Alta Journal’s California Book Club is pleased to announce the three unforgettable books that will close out 2021. These are a memoir and two novels by authors who harness their linguistic prowess to tell fascinating stories with the potential to change minds and hearts. Shifting the lenses through which readers often perceive Californians, these books have gifted us with new, potent glimpses into communities and deserve great attention.
We’ll consider a vivid book in which the woman warrior Fa Mu Lan and ghosts enhance the understanding of a Chinese American girl growing up in Stockton, a shattering debut novel about 12 Native Americans traveling to the fictional Big Oakland Powwow, and an astute novel, inspired by Prop 187, about a mixed-race family in Orange County. These books are bound to make for vital conversations about the Golden State’s rich, diverse communities. Here are the books our illustrious selection panel has chosen for us as autumn shades into winter, with comments by Alta’s books editor, David L. Ulin:
Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts
When: Thursday, October 21, 5 p.m. Pacific time.
Kingston’s 1976 debut is our October selection. It “is a tour de force, a book that mixes myth and memory and helped establish memoir as a literary form in its own right. In five impressionistic chapters, Kingston uses talk story—a fluid, improvisational approach to narrative—to highlight the flexibility, or elusiveness, of identity.… By reclaiming this story and others, including those of her childhood in Stockton, Kingston gives depth and breadth to an extraordinary set of lives.
Tommy Orange’s There There
When: Thursday, November 18, 5 p.m. Pacific time.
Orange’s first novel, our November pick, published in 2018, “offers a group portrait of Native life in Oakland through the lens of a dozen characters, including an aspiring filmmaker, an overweight shut-in, and a young man mourning his brother, with whom he still communicates (or tries to) by email.… It builds to a culminating event called the Big Oakland Powwow—interweaving the voices and the experiences of his characters as they move to a blistering denouement.”
Héctor Tobar’s The Barbarian Nurseries
When: Thursday, December 16, 5 p.m. Pacific time.
The selection panel chose Tobar’s breakthrough 2011 novel for December. It “presents a nuanced and moving look at a mixed-race family in Orange County as they confront the implications of race and class. The book deftly integrates a trio of perspectives.… The result is a novel that digs deep into the racial, economic, and cultural divides of Southern California, exploring a domestic landscape in which everyone seems alienated from everyone else and no one can say, exactly, who they are.”
In the meantime, be sure to sign up for the upcoming CBC gathering with Rebecca Solnit, author of A Paradise Built in Hell, on September 23 and join your fellow book club members in the Alta Clubhouse for an ongoing discussion about the book.
Get a taste of Rebecca Solnit’s long and prolific career as a writer and an activist by reading these five books in addition to A Paradise Built in Hell. They capture a California-specific anxiety. —Alta
The prelude of Rebecca Solnit’s A Paradise Built in Hell argues that contrary to popular media portrayals, during disaster, most of us behave altruistically. —Alta
Los Angeles writer S. Qiouyi Lu talks to Denise Hamilton about her speculative novella In the Watchful City, which imagines a future in which the Chinese Exclusion Act has been reinstated. —Alta
MENTOR WITH INTEGRITY
Actor and poet Amber Tamblyn shares a remembrance of her mentor, North Beach bard Jack Hirschman, who recently passed away. She calls Hirschman a “movement unto himself.” —San Francisco Chronicle
Novelist and memoirist Joshua Mohr explores the inner drama of protecting his daughter from a man leading a hard lifestyle. Mohr wants to fight yet relates to the man. —Los Angeles Review of Books
Kelly Cressio-Moeller shares how longing, grieving, and Big Sur influenced the imagery of her poetry collection, Shade of Blue Trees. —Zyzzyva
1980S EAST L.A.
Larissa Dooley reviews Lou Mathews’s Shaky Town, a novel-in-stories about vulnerable working-class Los Angeles that encourages readers to “embrace” wildness. —Los Angeles Review of Books
Voices from the margins with an “under-the-table existence” are centered in Oakland resident José Vadi’s essay collection Inter State: Essays from California. —KQED
An excerpt from Rupa Marya and Raj Patel’s book Inflamed describes the cruelties inflicted upon Indigenous populations in the West. —Literary Hub
USC sociologist Manuel Pastor talks about joy, Echo Park, and interviewing over 100 people for South Central Dreams: Finding Home and Building Community in South L.A. —Zócalo Public Square
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