5 must-go L.A. book events— from Leimert Park Book Fair to an ode to strip malls

A woman and two men look at a book at the Leimert Park Book Fair, returning Saturday.
The Leimert Park Book Fair returns Saturday.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

This week’s book events take a close look at specific places and the myths that have dogged or defined them, rightly or wrongly. Sometimes those places are a state of mind more than anything.

At the Last Bookstore, Karen Tongson will examine Karen Carpenter’s mythos and appeal in the Philippines and in the American suburban imagination. In Hauser & Wirth’s event celebrating “Sunset Market Plaza,” the much-maligned strip-mall will get a fresh look, with speculations about what’s to come.

This being the United States, our sense of place is informed by all the countries from which we, or our ancestors, hail. Yugoslavia-born Téa Obreht, in a way that perhaps a non-native American can do best, re-imagines the American West in all its hardscrabble glory in “Inland.” Aya de Leon, injecting the heist novel with a feminist spirit, imagines what her unlikely heroine would do in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. And the Leimert Park Book Fair delivers a multifaceted experience drawing upon the neighborhood’s African and Caribbean roots.


Here’s the full slate:

Hurricane for hustlers. In “Side Chick Nation,” her fourth installment in the genre-bending feminist-heist Justice Hustlers series, Aya de Leon spotlights Puerto Rico, before and after Hurricane Maria, through the eyes of former sex worker and party girl Dulce. In the aftermath, Dulce reconnects with journalist Xavier and businessman Gerard and their stories converge as each one tries to find solid ground (and opportunities, some more honorable than others) on a island rocked by catastrophe. The author will be at Skylight with special guests.

7:30 p.m. Friday. Skylight Books, 1814 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles Free.

Leimert Park Book Fair. This neighborhood book fair has been going strong since 2007 and now attracts more than 200 authors, poets, spoken word artists, storytellers and other participants. Some of this year’s highlights include a conversation between former Los Angeles Poet Laureate Luis J. Rodriguez and poet-memoirist Shonda Buchanan; panel discussions on “Black Student Power” and “Mixed Race Writing”; and a conversation with this year’s book fair ambassador Laila Ali, who will also demonstrate recipes from her book “Food for Life: Delicious & Healthy Comfort Food From My Table to Yours.” Check the schedule for the full slate of events:

10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday. Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, 3650 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Los Angeles. Free.

An ode to the strip mall. The strip mall gets a lot of flak for being one of urban development’s worst ideas, but as anyone with a passing knowledge of Los Angeles knows, many a gem, culinary, retail or otherwise, is tucked into those lowly rows. “Sunset Market Plaza: Meditations on Strip-Malls in Los Angeles” elevates the discussion with photographs by Catherine Opie, an overview of 41 L.A. strip-malls and speculative renderings of what strip malls could be in our future. For the book launch at Hauser & Wirth, editor Shaina Goel and urban planning scholar Jonathan Crisman will be in conversation.

3 p.m. Saturday. Hauser & Wirth, 917 E. 3rd St., Los Angeles. Free.

The West, re-imagined. President Obama included Téa Obreht’s “Inland,” her second after the acclaimed “The Tiger’s Wife,” on his list of 2019 summer reads, perhaps because it’s a historical epic about the American West that the Guardian calls “exquisitely drawn,” filled with muscular prose “more convincingly Cormac McCarthy than McCarthy himself.” “Inland” traces and intertwines the lives of two extraordinary people in the Arizona Territory in 1893. Nora, an unflinching frontierswoman awaiting the return of her husband and two sons, and Lurie, a man haunted by ghosts. Obreht will be in conversation with Lydia Fitzpatrick, author of “Lights All Night Long.”

5:30 p.m. Saturday. Chevalier’s Books, 126 N. Larchmont Blvd., Los Angeles. Free.

Close to Karen (and Louis). USC professor and podcasting star Karen Tongson (from Pop Rocket and now the freshly launched Waiting to X-Hale) packs nostalgic affection and astute critical thinking about Karen Carpenter, her namesake, into this slim volume that looks at the singer’s appeal in the Philippines, Tongson’s native land, as well as Tongson’s longtime home and Carpenter’s birthplace, Southern California. Drawing in race, ethnicity, karaoke passions, American suburbia and the potency of the Carpenter fantasy of “normal love” for a young lesbian, Tongson reveals “Why Karen Carpenter Matters.” She’ll be joined by the quick-witted co-host of the Keep It podcast, Louis Virtel, a self-professed Carpenters mega-fan.

7:30 p.m. Tuesday. The Last Bookstore, 453 S. Spring St., Los Angeles. Free.