Book Club: Journeys with Charlotte McConaghy and Viet Thanh Nguyen

"Migrations" author Charlotte McConaghy
(Flatiron Books)

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

Our book club virtual travels continue in February. Australian speculative fiction writer Charlotte McConaghy, the author of “Migrations,” joins us from Sydney on Feb. 24 for a conversation with Times reporter Rosanna Xia.

In a near-future fraught with extinctions, McConaghy’s complicated hero, ornithologist Franny Stone, talks her way onto a fishing boat for a harrowing mission in search of the last Arctic terns in Antarctica.

“Migrations” made this Times list of 10 great books that got lost in the noise of 2020. “McConaghy writes gorgeously of the world we’re losing,” says reviewer Hillary Kelly. “But from there it’s a story of remarkable hope.”


The author’s U.S. debut also won praise elsewhere, including from the Washington Post, Time, the New York Times and Library Journal.

Our Feb. 24 book club event with McConaghy starts at 7 p.m. Pacific and will be livestreamed on The Times’ Facebook page, YouTube and Twitter. Sign up here.

"Migrations" author Charlotte McConaghy.
(Flatiron Books)

March preview

Mark your calendar for March 10, when Southern California author Viet Thanh Nguyen brings his much-anticipated novel “The Committed” to book club night.

Nguyen’s new book is a sequel to his Pulitzer Prize winner “The Sympathizer,” which tells the story of a conflicted double agent in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. After he finished writing “The Sympathizer,” the author says he realized he wasn’t done exploring his protagonist’s misadventures.

“He’s alive at the end of the book and he’s learned some lessons, but I thought that he didn’t fully understand everything that had happened to him, or to Vietnam, or to this revolution that he’s committed to, and I wanted to continue his story both to learn what happens to him and what his thinking is,” Nguyen says.

It’s a new story and a new setting: Nguyen moves the action to Paris in his sequel. “It also gave me the opportunity to spend more time in Paris and do some quote-unquote research there,” he says.


The March 10 book club meetup starts at 7 p.m. Pacific, and Nguyen will be in conversation with Times columnist (and Essential Arts newsletter author) Carolina A. Miranda. Sign up here.

Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of "The Committed."
(Grove Press)

Keep reading

Adventures with Lisa See. This month book clubbers visited the Korean Island of Jeju as novelist Lisa See shared the stories behind “The Island of Sea Women.” See talked with columnist Mary McNamara about her intensive research to craft such detailed historical fiction. She also shared her favorite L.A. writers, citing her mother — author and writing teacher Carolyn See — as well as Nina Revoyr, Lynell George, Steph Cha, Michael Connelly, James M. Cain, John Fante and Raymond Chandler. Watch the Jan. 25 book club event here.

Amanda Gorman is everywhere. Clad in a long yellow coat and a ruby red headband atop her braids, the 22-year-old Los Angeles poet captivated the nation as she read “The Hill We Climb” at President Joe Biden’s inauguration. ICYMI, or if you just want to see her stirring performance again, you can watch it here. Then learn more about her mentors and teachers and her upcoming projects. Next month she’ll perform a new poem at the Super Bowl.

What L.A. is reading. “The Vanishing Half” by Brit Bennett, our August book club read, tops this week’s hardcover fiction bestseller list.

First-class delivery. Beloved science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin is getting a postage stamp later this year. It features the writer’s portrait set in a scene from “The Left Hand of Darkness.”

Amanda Gorman
Amanda Gorman reads her poem during President Biden’s inauguration.
(Associated Press)

Lesson from United We Read

A year ago, former Times editor Heather John Fogarty decided to read a book from every U.S. state, plus Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., in advance of the 2020 election. “It occurred to me how little I knew of a person’s lived experience in Ohio or Montana, or even Arizona some 200 miles away,” she said.

Along the way, John Fogarty shared her book list and her experiences. In January 2020, the first dispatch revealed a diverse collection of recent novels, nonfiction and memoirs from Alabama to Connecticut.

In April, after the pandemic hit, she hunkered down at home and read from Delaware to Maine: “Never did the thought cross my mind that in a matter of months, reading might be the only way to inhabit other states and countries.”

In October, as wildfires ravaged California, she trekked from Maryland to Oklahoma with stories focused on our relationship with the land.

In the final installment, which roams from Oregon to Wyoming, John Fogarty talked about inequities and injustices based on race and class in a divided nation, as well as the solace and hope she found in books during a turbulent year.

Her postscript: “Having reached the conclusion of my reading project in December, or so I thought, the first book I read in 2021 ended up being the most important book I’ve read in years. ‘Just Us: An American Conversation,’ by Claudia Rankine is a collage of essays, poems, social media posts and historical documents … The book offers no easy solutions but challenges us to examine ourselves and our place in the American conversation. She writes, ‘Justice’ cannot happen without ‘just us.’ “

Book club readers: What are your favorite recent stories from coast to coast? Please share them by emailing us at