Books: Susan Straight and David L. Ulin take on innovative memoirs and more in books

Good morning! Or afternoon — whenever you're reading this. I'm books editor Carolyn Kellogg with this week's books newsletter.



We've got a pair of really interesting stories this week that explore innovative memoirs and how we tell autobiographical stories. The first is by critic at large Susan Straight, who looks at two books: "Letters to Memory" by Karen Tei Yamashita and "10 Mile Radius" by Cat Gwynn. "Both are California natives investigating how photographs, archives, memory and narrative work," Straight writes, "but in vistas of remarkable opposition.

Karen Tei Yamashita's grandmother
Karen Tei Yamashita's grandmother (KarKaren Tei Yamashita)

Meanwhile, David L. Ulin digs into the work of a single writer, French author Annie Ernaux. "Annie Ernaux is ruthless. I mean that as a compliment," he writes. "Perhaps no other memoirist — if, in fact, memoir-writing is what Ernaux is up to, which both is and isn't the case — is so willing to interrogate not only the details of her life but also the slippery question of identity."

Annie Ernaux
Annie Ernaux (Getty Images)


Some stories stick around a city, others become part of its lore. One, in New Orleans, is of a killer called the "ax-man." That still-unsolved mystery becomes a plot point for Nathaniel Rich in his new novel, "King Zeno," about a jazz player in that city 100 years ago, development, corruption and race. Mark Athitakis has our review.

"The Widows of Malabar Hill" by Sujata Massey is another kind of mystery — the kind that seems to be kicking off a series with a new sleuth. It's the story of a 1920s female Indian attorney who, Paula Woods writes in our review, finds herself in the middle of people competing for control of a Bombay estate and is able to cross lines of religion, gender and culture.

In his new novel, "Oliver Loving," Stefan Merrill Block explores what happens to a family, and a small Texas town, after a young man winds up in a persistent vegetative state. "Everyone is telling themselves a story that allows their own kind of survival, and yet those stories do not match up, the way they feature as characters in one another's stories are not the same people," Block tells Michael Schaub in our interview. "That feeling of competing narratives is something I'm really curious about."

Peter Mayle, the author of the bestselling 1990 novel "A Year in Provence" has died at age 78 at a hospital near his home — where else but in the south of France.

The pseudonymous author Elena Ferrante — author of the beloved "Neapolitan Novels" series — has decided to become a weekly newspaper columnist for the Guardian.

Ischia Porto is one of the settings in Elena Ferrante's novel "My Brilliant Friend."
Ischia Porto is one of the settings in Elena Ferrante's novel "My Brilliant Friend." (Leo Patrizi / Getty Images)


The No. 1 L.A. Times bestseller in nonfiction this week is "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House" by Michael Wolff. It's the controversial book's first week on the list, and it debuts at No. 1.

The No. 1 L.A. Times bestseller in fiction is the novel "The Wanted" by Robert Crais, now in its second week on the list.

See all the books on our bestseller lists here.

Michael Wolff's "Fire and Fury."
Michael Wolff's "Fire and Fury." (Erik S. Lesser / EPA-EFE / REX / Shutterstock)

Some of you have already told me you're reading "Fire and Fury" — the general verdict is that it's pretty juicy. So it'll probably stay on our bestseller list for a few weeks more.

Thanks for reading!