We hope you enjoyed the long weekend with friends and family and had a chance to read some of the short stories in our December California Book Club selection, Jaime Cortez’s assured debut, Gordo, set in a migrant worker camp in Watsonville. During the winter months, when the air is a little sharper, is there anything better than curling up on your couch with steaming hot cider and character-driven books that whisk you away on adventures to places unknown?
Our rich and varied winter quarter invites you into a classic graphic novel set in Southern California; a smart, funny, cosmopolitan novel by a San Francisco author; and a magnificent family saga by a Northern California author. Stirring and exciting fiction as we enter a new year—yes, please.
MAGGIE THE MECHANIC, BY JAIME HERNANDEZ
When: Thursday, January 19, 5 p.m. Pacific time.
Our January CBC pick is the first omnibus from a classic comic book series that turns 40 this year: Love and Rockets, written by the Hernandez brothers. Maggie the Mechanic, by Jaime Hernandez, features a friendship between two Chicanas—Maggie and Hopey—who are also, occasionally, lovers. Their bright, black-and-white world, a slightly science-fictionalized Oxnard dubbed Hoppers, has a stylish, lush, rebellious energy, but it’s Hernandez’s naturalistically drawn and portrayed women who serve as the soul of the series. Unlike characters in other graphic novels and comics, these working-class women and their fellow “locas” age. When we meet her in the first book, openhearted, hapless Maggie is a pro-solar mechanic who crushes on Rand Race, with whom she travels the world fixing rocket ships.
While you’re gearing up for the new year, learn more about the decades-long history of Love and Rockets and its enormous definitional influence on comics in the recent KCET documentary, an exuberant love letter to the worlds created by the Hernandez brothers.
LESS, BY ANDREW SEAN GREER
When: Thursday, February 16, 5 p.m. Pacific time.
Greer’s 2018 Pulitzer Prize–winning novel is a picaresque and, fittingly for the brief month that brings us Valentine’s Day, romantic comedy of sorts. Scene 1 opens onto a failed gay novelist, Arthur Less, who is waiting to be escorted from a New York City hotel lobby to a literary launch event where he’ll interview a science fiction author. Out on the town, he learns from his agent that his publisher has passed on his latest book and his lover of nine years is getting married to someone else. While Less is a San Franciscan—a character whose reality feels cut from the same cloth as Armistead Maupin’s characters—his romantic and career mishaps, chronicled by an initially unnamed narrator, give rise to a world tour.
In literature, winter can spur reflection, particularly on what’s past, even in the midst of holiday celebrations. Less is a wry masterpiece of middle-ageisms: “A mediocre review or careless slight can no longer harm him, but heartbreak, real true heartbreak, can pierce his thin hide and bring out the same shade of blood as ever. How can so many things become a bore by middle age—philosophy, radicalism, and other fast foods—but heartbreak keep its sting?”
THE HOUSE OF THE SPIRITS, BY ISABEL ALLENDE
When: Thursday, March 16, 5 p.m. Pacific time.
Allende’s landmark debut novel was first published in Spanish in 1982. By the time it arrived in its English edition a few years later and made another big splash in the United States, it had already earned large readerships internationally. The House of the Spirits came on the heels of the Latin American Boom, a phenomenon that elevated the innovative novels of several young male Latin American writers, including Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa, with whom Allende came to share an agent. Allende’s book recounts three generations of the Trueba family in a Latin American country that bears resemblance to Chile. She writes about women who are passionate and strong-willed.
Romance, magic, military coups—while the author has written many warmhearted novels since, more than 20 of them, here is the star that cemented her in our culture’s heart, and we’re excited to introduce this treasure to a new generation of readers in March.
Join us on Zoom on Thursday, December 15, at 5 p.m. Pacific time, when Cortez joins CBC host John Freeman and special guest Sandra Cisneros to discuss Gordo. 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.
Take a look at the opening story in Jaime Cortez’s Gordo, the December CBC selection. —Alta
Alta Journal books editor David L. Ulin recommends Gordo, “which renders the world of the pickers and their children through a nuanced and recognizable lens of grace.” —Alta
Read about the event with Kim Stanley Robinson, Cory Doctorow, and John Freeman or watch the video. —Alta
CENTRAL VALLEY IN POETIC PROSE
Alta contributor and book critic Heather Scott Partington writes that the characters in Manuel Muñoz’s The Consequences “walk a dangerous line between being needed and being rejected.” —Alta
The winners of the National Book Award were announced. They include Los Angeles–based author Tess Gunty for the novel The Rabbit Hutch and Bay Area author Sabaa Tahir for the YA novel All My Rage. —Esquire
AHEAD OF HER TIME
Jason McBride writes a biography of San Francisco literary outlaw Kathy Acker in Eat Your Mind: The Radical Life and Work of Kathy Acker. —San Francisco Chronicle
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