Book Club: The many worlds of Octavia E. Butler

Lynell George and her new book, "A Handful of Earth, A Handful of Sky."
(Noé Montes / Angel City Press)

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

This fall we’re exploring the provocative and prophetic legacy of science fiction author Octavia E. Butler.

She died 14 years ago, but Butler‘s work is garnering nationwide interest right now, particularly her acclaimed “Parable of the Sower,” with its vision of a Los Angeles in the 2020s ravaged by climate change and economic injustice. Sound familiar?

“Butler’s prescient novel has surged in popularity in recent months as people have sought ways to make sense of the current chaos of the real world,” writes Times reporter Tracy Brown. She notes that “Parable of the Sower,” originally published in 1993, landed on the Los Angeles Times Bestsellers List this week.


Brown has created a must-read guide for budding Butler fans: 5 paths to continue your discovery after “Parable of the Sower.”

Over the next few weeks we’ll be discussing all things Octavia Butler, who is the subject of an upcoming book about her life and two new TV series based on her books “Wild Seed” and “Dawn.”

On Nov. 18, the book club welcomes Lynell George, author of “A Handful of Earth, A Handful of Sky: The World of Octavia E. Butler,” in conversation with Times writer Julia Wick. George based her book on research from her fellowship at the Huntington Library’s Butler archives.

The book club’s free virtual meetup starts at 7 p.m. and will be livestreaming on the Los Angeles Times Facebook page, YouTube and Twitter. Sign up here.

Tell us: What’s your favorite Butler story and why? Send replies to and we’ll share in an upcoming newsletter.

Science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler stands next to a shelf of her books.
Science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler grew up in Pasadena.
(Joshua Trujillo / Associated Press)

United We Read returns

Frustrated with the nation’s political divide, Heather John Fogarty decided to read her way across America, state by state, in advance of the 2020 election. She offered to share her journey with us, and I’m so glad she did.


So far she’s read more than 40 books from Alabama to Oklahoma. Part 3 of the United We Read series includes a memorable mix from Anne Tyler, Dean Kuipers, Kiese Laymon, Marie Mutsuki Mockett, Percival Everett, Rumaan Alam, Louise Erdrich and more.

“As I continue this project, my thoughts are consumed by our relationship to the land, a theme that has emerged in much of my reading about other states for the third installment,” she writes. “Culture is always tied to geography, and the books that have most resonated in my latest journey offer a visceral sense of place, often with divergent perspectives on how we choose to live on the land.”

Illustration for United We Read of a woman examining the landscape
(Cat O’Neil / For The Times)

Festival update

The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books celebrates its 25th birthday and kicks off Oct. 18 as a series of virtual events. Readers can choose from 25 virtual events over 25 days.

The lineup of authors and newsmakers includes Marilynne Robinson, Marlon James, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Maria Hinojosa, Laila Lalami, Kevin Kwan, Natalie Portman, Henry Winkler and former California Gov. Jerry Brown. All events are free.

Register for tickets. Then take a few minutes to enjoy this essay from travel author and festival regular Pico Iyer, who revisits the event’s history in Southern California, first at UCLA and in more recent years on the USC campus: “The Festival of Books is a joy precisely because it has so quickly become such a rich and solid tradition.”

Iyer adds, “I’m thrilled that the festival will find a way to join us together again this fall even in an age of social distancing: The Year of Zoom has shown me that one can often get an even more intimate sense of an author onscreen than from the far end of a hall.”

Book-to-screen surge: Ryan Faughnder details one bright spot for writers in the pandemic crisis. With film and TV productions stalled, studios are gobbling up the rights to hundreds of novels and nonfiction titles for future projects.

Fall books: Margaret Atwood and Carlos Lozada are among the authors helping us make sense of a wild 2020.

Literature for justice: The National Book Foundation offers seven books that rethink mass incarceration.

Is Trump our fault? Authors Laila Lalami (“Conditional Citizens”) and Ayad Akhtar (“Homeland Elegies”) spar over citizenship, identity and complicity as they talk about their new books.

What L.A. is reading: “The Lying Life of Adults” by Elena Ferrante tops the fiction list this week, while Bob Woodward’s “Rage” is the No. 1 nonfiction book on the Oct. 11 Los Angeles Times Bestseller List.

Last word: “All speculative fiction writers are writing about the present and the past, and they’re saying: If you keep going along this road that we’re on, here’s where you’re likely to end up,” says novelist Margaret Atwood in a new interview.