Book club: LeVar Burton takes on the State of Banned Books

A man posing in a black suit
LeVar Burton
(Richard Shotwell / Invision / AP)

Actor and author LeVar Burton joins the L.A. Times Book Club May 24 to discuss the State of Banned Books.

Share via

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

This school year has brought an unprecedented rise in the number of books banned across the country. We’ve seen shelves emptied and entire genres challenged in public libraries and schools. Librarians and teachers have been condemned, bullied and drawn into community battles.

On May 24, we’re hosting a special L.A. Times Book Club evening on books and censorship in partnership with Arizona State University at the historic Herald Examiner Building.


Actor, author and literacy champion LeVar Burton will be in conversation with Times editor Steve Padilla about the State of Banned Books. The in-person event is sold out, but you can join virtually for the livestreaming discussion starting at 7 p.m. Get tickets.

Burton is the founding host of the PBS series “Reading Rainbow,” which premiered in 1983 and ran for 26 years. He also is known for his roles as Kunta Kinte in “Roots” and Geordi La Forge on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” and the dramatic third season of “Picard.”

This year Burton was executive producer of a new documentary, “The Right to Read,” which “frames early childhood literacy as a civil rights issue.” The film debuted at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and follows an NAACP activist and educator, a first-grade teacher and two families.

“That’s what Reading Rainbow was all about: fostering a love of the written word,” Burton says in a People interview. “I’m focusing my attention now on giving kids the tools they need to learn how to read.”

The subject of book bans sparked emotions April 23 during a sold-out panel on “Defending the Right to Read” at the Festival of Books.

“There are things that are happening right now in your community, in your neighborhood, your school, that you have the power to change, and you could do something about them,” Angie Thomas, author of “The Hate U Give,” told an audience that included a class of students from Fairfax High. “That’s how you change the world.” You can watch the discussion on C-SPAN.

Author Angie Thomas and George M. Johnson at the Festival of Books
Author Angie Thomas and George M. Johnson at the Festival of Books
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

ICYMI: Here are some of the best moments at the 2023 Festival of Books.

Books of summer

On June 8, Oscar-nominated actor, writer and producer Elliot Page will join book club readers to discuss his new memoir, “Pageboy,” at the Montalbán Theatre in Hollywood. Page currently stars in the Netflix series, “The Umbrella Academy,” and shares his story nearly three years after coming out as transgender. Get tickets.

On July 19, author Luis Alberto Urrea brings “Good Night, Irene” to a livestreaming book club night. The novel was inspired by his mother’s service during World War II. “My mother’s stories came to me in small bits and pieces,” Urrea writes in a New York Times essay on Friday. “Like many of ‘the greatest generation,’ she mostly kept her war experiences to herself.” Get tickets.

Book covers for "Good Night, Irene" by Luis Alberto Urrea and "Pageboy" by Elliot Page
(Little, Brown; Flatiron Books)

Keep reading

The Pulitzers: This week two novels, “Demon Copperhead” by Barbara Kingsolver and “Trust” by Hernan Diaz, shared the Pulitzer Prize for fiction — the first joint win since the fiction award began in 1918. “His Name Is George Floyd” by Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa took home the nonfiction prize. The Los Angeles Times also won Pulitzers for coverage of two of the most troubling problems facing Southern California: homelessness and racial division.


Writers strike: Two years into Raymond Chandler’s career as a screenwriter, the man whose hard-boiled fiction did much to make film noir into an art form had already wearied of the town’s treatment of writers. “Hollywood is a showman’s paradise. But showmen make nothing; they exploit what someone else has made,” he wrote in the Atlantic. Nearly 80 years after Chandler excoriated the industry, a new generation of scribes has taken to the picket lines to denounce the pileup of indignities. Times reporter Stacy Perman revisits the history and its relevance today.

Beach books and more: Regular Times critics preview 11 novels to get excited about this summer, including new stories from Naomi Hirahara, T.J. Newman, Ivy Pochoda and Colson Whitehead. Also, here’s a guide to the best movies, TV, concerts, art and games of the season.

Big book: California doctor-novelist Abraham Verghese unpacks his long-awaited epic, “The Covenant of Water.” “There’s nothing else I know that can stop time as effectively as getting lost in a big novel,” he says.

Forgotten victims: “No one knows how many Native American women and girls are missing and murdered each year.” That is the first sentence of Los Angeles writer Mona Gable’s new book, “Searching for Savanna.” Gable’s nonfiction account of the kidnapping and murder of 22-year-old Savanna Lafontaine-Greywind of Fargo, N.D. chronicles the devastation of her family and her community. “I cried a lot for her family,” Gable says.

Join us: If you value our literary and literacy events, please sign on as a supporter of the Los Angeles Times Community Fund. You’ll help us produce more in-person and virtual community book club events throughout the year. We’ll also feature your name at the next book club night. Here’s how.

Author Gabrielle Zevin
Gabrielle Zevin at the Festival of Books
(Times staff)

Last word

April book club author Gabrielle Zevin, the author of “Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow,” joined a packed house of readers at the Festival of Books to talk about the creative process, video games, failure and driving in L.A.

Zevin also stopped by The Times studio to answer some Very Important Questions, including what it’s like having her novel go crazy on TikTok. “It’s a wonderful experience because TikTok works without me participating in any way … It’s wonderful that technology allows us to enjoy books in new ways.”