This week’s book talks dive into religion, death and politics

George Takei, author of "They Called Us Enemy," gives the Vulcan salute.
George Takei wants to reach a generation that may know little of how 120,000 Japanese Americans were rounded up during World War II.
(Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images)

We’re not supposed to talk about religion, death or politics in polite company, but this week’s SoCal book events are more interested in honesty than decorum. But, of course, there are many ways to tell the truth.

Former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, in his new memoir “Call Signal Chaos,” criticizes the Obama administration directly, and President Trump indirectly, for failures of strategy. Sister Helen Prejean (“Dead Man Walking”) shares her spiritual journey, including pining for a priest while celibate, in her memoir, “River of Fire.” “The Churchgoer,” from debut novelist Patrick Coleman, asks big questions about faith, especially when its challenged. And mortician Caitlin Doughty skips the religious questions for plain ol’ logistics in her latest book, “Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?” — a series of frank answers to questions about death from kids.

In the next gathering of the Los Angeles Times’ Book Club, actor George Takei talks about his experience as a 5-year-old boy forced to live in the Japanese American internment camps with his family during World War II. His graphic memoir, “They Called Us Enemy,” connects the dots between the past and the present treatment of immigrants.


Looking for something less charged but still immersive? Check out photographer B.A. Van Sise talking about creating 100 portraits of American poets for “Children of Grass.”

Here’s the rundown on this week’s lit events:

Pastor or detective? In Patrick Coleman’s debut novel, “The Churchgoer,” Chandler-esque noir meets existential peril. After his sister’s suicide, youth pastor Mark Haines abandoned his fundamentalist church, his faith and his family in favor of surfing by day and working a security job by night. When Cindy, a young hitchhiker who crashed with him for a spell, disappears the same night that one of his fellow security guards is murdered, the pastor tries to figure out her mysterious vanishing and how it might connect to the robbery gone wrong. He delves into the seamy underworld of Southern California’s drug trade and the secrets of an Evangelical megachurch. Author Tod Goldberg, who called “The Churchgoer” “sun-bleached noir,” will be in discussion with Coleman at Skylight.

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

Sister of mercy: Sister Helen Prejean is best known for “Dead Man Walking,” her 1993 book that was turned into a movie with Susan Sarandon, who won a lead actress Oscar, in 1995. Now, at 80, she’s returned with a memoir, “River of Fire,” that examines her Baton Rouge childhood, falling in love with a priest while celibate, and the tumult of the Catholic church in the ’60s and ’70s under Vatican II. At All Saints Episcopal Church, she’ll be in conversation with the Rev. Mike Kinman.

5 p.m.-6:30 p.m. Saturday. All Saints Episcopal Church, 132 N. Euclid Ave, Pasadena. $32 includes book.

Demystifying death. In her third book, Los Angeles mortician Doughty answers questions about death from young people who don’t hold back. In “Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?” she discusses skulls, necrophilia, funereal smells and other burning questions in the same witty but insightful style she brings to her popular web series, “Ask a Mortician.” At the Regent Theater, she’ll tell more secrets from the Grim Reaper, and, as she recently told The Times, will share her perspective on what’s missing from the typical American funeral.

8 p.m. Monday. Regent Theater, 448 S. Main St., Los Angeles. $35 includes book; $45 for two tickets and book.

His new mission. Long before Takei played Mr. Sulu on “Star Trek” or tossed off zingers on the Twitterverse, he was a 5-year-old boy in Los Angeles, forced with family, including two younger siblings, to leave their home for the Rohwer Relocation Center, one of the many internment camps set up to imprison 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. In “They Called Us Enemy,” Takei recalls his parents’ coping strategies and the family’s eventual move to Camp Tule Lake, a high-security facility in Northern California. In this Los Angeles Times Book Club event, Takei will be in conversation with Times reporter Teresa Watanabe.

7:30 p.m. Tuesday. The Montalban, 1615 Vine St. Tickets are $20; $15 for Times subscribers.

Poets contain multitudes. While recovering from surgery a few years ago, photographer Van Sise made portraits of American poets to lift his spirits. The project that eventually became “Children of Grass: A Portrait of American Poetry,” which encompasses images of 100 poets, each accompanied by one of their poems selected by Van Sise. A relative of Walt Whitman and a lifelong lover of poetry, Van Sise will be in conversation with Times contributor Agatha French, along with poets Brynn Saito and Derrick C. Brown, at this “PEN Presents” event.

7 p.m-9 p.m. Thursday. LACE, 6522 Hollywood Blvd. Free.

War and peace. In his memoir released this week, “Call Sign Chaos,” Gen. Mattis demures, “I’m old-fashioned. I don’t write about sitting presidents.” Cue the sad trombone for anyone looking for juicy accounts of his tense tenure with President Trump. Mattis, however, makes some some sideswipes at the current administration, laments a lack of strategic thinking in our current politics, and delves into the specific failures, in his view, of past presidents, particularly the Obama administration, which fired him in 2012. Mattis also offers leadership lessons for military and civilians alike:"If you don’t read, you can’t lead,” he says. Mattis will be in conversation with Nixon Foundation President and Chief Executive Hugh Hewitt at the Nixon Library.

7:30 p.m. Sept 13. The Nixon Library, 18001 Yorba Linda Blvd, Yorba Linda. $70-$125 includes book.