A New Literary Light in L.A.

Ever wonder how the Southern California sky gets its distinct glow? It’s airlight.


Ever wonder how the Southern California sky gets its distinct glow? It’s airlight. As described in Lawrence Weschler’s 1998 essay “L.A. Glows,” that’s the light reflected off countless tiny particles, making for a haze. It’s also a phenomenon whose name has inspired a new online literary journal. Published by the English department at the University of Southern California, Air/Light says it intends to “express a West Coast aesthetic, a West Coast sensibility, and direct that lens onto the world.”

Air/Light is edited by David L. Ulin, Alta’s books editor, who is also on the selection panel of the California Book Club. In an editor’s note, Ulin writes, “At Air/Light, we like literature that takes the gloves off. We like literature that means what it says. And we like literature that plays a little fast and loose with expectations, with tradition and with hierarchy, that blurs the boundaries not only between genres but also between forms.”

The journal will release four issues a year, rolling out two to three pieces each week. Forthcoming work includes essays, fiction, and poetry by, among others, Daniel Alarcón, Karen E. Bender, and Victoria Chang. To subscribe for free, go here.


Love Stories

California’s demographics are reflected in a new imprint that will be led by bestselling authors Nicola and David Yoon, a married couple who live in Los Angeles. Joy Revolution, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, will showcase teenage love stories written by people of diverse backgrounds. “Where were the girls who looked like me?” Nicola Yoon says about the romance novels she read in her youth. “Didn’t Black girls ever fall in love?” Joy Revolution will launch in 2022.


All We Need Is…

John Freeman, host of the California Book Club, is releasing the latest issue of his literary journal this week. The new anthology is centered on the theme of love. “In a time of contentiousness and flagrant abuse,” the journal notes, “it often feels as if our world is run on hate. Invective. Cruelty and sadism. But is it possible the greatest and most powerful force is love?” The issue includes pieces by Anne Carson, Louise Erdrich, Robin Coste Lewis, and Tommy Orange. Joined by contributing writers, Freeman will kick off his virtual book tour with a City Lights–Litquake event on October 17, 5 p.m. Pacific time. Sign up here.

"How Much of These Hills is Gold" by C Pam Zhang

A Last Call for the Book Club

For those who haven’t signed up, there’s still time: Freeman will host the first meeting of the California Book Club on October 15, 5 p.m. Pacific time. He and C Pam Zhang will talk about her debut novel, How Much of These Hills Is Gold. You can register for free here. Then click here for the Zoom link on the 15th.


A New Look at Steinbeck

William Souder, who has written biographies of Rachel Carson and John James Audubon, takes on one of the nation’s most revered authors in his latest book. Mad at the World: A Life of John Steinbeck is the first major biography of the Salinas-born Nobel laureate in a quarter century. About that Nobel prize: when Steinbeck was asked if he deserved it, his answer was “Frankly, no.”


Picturing California

It’s been heartening to see the outpouring of support for Vroman’s Bookstore, a partner of the California Book Club. After the Pasadena shop let customers know that its future was at risk because of the pandemic, shoppers reached out, lining up outside the store. It’s a testament to just how embedded Vroman’s is in the community. In fact, it’s one of the most venerable bookstores in the nation, dating back to 1894. The accompanying photograph shows the store’s old book bus parked outside the shop seven decades ago.

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