Book Club: How an ER doctor found her purpose

A diptych of a book and its author
(Riverhead Books/ LaTosha Oglesby)

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

Michele Harper barely had her learner’s permit when a family fight forced her to race her bleeding brother to the ER.

Sitting in the hospital waiting room, Harper marveled at the stream of injured patients rushed in for treatment, while others departed healed. She recounts this experience as pivotal in her decision to become an emergency room doctor.

“I figured that if I could find stillness in this chaos, if I could find love beyond this violence, if I could heal these layers of wounds, then I would be the doctor in my own emergency room.”

Harper’s bestselling memoir, “The Beauty in Breaking,” explores her own path to healing from a troubled childhood. Told with compassion and urgency, the narrative is rooted in her interactions with patients.


Her book, the June selection of the L.A. Times Book Club, debuted last summer during the depths of the coronavirus crisis.

The pandemic has receded, but Harper says the medical community is still reeling. “What’s interesting and tragic is that a lot of us are feeling demoralized,” Harper says in a Times interview. “All of those heroes trying to recover from the trauma of the pandemic are trying to figure out how to live and how to survive.”

Michele Harper is the author of "The Beauty in Breaking."
(Riverhead Books / LaTosha Oglesby)

Join us

Michele Harper joins Times readers on June 29 for a conversation with healthcare reporter Marissa Evans about her book, her work and rediscovering her love of writing.

“When I was in high school, I would write poetry,” Harper says. “Then I started the medical path, and it beat the words out of me.”

The free virtual event will be livestreamed on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. Sign up on Eventbrite to join us.

As you read along, tell us: What would you like to ask Harper and Evans? Send your questions to


More June events

The Big One: The Los Angeles Times and KPCC are teaming up on June 24 to show you how to survive a major earthquake in Southern California. Join earthquake expert and author Lucy Jones, Times reporter Rong-Gong Lin II, KPCC reporter Jacob Margolis, Times columnist Patt Morrison and KPCC host Austin Cross to discuss the reality of living in earthquake country. Sign up for this free virtual event at Eventbrite, and sign up for Unshaken, our six-part newsletter course in earthquake preparedness.

Her story: Los Angeles poet Amanda Gorman, who wowed the nation at President Biden’s inauguration, will join author Tracy K. Smith and Times columnist Erika D. Smith on June 23 to discuss Gorman’s new book, “The Hill We Climb.” Buy tickets.

The L.A. Times Ideas Exchange is hosting the virtual event in partnership with WriteGirl, an organization that pairs young writers with mentors. At WriteGirl, young poets are taught not to say “thank you” when they finish reciting their work before an audience. “Leave them with the last line,” they’re told. On Inauguration Day, Gorman did just that.

Amanda Gorman at the January inauguration.
(Associated Press)

Keep reading

The 2021 Pulitzer Prizes. Announced Friday, this year’s Pulitzers honored several books that addressed Black history and underrepresented Americans. Among the winners: “The Night Watchman” by Louise Erdrich in fiction; “Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy” by former Times reporter David Zucchino in nonfiction; “The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X” by the late Les Payne and Tamara Payne in biography; “Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America” by Marcia Chatelain in history; and “Postcolonial Love Poem” by Natalie Diaz in poetry.

Times editorial writer Robert Greene also received a Pulitzer for a series of editorials on criminal justice reform, in a year when that subject moved to the front of the nation’s political agenda.

Beach books: Bethanne Patrick shares her picks for the 10 best books for your summer beach reading. The list includes “Falling,” by new author T.J. Newman. Patrick says the author, “a former bookseller and flight attendant, seems to think of everything — every trick, every error, every advantage — in a plot that executes more barrel rolls than a stunt plane on the Fourth of July.”

The many lives of Harry Bosch: Crime novelist and former book club guest Michael Connelly says goodbye, and hello, to his legendary L.A. detective this summer. Colette Bancroft catches us up on Connelly’s TV, podcast and book projects in the Tampa Bay Times.

Inside the library: In this new podcast, L.A. librarian Kevin Awakuni explains why the city’s system is now an incubator for making libraries hip. Meanwhile, on the library’s blog, staffers Susan Lendroth, Christina Rice and Emily Rose Oachs talk about how they got started writing books for children.

“Hoax” update: Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan tweets about “Hoax: Donald Trump, Fox News, and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth,” the book by CNN’s Brian Stelter that was just released in paperback: “Most paperback publications are not too exciting. Pretty much the same book in a new format. But @brianstelter has added significant reporting about Jan. 6 and beyond, and Fox’s role in the lead up. It’s notable. Congrats, @brianstelter. “

Author vs. Amazon: California author Dave Eggers has a new novel, “The Every.” But he’s only releasing the book to indie bookstores this fall, at least at first.

Finding forgiveness: Author Ashley C. Ford talks with former Times books editor Carolyn Kellogg about “Somebody’s Daughter,” a memoir about growing up with a dad in prison. “When I was growing up, there was a great belief in adults that kids just didn’t experience painful emotions the way they did. They confuse a child’s inability to sometimes name and express emotion with that emotion not being present in the child,” Ford says. “And the worst part about it was that I wasn’t allowed to talk about it. I was not allowed to talk about my sadness.”

Comic revival: Neil Gaiman’s comic book series “The Sandman” from the ’80s and ’90s is being made into a television series for Netflix.