L.A. book events this week: Meet authors with deep roots to California’s past and present

The Rev. R.L. Walker
The Rev. R. L. Walker and his Galilee Missionary Baptist Church in Fairmead are featured in the book “The Dreamt Land” by Mark Arax.
(Joel Pickford)

That great chronicler of the West, Joan Didion, famously said, “We tell stories in order to live,” but it’s also true that we tell stories in order to understand where we live. This week’s book events are Californian to their earthquake-prone core. Authors Laila Lalami, Mark Arax, Daniel Nieh and Ruchika Tomar all have deep roots in the state, including the Inland Empire, the Central Valley and the San Gabriel Valley, and their characters and interview subjects often hail from those unsung lands (and sometimes foreign lands that they left behind).

Philadelphia scribe Sarah Rose Etter, author of “The Book of X,” is the one outlier — but she gets an honorary state citizenship for the week for writing a book so pitched in the surreal. If there’s any place that understands that all is not what it seems at first glance, it’s the cataclysmic cradle of Hollywood, Silicon Valley and the city that practically dreamed its water into existence (that’s the romantic way to spin it, admittedly). Drink up the bounty that L.A. offers this week at these local book events.

Sarah Rose Etter, author of "The Book of X"
(Natalie Graf)

X Marks the Spot at Skylight

A girl born with a stomach tied into a knot. A meat quarry. A store of men for sale. These are just some of the images that streak through Sarah Rose Etter’s “The Book of X,” a surreal and at times grotesque novel that “lays bare,” according to Melissa Broder (“The Pisces”), “the absurdities of womanhood.” Cassie, the girl with her torso in a knot, who inherited her condition from the women in her family, endures not only the cruel teasing of her schoolmates but her own similarly afflicted and self-loathing mother. In the midst of all this misfortune, Cassie imagines a softer, more loving life for herself. Etter will be joined at Skylight by Tommy Pico, author of “Junk.”


5 p.m. Sunday, July 28. Skylight Books, 1814 N. Vermont Ave. Free.

Laila Lalami

Laila Lalami

(From Laila Lalami)

‘The Other Americans’ for every American

After launching this spring with Susan Orlean’s “The Library Book,” the Los Angeles Times Book Club has selected “The Other Americans” by Laila Lalami. The author’s fourth novel, which hinges on the mysterious hit-and-run death of a Moroccan immigrant in Yucca Valley, was praised by Times reviewer Michael Schaub as “many books at once: a gripping literary thriller, a complex love story and a sharp critique of an America wracked by war and hatred, divided against itself, constantly near a breaking point. And Lalami succeeds admirably on all fronts: The novel is intricately plotted, up to its shocking but unforced end.” Lalami, a professor of creative writing at UC Riverside, will be in conversation at the Skirball with Los Angeles Times reporter Lorraine Ali.

7:30-9:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 30. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd. $15-$60.

Ruchika Tomar
Ruchika Tomar
(Dan Doperalski)

Table for two at the diner for lost souls

Cale Lambert, a 19-year-old diner waitress, is concerned when her good friend Penny doesn’t show up for work one day. In chapters shuffled out of order, “A Prayer for Travelers” jumps back and forth in time to track the hardscrabble small-town existence of Penny, an occasional drug dealer, and Cale, who is sporting a fresh shiner at the start of the book and wanted by the local sheriff. Ben Marcus (“The Flame Alphabet”) calls this coming-of-age novel from debut author Ruchika Tomar, a native of the Inland Empire, “haunted by missing persons and lost souls, written in telepathic prose … a beautiful debut.” Tomar will discuss her book with fellow former Stegner fellow Xuan Juliana Wang (“Home Remedies”).

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 30. Skylight Books, 1814 N. Vermont Ave. Free.

A father with a past in the motherland

When Victor Li’s father, the rock of his world, dies, he finds out something he never suspected about the seemingly ordinary restaurateur. As his father recounts in a confessional letter, he was part of an international crime syndicate that formed during China’s Cultural Revolution. Victor, a Chinese American college basketball player, heeds his father’s request to travel to Beijing and avenge his murder. Plunging into an underworld of seedy massage parlors, glamorous nightclubs and bizarre situations that have the potential to explode in his face, Li gets in deep in this action-packed novel that fuses the immigrant experience with a thrilling page-turner. Daniel Nieh, a former translator and interpreter, will discuss his debut with Steph Cha, author of the hotly anticipated L.A. noir “Your House Will Pay,” out later this year.

7 p.m. Wednesday, July 31. Chevalier’s Books, 126 N. Larchmont Blvd. Free.

A photograph of an old pump house at Miller's Rita Ranch featured in the book "The Dreamt Land" by
A photograph of an old pump house at Miller’s Rita Ranch featured in the book “The Dreamt Land,” by Mark Arax. Credit: Joel Pickford
(Joel Pickford)

Water, water, nowhere

When Southern California is soaked in rains, as it was last winter, it’s hard to imagine we have a problem with water and how it gets to our thirsty lands. But as anyone who’s seen “Chinatown” knows, our state identity is wrapped up in how we’ve diverted, twisted and wrangled our most precious resource. Former Los Angeles Times staff writer Mark Arax, a native of Armenian immigrants who came to the Central Valley, steeps himself in the 450 miles from Shasta to Tehachapi, and the 60 miles from the Sierra Nevada to the coast, in a search to understand the part of California that is just as human-made as any city. He discusses his book at Chevalier’s in Larchmont Village.

7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 1. Chevalier’s Books, 126 N. Larchmont Blvd. Free.