Book Club: Personal stories that resonate with this moment

Books "The Beauty in Breaking" by Michele Harper and "A Farewell to Gabo and Mercedes: A Son's Memoir" by Rodrigo Garcia.
(Riverhead Books / HarperVia)

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

This summer’s book club lineup features two authors with riveting, intensely personal stories that resonate and hearten in these strange times of pandemic and recovery.

On June 29, we welcome Michele Harper, author of “The Beauty in Breaking,” a bestseller that takes readers inside the emotionally charged, adrenaline-stoked landscape of an urban ER, and shows how Harper’s own troubled childhood led her there.


“This is not a book about romance or a chronicle of loss,” she writes. “It is a story of love rebuilt better.”

Harper will be in conversation Tuesday with Times healthcare reporter Marissa Evans about her memoir and her life as an emergency physician since the COVID crisis.

Sign up on Eventbrite for this free virtual event, which begins at 6 p.m. Tuesday and will be livestreaming on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. Then share your questions for Harper and Evans in an email to

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

Literary magic

Next month we shift from the gritty realism of the ER to a master of magical realism as the book club reads “A Farewell to Gabo and Mercedes,” by filmmaker Rodrigo Garcia.

Garcia’s book is a remembrance of his father, author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and his mother, Mercedes Barcha. The director chronicles life, death, family and celebrity in a memoir sprinkled with personal photographs and snippets written by his renowned father, whose books include a classic of Latin American literature, “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”

“Most of my father’s drafts of work in progress were salvaged by my mother behind his back, because he was firmly against showing or preserving unfinished work,” Garcia writes. “Many times during our childhood, my brother and I were summoned to sit on the floor of his study and help him rip up entire previous versions and throw them out — an unhappy image, I am sure, for collectors and students of his process.”


Garcia was born in Colombia, grew up in Mexico City and landed in L.A. to become a screenwriter and director. His latest film is “Four Good Days,” a drama with Mila Kunis and Glenn Close.

On July 29, Garcia will join book club readers to discuss “A Farewell to Gabo and Mercedes” with Times editor Steve Padilla. Sign up on Eventbrite.

What memories do you have of reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez? Please share your comments and favorite titles by email to

An elderly man in a navy jacket with a yellow rose in his lapel.
Colombian Nobel Literature laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez outside his home on his 87th birthday in Mexico City in 2014.
(Eduardo Verdugo / Associated Press)

Keep reading

Connecting cultures: Amanda Gorman’s successor as the nation’s youth poet laureate is Alexandra Huynh, an incoming Stanford University freshman raised by Vietnamese immigrant parents in Sacramento. “It does not matter any longer where you live,” reads the title and opening line of one of Huynh’s poems, which kicks off each stanza with a headline “from news reports on the fires in California and the floods in Vietnam.” Read Danielle Broadway’s interview with Huynh here.

Summer travel: Susan Orlean, author of “The Library Book,” shares the history of her trusty leopard-print mask in a new essay: “Why I Started Wearing a Mask Long Ago — and Why I’ll Continue.

Changing fortunes: Weeks before L.A. shut down last year, book clubbers went inside Homeboy Industries with Father Gregory Boyle, the author of “Barking to the Choir.” This month MacKenzie Scott surprised Homeboy and four other L.A. groups with a $50-million windfall. Boyle also has a new book, “The Whole Language,” out this fall.

Bookstores rebound. Village Well Books & Coffee opened in L.A.’s worst pandemic month, on a famously doomed corner in Culver City. Dorany Pineda shows how owner Jennifer Caspar somehow makes it work. “I never really questioned it,” Caspar says, “I just kept moving forward.” Elsewhere, other L.A. booksellers say they are anticipating a full recovery but still have a long way to go to cover last year’s losses.

A woman wearing a facial mask peers through an opening in a bookshelf.
Jennifer Caspar at Village Well Books & Coffee.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

On serendipity and connection: Virginia Heffernan remembers magazine writer and author Janet Malcolm, who died last week, and how they unexpectedly came to share a desk at the New Yorker.

Bookish: The Orange County Register profiles Noel Obiora and his legal mystery “A Past That Breathes.” It’s the story of a shy kid from Nigeria who became a lawyer, then a California novelist.

Surf stories: Bonnie Tsui’s “Why We Swim” came out just as quarantine began last spring and we read it in July. Her children’s book, “Sarah and the Big Wave,” about pioneering surfer Sarah Gerhardt, arrives as vaccinations are easing pandemic isolation. Tsui’s love of swimming goes back as far as she can remember: “I felt the draw of liquid early on: that slide into lovely immersion, that spiraling weightlessness, that privileged access to a muted underworld,” she says.