Summer reading: Lisa Brackmann on Ursula K. LeGuin


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Lisa Brackmann’s first visit to China was decades ago, and the Southern California writer taps her deep knowledge of the country in her debut literary thriller “Rock Paper Tiger.” The story focuses on an Iraq war vet who’s trying to forget -- the war, her departed husband -- and immerses herself in China’s urban underground culture, online gaming, Percocets and beer. In the Atlantic, James Fallows writes: “the off-hand observations about Beijing -- and Taiyuan and Xi’an -- ring true to me, and are very different from what you’ll hear from the standard media or business bigshot making a drop-by visit.” The thriller part -- with a mystery and various conspiracies -- kicks in when a fugitive disappears. Brackmann tells us about what she read the summer before she first went to China.

Jacket Copy: Do you remember reading a specific book during summertime?


Lisa Brackmann: Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Dispossessed.”

JC: What year was it, and how old were you?

LB: 1979. I was 20.

JC: Where were you?

LB: Basel, Switzerland.

JC: Why was the book significant to you then?

LB: I was on a work-study program in Switzerland, and I read the book shortly before leaving for China, where I ended up living for six months.

Ursula Le Guin is a lovely writer, and I really loved the prose. The book is a sort of political/cultural science fiction, looking at things like: anarchism in a world of scarcity versus capitalism in a world of abundance. Pretty on-target for a Southern California girl about to journey to the People’s Republic of China!

JC: Do you have plans to read any specific book or books before the summer is over?


LB: I’m trying to read more within my genre, whatever that is -- maybe “quirky-on-the-edge-of-literary” suspense. I also just want to read good fiction. And I have my usual pile of non-fiction about contemporary China.

Some of the things I’ve read/am reading this summer: Sophie Hannah (“The Wrong Mother”) and Tana French (“The Likeness”) for category 1.

For #2, I finally read “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay” by Michael Chabon (given how much I enjoyed “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union,” I’m not sure what took me so long).

#3, I have such a big stack it scares me, so maybe I’ll go with “Zhou Enlai: The last Perfect Revolutionary” and “The Last Days of Old Beijing.”

JC: Is there anything you read this summer that has stuck with you?

LB: The one I’ve thought about the most is Chevy Stevens’ “Still Missing.” It’s marketed as a suspense/thriller, which it really isn’t. I found it genuinely disturbing.

There is still time -- just a few weeks -- to get in your summer reading for 2010. Not sure where to begin? Check out the Los Angeles Times’ list of this season’s summer reads: 60 books for 92 days.

-- Carolyn Kellogg