Book Club: Your end-of-summer reading and watch list

Brit Bennett discusses "The Vanishing Half" with writer Carla Hall and the L.A. Times Book Club.
(Ken Kwok / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the L.A. Times Book Club newsletter.

The Los Angeles Times Book Club went virtual in March, and since then we’ve welcomed more readers than ever who are joining our book chats from home.

This week, Brit Bennett, author of “The Vanishing Half,” spoke with Times writer Carla Hall in a wide-ranging conversation about family, race, identity, loneliness and the current moment of social reckoning. Bennett’s novel about twin sisters Stella and Desiree dominates the L.A. Times and New York Times bestseller lists and is in production for an HBO series. If you missed Tuesday night’s book talk, you’ll want to watch the interview here.


You can catch up with more recent book talks and forums at too. Here’s a quick summer reading and watch list:

“Why We Swim.” In a story that’s part memoir and part travelogue, Bonnie Tsui glides from the California coast to Iceland’s swim culture to the “Chinese Hawaii” of the South China Sea. At the heart of “Why We Swim” are extraordinary tales of long-distance swimmers and what drives them to brave extreme cold, hungry sharks and vicious currents. Tsui joined swimmer Lynne Cox, author of “Swimming to Antarctica,” and Times reporter James Rainey for our July meetup. Watch now.

“The Compton Cowboys.” Journalist Walter Thompson-Hernández says he was drawn back to his Southern California roots to immerse himself in the world of the new Compton Cowboys, a group of Black riders who find healing and hope on the backs of horses. Their motto: “Streets raised us. Horses saved us.” Watch the author in conversation with Times reporter Angel Jennings.

Station Eleven.” Novelist Emily St. John Mandel brought her pandemic classic in May and also talked about her new bestseller, “The Glass Hotel,” which revolves around another issue of great current concern — a financial crisis. Watch now.

Plus: Before her visit, Mandel and other authors — including Susan Orlean, T.C. Boyle, Charlie Jane Anders, Wil Wheaton and Aimee Liu — helped us put together this essential end-of-the-world reading list.

“Always Home.” Fanny Singer’s memoir with recipes was conceived long ago, but the title strikes just the right note for this time of sheltering in place. “It feels like a moment to redefine how we relate to the things that we consume,” Singer said in an April interview. Singer and her mom, renowned chef Alice Waters, talked food and family from Waters’ kitchen with editor Laurie Ochoa. Watch now.


“Hi Five.” Mystery writer Joe Ide met with book club readers in March when we first moved from in-person events to virtual meetups. In a lively evening of L.A. noir, Ide discussed growing up in South Central L.A. and his latest novel, “Hi Five,” the fourth in his “IQ” series set in East Long Beach. Watch here.

“Your House Will Pay.” This spring, Steph Cha’s novel took home the L.A. Times Book Prize for best mystery/thriller. On Friday, she won the gold medal for fiction in the annual California Book Awards. Cha, with basset hounds Milo and Duke, joined book club readers in March for a noir night with Joe Ide and Times reporter Maria L. LaGanga. Watch here.

Chicano Moratorium forum. History lovers will especially enjoy our in-depth project about the legacy of the National Chicano Moratorium Against the Vietnam War, a protest march held 50 years ago today that played a pivotal role in the civil rights movement in Los Angeles. Read the stories. Then watch the community forum hosted by editor Steve Padilla.

Chicano Moratorium Collage
(Photo illustration by Martina Ibáñez-Baldor / Los Angeles Times. Photographs from Los Angeles Times, George Rodriguez, family of Ruben Salazar / PBS, Special Collections & Archives, John F. Kennedy Memorial Library, Cal State LA, Gloria Arellanes Papers, David Fenton / Getty Images, Raul Ruiz)

What’s next

Mark your calendar for Sept. 24: This special book club evening, Black Poets in a Time of Unrest, will feature National Book Award winner Robin Coste Lewis in conversation with Times reporter Makeda Easter.

Lewis is the Los Angeles poet laureate, author of “Voyage of the Sable Venus” and a writer in residence at USC. She’ll talk about her tenure as the city’s reigning laureate and life as a poet. She’ll join a lineup of poet performers sharing their L.A. experiences in verse.


The free virtual event starts at 7 p.m. Sept. 24 and will be live streaming on the Los Angeles Times Facebook page, YouTube and Twitter. More details are here.

Also coming in September: The Times is launching a new series of courses, “We Can Teach You That,” through which where staffers and other experts share their skills. First up is cooking editor Genevieve Ko, who will show readers how to create a family cookbook.

Ko is the author of “Better Baking” and has collaborated on more than a dozen cookbooks with notable chefs. In a Sept. 10 class, she will explain how to create recipes, share photography tricks and walk you through the steps to compile favorite dishes and stories into a cookbook. Info.

Last word

August club author Brit Bennett shares a few favorites and some hints about her next novel.

Favorite book to reread: Any Toni Morrison novel. I’m rereading “Song of Solomon” right now, which may have the most perfect beginning and ending that I have ever encountered in fiction.

Favorite childhood book: “The Outsiders” by S.E. Hinton. I read it in the third grade after a teacher gave it to me. I think it was one of the first novels I ever read.


Must-watch TV show: “Orphan Black.” I’ve watched this show all the way through twice and will probably gear up for another rewatch soon. It’s a fascinating sci-fi story about clones, which also makes it a story about identity and choice. The acting is unbelievable, and the finale is one of my favorites of all time.

Favorite music right now: The new Jessie Ware album “What’s Your Pleasure?” Late ’70s, early ’80s slinky, sophisticated disco. It makes you feel like you’re embarking on a glamorous night out, and I feel like we could all use a little glamour right now.

Inspiration for “The Vanishing Half”: A conversation with my mother about a town she remembered from childhood that was built around the pursuit of light skin. I became interested in the idea of a place like this and what it would be like to both escape and return to it.

Favorite reaction to the novel: I’ve honestly been blown away by all of the enthusiasm for these characters, but there has been a lot of Instagram swooning over the men in the novel, particularly Reese.

Favorite character in the story: Very hard to say, but I would probably go with Early or Barry. Early was fun because he doesn’t talk much, but he feels very deeply. And Barry is just that friend who is at the center of the friend group, who gathers everyone, who dispenses advice. He’ll read you, but he also wants what’s best for you.

Something surprising you discovered in quarantine: I didn’t really learn any useful skills during quarantine, but I did realize that I am capable of adjusting to change in a way that I never thought possible. I learned how to be alone in a way that I didn’t know I could endure. And I realized how important my friends and family are when I didn’t know when I would be able to see them next.


Next project: It’s very early, but it’s a novel about two singers who have a lifelong feud.