Book Club: George Takei on how to fight anti-Asian violence

'Star Trek' actor George Takei at the L.A. Times Book Club in September 2019.
“Star Trek” actor and author George Takei at the L.A. Times Book Club in September 2019.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

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

At our March book club night, Viet Thanh Nguyen decried the escalation of anti-Asian violence during the pandemic and pointed to a legacy of racist attacks in Los Angeles and elsewhere. His visit came just six days before the shooting deaths of six Asian women in Atlanta brought long-overdue attention to America’s long history of anti-Asian brutality.

The Times followed up Wednesday with a live community forum to address the rising violence, featuring actor and activist George Takei, author of “They Called Us Enemy” and a 2019 book club guest. Takei recounted the night his family was forced out of their Los Angeles home and incarcerated with other Japanese Americans in camps during World War II. He was 5 and spent several years behind barbed wire.


“The worst part was being released,” Takei told reporter Teresa Watanabe. “Hatred was still very strong, and they had taken everything from us. We were penniless.”

Takei discussed both the connections and the differences between what happened to his family and the current wave of anti-Asian hate. He also talked about why California is the epicenter of anti-Asian attacks, and how to wage a successful social justice campaign to combat it.

Watch the entire “Ask a Reporter” event with Takei, Watanabe and Times journalists Anh Do and Ada Tseng here.

Headshots of George Takei and Times journalists Teresa Watanabe, Anh Do and Ada Tseng
George Takei, left, Teresa Watanabe, Anh Do and Ada Tseng.
(Photos from George Takei; Los Angeles Times)

To learn more about the experience of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in this country, here’s a reading list of more than 40 books, including poetry, essays, memoirs and some of the best fiction of the last couple of decades. The list includes suggestions from Times staff, scholars, poet Victoria Chang and L.A. novelists Nguyen, Steph Cha and Charles Yu.

“I tell stories for a living, but I’m struggling with this,” Yu wrote in an op-ed this past week. “Like others watching the recent rise in anti-Asian harassment and violence, I have been thinking of my parents, my in-laws and their friends. People who have lived here for 50, 60, 70 years. Or, in some cases, their whole lives. There’s a term for these people: Americans.”


Festival of Books

The 26th Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, Stories & Ideas returns April 17-23 for the literary celebration’s second pandemic edition.

The virtual series will feature about 150 authors and more than 30 online events. The lineup includes Chang-rae Lee, Douglas Stuart, Imbolo Mbue, C Pam Zhang, Don Lemon, LuLu Miller, Patrick Radden Keefe, Zooey Deschanel, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Kristin Hannah, Brandon Hobson, Terry Crews, Nikky Finney, Meena Harris and more. I’m looking forward to talking with James Patterson on April 17. Here’s the schedule.

The festival will kick off April 16 with the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes’ virtual awards ceremony.

Keep reading

RIP Larry McMurtry. The author of nearly 30 novels, about 15 works of nonfiction and more than 40 screenplays and teleplays, McMurtry died Thursday of heart failure at 84. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1986 for “Lonesome Dove.” In 2006, he shared an Academy Award for adapted screenplay for “Brokeback Mountain.”

Tom Curwen writes that McMurtry kept an apartment in Sherman Oaks and later a home in Santa Monica, but his primary residence was a three-story brick building in Archer City, Texas, shaded by mulberry, poplar and ash trees. His morning ritual was to write at least five pages a day on one of his Hermes typewriters before walking over to his bookstore and, later, heading to the Dairy Queen for biscuits and gravy and a lime Dr. Pepper.

Author Larry McMurtry stands in front of shelves full of books, wearing a plaid scarf
Author Larry McMurtry at his Archer City bookstore in 2014.
(LM Otero / Associated Press)

Ramona always. Beverly Cleary, the beloved children’s author who wrote humorously and realistically about the anxieties of childhood in “Ramona the Pest” and more than 30 other books, died Thursday in Carmel. She was 104.

A former children’s librarian, Cleary sold more than 75 million books around the world. Eight Cleary books revolved around her amusingly imperfect heroine, and people always assumed that she was Ramona. She asserted that she was far better mannered but admitted to having “Ramona-like thoughts!”

Beverly Cleary sits at a book-signing table crowded with young girls and their parents.
Beverly Cleary signs books at the Monterey Bay Book Festival in 1998.
(Vern Fisher / Associated Press)

Translation backlash: Can people translate writers whose experiences are vastly different from their own? It’s complicated, as Dorany Pineda explains in this story about Los Angeles poet Amanda Gorman and the new translation debate.

The 22-year-old Black poet became a household name in January when she read “The Hill We Climb” at President Biden’s inauguration; on Friday Gorman appeared in an Apple TV interview with Oprah.

Amanda Gorman and Oprah Winfrey sitting across from each other in wicker chairs
Amanda Gorman, left, and Oprah Winfrey in Apple TV+’s “The Oprah Conversation.”
(Apple TV+)

Writing with children: Publishers Weekly checks in on novelist Ben Winters, his legal thriller in progress and his daily juggling act: “It’s still early in L.A.; Winters has already run five miles, made coffee, and promoted his latest book, but in a few hours his children will look up from their screens wondering what happens next and until that moment, there’s still so much left to do.”

Book club giveaway: Congratulations to Wanda Griepp, Carol Maeby Tanzman, Rachel Ehlers, Leslie Atler and Jennifer Wood, the winners of our February book club giveaway. Everyone who signed up on Eventbrite for our Feb. 24 event with “Migrations” author Charlotte McConaghy was automatically entered in a drawing to receive an advance copy of the novelist’s upcoming book, “Once There Were Wolves.”

Charlotte McConaghy with environmental reporter Rosanna Xia
Australian novelist Charlotte McConaghy and Times environmental reporter Rosanna Xia
(Los Angeles Times)

Last word

We asked book clubbers about how the pandemic has changed their reading habits. Here are some of their replies.

“This pandemic lockdown certainly has me reading more and listening to more audiobooks,” says John W. Rosskopf. “I go to bed every night at 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. and read until 11. My brother, who is also an avid and voracious reader, has introduced me to the subgenre of urban fantasy mysteries. I especially like Seanan McGuire, Jim Butcher and Patricia Briggs. Of course, outside of this subgenre, I’ve read all the books by Michael Connelly and Joe Ide Viet Thanh Nguyen is great too. I’ve also read/listened to biographical sketches by Barack and Michelle Obama, and my next project ... is a biography of Ho Chi Minh.”

He adds, “I love reading, and I intend to continue this schedule after the pandemic.”

Suzanne Regalado says reading kept her sane the last year and shared her ritual. “I read at night in bed for a couple of hours. First I read nonfiction about the time we’re living in. Currently I’m reading ‘Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump and the White Nationalist Agenda’ by Jean Guerrero. Then for my second hour I read a cozy mystery. I cycle through these quickly; they’re not hateful or bloody, and the mystery is always solved with the bad guy getting caught in the end. Very satisfying in these trying times! My current mystery is ‘A Fatal Affair’ by Faith Martin.”

Carol Garlington has turned to binge reading. “One of the delights of being fortunate enough to stay home during the pandemic has been discovering the L.A. Times Book Club,” she writes. “We live in Reno and would never have been able to attend if it hadn’t been for this format. I am currently binge reading Lisa See. The interview with her has been my favorite so far.”

Author Lisa See stands on a rocky coastline
Lisa See joined book club readers in January to discuss “The Island of Sea Women.”
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)