Books: The National Book Award winners, Alexander Chee on his mentor Kit Reed and more

Hello, readers! I’m Carolyn Kellogg, book editor of the L.A. Times, with this week’s newsletter with some great bookish stories to carry you through Thanksgiving.


When critic at large Alexander Chee took his first creative writing class from Kit Reed at Wesleyan University more than two decades ago, it introduced him to many things: a real working writer, what it was like to live a life in art, and, most importantly, a mentor and friend. Reed died in September and Chee remembers her life and work in this beautiful essay.


Last week Agatha French introduced us to Robin Benway, the Southern California novelist whose YA book “Far From the Tree” was a finalist for the National Book Award. On Wednesday night in New York, Benway won the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature. Here’s our report on the ceremony, which included appearances by Annie Proulx, Cynthia Nixon and former President Bill Clinton. The other winners were poet Frank Bidart for “Half-Light: Collected Poems, 1965-2016”; Masha Gessen in nonfiction with “The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia”; and Jesmyn Ward, who won her second National Book Award for fiction with her novel “Sing, Unburied, Sing.” (Pictured below, from left: Benway, Gessen, Ward and Bidart).


Where have all the rock stars gone? That’s the question David Hepworth sets out to answer in “Uncommon People: The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars.” Hepworth, a British music journalist and former host of the BBC’s “Old Grey Whistle Test,” looks at the way rock’s earliest heroes combined talent and charisma in an intoxicating combination that often became toxic to those who lived too large.Yes, the song remains the same, but Erik Himmeslbach-Weinestein writes in our review, “‘Uncommon People’ really sings when Hepworth connects rock ’n’ roll’s evolutionary dots” from Little Richard to Janis Joplin to Mick Jagger to Led Zeppelin going from rock deities to yesterday’s gods and on to Madonna, Duran Duran and the closing notes of Kurt Cobain.


We welcome a new book to the top of our fiction list this week: the No. 1 L.A. Times bestseller in fiction is “Two Kinds of Truth” by Michael Connelly.

In its second week topping our nonfiction list and its third week on the list overall, No. 1 L.A. Times bestseller in nonfiction is “Leonardo da Vinci” by Walter Isaacson, another masterful tale of genius from the author of “Steve Jobs,” “Benjamin Franklin” and “Einstein.”

See all the books on our bestseller lists here.


Not up for another traditional Thanksgiving? Maybe you’d prefer to opt for a dish or two from the zombie apocalypse found in “The Walking Dead: The Official Cookbook and Survival Guide.”

The British lawyer who helped change that country’s obscenity laws with his defense of the D.H. Lawrence novel “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” Jeremy Hutchinson, died at 102.

Jeffrey Toobin, the legal analyst and bestselling author, is working on a book for Doubleday about Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible ties between Russia and Donald Trump’s campaign.

Who else is working on a book? Academy Award-winning actor Sean Penn, whose forthcoming novel will be titled “Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff.”

Astronaut Scott Kelly, whose memoir is “Endurance,” came to Pasadena to tell a sold-out crowd — and science guy Bill Nye — about his year in space. Agatha French was there.


Next week we’ll be taking a break for Thanksgiving, but the books newsletter will return on Dec. 2. Until then, happy reading!


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