just published Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America. (The book’s original release was delayed because of the pandemic.) Born in Morocco, Lalami became a U.S. citizen in 2000. However, she writes, she remains one of the country’s many “conditional citizens…people who know what it is like for a country to embrace you with one arm, and push you away with the other.” In his review of the book for Alta, Ismail Muhammad writes, “As a novelist, Lalami traffics in the specific textures of individual lives and voices, allowing questions of race, gender, and class to percolate at the edges of her narratives rather than dominate them. A similar instinct infuses Conditional Citizens, which uses the contradictions between American ideals and the author’s experience to excavate histories of exclusion.”

Also out: Letters to a Young Brown Girl, the latest poetry collection by Oakland author Barbara Jane Reyes. Born in Manila, Reyes addresses themes of gender, race, and power dynamics. As she writes in the poem “You’re the One,” by Fanny (1971), “Hell yeah, let this Brown Girl be, ruby rock and roll gypsy in a big man’s big dirty world.”



Diesel is the latest independent bookstore that’s turning to a fundraising campaign to offset losses suffered during the pandemic. Named after a neighbor’s dog, Diesel has shops in Brentwood and Del Mar. (Its Northern California stores changed hands years ago.) “We have tried to weather this storm, with creative reinvention, hard work, and perseverance, as we always have,” Diesel owners Alison Reid and John Evans write on their website. “We’ve managed to keep our booksellers afloat financially and with the necessary health care. But at this point, our stores are foundering.” Diesel is looking to raise $400,000 through a GoFundMe campaign. Anyone who would like to contribute can do so here.



The California Book Club is proud to count the Los Angeles Public Library among its partners. Seen in this 1950s postcard, the flagship Central Library—opened in 1926—is today joined by the Los Angeles Public Library’s 72 branches. It’s the nation’s third-largest central library, holding more than 2.8 million books and 3 million photographs. The library has 2.1 million cardholders.

In 2018’s The Library Book, Susan Orlean describes the Central Library as “a fantasia of right angles and nooks and plateaus and terraces and balconies that step up to a single central pyramid surfaced with colored tiles and topped with a bronze sculpture of an open flame held in a human hand. It manages to look ancient and modern at the same time.”

John McMurtrie edits for McSweeney’s Publishing and the literary travel magazine Stranger’s Guide.
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