Book Club: Explore ‘The Island of Sea Women’ with Lisa See

Lisa See, author of "The Island of Sea Women."
(Scribner / Patricia Williams)

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

With all that’s happened in 2020, I’m so grateful for this one-of-a-kind community book club that’s brought us together in such unexpected ways.

This year, on the page and in our live and virtual gatherings, we dived into a pandemic classic as the real-world pandemic hit, rode with the Compton Cowboys as protests filled our streets, swam from Southern California to Iceland and the South China Sea, cooked at home with two California chefs, celebrated a visionary L.A. sci-fi legend, and listened to the inspiring, heartbreaking verse of eight Black poets reeling from injustice and uncertainty.


And next year, we’ll escape in January with bestselling author Lisa See to “The Island of Sea Women.”

See’s deeply researched historical novel is set on the Korean island of Jeju, where she introduces a community of indefatigable women divers and the dramatic forces that shape their lives. As Jodi Picoult perfectly explains, “This novel spans wars and generations, but at its heart is a beautifully rendered story of two women whose individual choices become inextricably tangled.”

Start reading over the holidays and join us Jan. 25 when See will be in conversation with Times columnist Mary McNamara.

The book club meetup will be livestreamed on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube starting at 7 p.m. Pacific. Sign up at Eventbrite. Our local bookselling partner, Diesel, will have signed books available.

What questions do you have for Lisa See? Please email them to us at

Stories from a hidden America

This week we welcomed Karla Cornejo Villavicencio and Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, authors of two acclaimed new books about the day-to-day lives of immigrants living in the shadows.

Cornejo Villavicencio (“The Undocumented Americans”) was 5 when her parents brought her to New York City from Ecuador. She went on to become one of the first DACA recipients to graduate from Harvard.

Castillo (“Children of the Land”) also was 5 when his family crossed the border from Mexico to California. His memoir describes a childhood of constant motion and fear of discovery.


“I always remember being in a state of knowing that there’s something about me that I can’t share with others,” Castillo said during a wide-ranging interview with Times editor Steve Padilla.

If you missed Tuesday’s book club, you can watch the conversation here.

On Thursday, former President Barack Obama gave a shout-out to “The Undocumented Americans” as one of his favorite books of 2020. He also included books by two other recent book club authors — Brit Bennett (“The Vanishing Half”) and Emily St. John Mandel (“The Glass Hotel”) — on his year-end reading list.

Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, “The Undocumented Americans," Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, “Children of the Land"
(One World/HarperCollins)

Keep reading

How to write a mystery novel: This fall we launched “We Can Teach You That,” a new skills series featuring Times staffers and other experts. Join us for the next installment on Jan. 27, when Southern California author Joe Ide shows you how to write and sell your mystery, starting at 6 p.m. Details.

Best of the west: Former Times book editor David L. Ulin shares his picks for the 10 best California books of 2020. And over at L.A. Taco, “Mike the Poet” Sonksen compiled this great guide: “32 L.A.-Centered Books to Read, Gift, and Get Inspired On.”

Bookstores update: In the wake of last spring’s lockdown, sales plummeted as much as 80% for local bookstores before improving in recent months. For L.A. bookstores during COVID-19, this holiday season is make-or-break time.


10 ways to experience John le Carré: The spy-turned-espionage novelist died Dec. 12, leaving behind 25 novels and a memoir-in-essays. Here’s a Le Carré reading list for every desire.

More “Tattoos on the Heart”: Variety reports that Norman Lear is developing a series based on the bestselling memoir by Father Gregory Boyle, the founder of Homeboy Industries and our December 2019 book club author.

A happy ending: Rocky, the tiny owl found in the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, just got a children’s book.

2020 at a glance

We launched the L.A. Times Book Club in spring 2019 with a plan to build on the popular Festival of Books, to keep the storytelling going year-round. An engaged community of book lovers emerged to join in monthly conversation about the stories and issues that matter most to Los Angeles and California.

This year, as the pandemic shut down our in-person gatherings, we pivoted in March to host virtual book club events that allow authors and readers to connect from home in even greater numbers. Here’s a rundown of what we read and whom we spoke with this year:

January: Ocean Vuong, “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.”
February: Luis J. Rodriguez, “From Our Land to Our Land.”
March: The new world of L.A. Noir: Steph Cha, “Your House Will Pay,” and Joe Ide, “Hi Five.” Watch.
April: Fanny Singer, “Always Home: A Daughter’s Recipes and Stories,” with chef Alice Waters.
May: Emily St. John Mandel, “Station Eleven” and “The Glass Hotel.”
June: Walter Thompson Hernandez, “The Compton Cowboys.”
July: Bonnie Tsui, “Why We Swim,” with long-distance swimmer Lynne Cox.
August: Brit Bennett, “The Vanishing Half.”
September: Black Poets in a Time of Unrest with Robin Coste Lewis, Natalie J. Graham, Ashaki M. Jackson, Douglas Kearney, jayy dodd, Amaud Jamaul Johnson, Khadijah Queen and Kima Jones.
October: Stories and interviews from 26 events during 26 days of the virtual Festival of Books.
November: Exploring the many worlds of Octavia E. Butler, with Lynell George, “A Handful of Earth, A Handful of Sky.”
December: Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, “The Undocumented Immigrants,” and Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, “Children of the Land.”


Thank you for reading along with us this year and sharing so many encouraging comments, ideas and book suggestions! I’d love to hear what books and authors interest you most for the new year ahead. Email us at