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Books: Tig Notaro, Rueben Martinez, Thomas McGuane, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Annabelle Gurwitch, Conrad Aiken and more

The Los Angeles Times Book Prizes are always a celebration of excellence in all forms of literature, but this year the event will be a blast: Tig Notaro is hosting! Notaro, of course, is the comedian and star of the Amazon series "One Mississippi" — and author of the 2016 memoir "I'm Just A Person." Rueben Martinez will get the innovators award, Thomas McGuane will receive the Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement, and for the rest, we won't know until that night. The book prizes are Friday, April 21, and tickets (just $10!) are on sale now.

Tig Notaro is hosting the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes.
Tig Notaro is hosting the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

THE BIG SECTION

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There's a special section in your Sunday paper this week. That doesn't mean much to you online readers, but if you get the print edition, you'll find a whole section dedicated to the Festival of Books (tickets, by the way, go on sale Sunday, April 16). It has helpful tools for the festival — a pull-out schedule and map and lots of other information — as well as some terrific pieces about and by authors who will be at the festival. Online, there's no need to separate them from what appears in your regular books pages. Which leads us to...

A preview of the Festival of Books special section.
A preview of the Festival of Books special section. (Carolyn Kellogg / Los Angeles Times)

IN OUR PAGES, AT THE FESTIVAL

Rueben Martinez started selling books to his barbershop customers from a single shelf. "From those humble roots, the barbershop-cum-bookstore Libreria Martinez Books and Art Gallery became one of the largest purveyors of Spanish-language books in the country, as well as a center for literacy advocacy whose influence continues to ripple nationwide," writes Agatha French in a profile of the winner of our Innovators Award (with video!). In addition to being at the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, Martinez will be at the book festival on Saturday afternoon where I'll be asking him, Rigoberto Gonzales and Adriana Ramirez what publishing needs to learn about Latino readers and writers.

Rueben Martinez is the winner of The Times' Innovators Award.
Rueben Martinez is the winner of The Times' Innovators Award. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

The winner of our Kirsch Award, Thomas McGuane, talked to David L. Ulin about his writing life and, as befitting someone getting a lifetime achievement award for writing, has a great metaphor for how fiction works. "It's like being in the woods and trying to start a fire with wet kindling. You keep breaking matches and you are shocked when it lights," he says. McGuane, whose works include "Crow Fair," "Driving on the Rim," "The Bushwhacked Piano" and "Ninety-Two in the Shade," will be at the book prizes, of course, as well as at the festival, where he'll be interviewed on Saturday by Michael Silverblatt, host of KCRW's Bookworm.

Writer Thomas McGuane, in hat, with artist Russell Chatham in Montana in 1987.
Writer Thomas McGuane, in hat, with artist Russell Chatham in Montana in 1987. (Patrick Downs / Los Angeles Times)

Viet Thanh Nguyen is doing double duty at the book festival: He and fellow Times Critic at Large Laila Lalami will be in conversation on Sunday at 11 a.m., and he's also on the panel Is This Goodbye, NEA? (Sunday at 1:30 p.m.), which is presented by USC, where he's a professor. In Sunday's paper, Nguyen, who received the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2016, writes, "Becoming a writer was partly a matter of acquiring technique, but it was just as importantly a matter of the spirit and a habit of the mind. It was the willingness to sit in that chair for thousands of hours, receiving only occasional and minor recognition, enduring the grief of writing in the belief that somehow, despite my ignorance, something transformative was taking place."

Viet Thanh Nguyen at the Orange County Register book club.
Viet Thanh Nguyen at the Orange County Register book club. (Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

Annabelle Gurwitch, the comedian and actress, writes about her new memoir, "Wherever You Go, There They Are: Stories About My Family You Might Relate To." "There's always one person in every family whose body language suggests they believe there's been a terrible mistake: 'What am I doing with these people?' That was me." She'll be at the book festival Sunday at 12:30 p.m. on the panel Memoir: Live Through This.

We've got a feature on Jane Mayer, the author of "Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right," a Times book prize finalist in current interest. "The covert nature of these maneuverings that really caught my eye," she tells Kate Tuttle. "I found it fascinating." Mayer will appear Saturday on the panel What's Up With America? at 3:30 p.m.

We've got several Q&As: one with Lawrence Weschler, whose latest book is "Waves Passing in the Night: Walter Murch in the Land of Astrophysics"; he'll appear at the book festival on the panel Science and Our World on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Another with debut novelist Vi Khi Nao, whose unique point of view is on display in her book "Fish in Exile." She'll be at the festival Sunday at noon on the panel Fiction: The New New Narrative. There's one with Adam Haslett about the deep family relationships in his novel "Imagine Me Gone," which is a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Fiction and will appear on the festival on Saturday at 10:30 am on the panel Fiction: You Can't Go Home Again. And, finally, one with Robin Wasserman, whose novel "Girls on Fire," is about a not entirely healthy friendship between two young women in the 1990s; her panel, Fiction: Girls with Dangerous Friends, is on Saturday at 12:30 p.m.

Lawrence Weschler, author of "Waves Passing in the Night: Walter Murch in the Land of Astrophysics."
Lawrence Weschler, author of "Waves Passing in the Night: Walter Murch in the Land of Astrophysics." (Tony Kearney)

IN OUR PAGES, NOT AT THE FESTIVAL

Conrad Aiken, who served as the poetry consultant to the Library of Congress in the early 1950s, passed away in 1973, after living 84 full years. But he never really got his due, argues Tyler Malone, who believes Aiken's fiction, heavily influenced by Sigmund Freud, belongs in a class with James Joyce and Virginia Woolf. Malone, the editor of the literary journal the Scofield, is dedicating an entire upcoming issue to Aiken, and this Sunday he explains why.

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BESTSELLERS

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On Monday, Colson Whitehead was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his novel "The Underground Railroad." It's not often that the Pulitzer goes to the same book that took the National Book Award, but Whitehead won both. And the novel remains tops among readers — it's in its 33rd week on our bestseller list, this week at No. 4.

Colson Whitehead won the Pulitzer for his novel "The Underground Railroad."
Colson Whitehead won the Pulitzer for his novel "The Underground Railroad." (Madeline Whitehead)

THE FESTIVAL OF BOOKS

Did I remember to mention the Festival of Books? I know, I know, I've been writing about it for ages. Well, it's almost here — and you can finally get tickets to individual panels, starting Sunday, April 16. See you there next weekend!

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