The middle-class squeeze, brilliant fantasies, lab love and ostriches: 5 top book events

Author Marlon James at Jumel Terrace Books in Harlem.
Author Marlon James at Jumel Terrace Books in Harlem.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Next week’s greatest hits include Marlon James, journalists on economic crisis and debut authors Brandon Taylor and April Dávila.


Love in the laboratory

Before Brandon Taylor was a Literary Hub staff writer and an editor at Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, he was a biochemist. “For the better part of several years, I saw my lab mates every day,” Taylor writes in an article for Buzzfeed, “We supported each other. We fought. We feuded. We gossiped… A lab is a family. In a way.” The protagonist of Taylor’s debut novel, “Real Life,” is a scientist too — a gay black biochemistry student navigating friendship dynamics and romantic complexities at a Midwestern university. Taylor, a graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop, imbues his work with what the New Yorker calls “the precision of science and the intimacy of memoir,” inhabiting the space between experience and imagination. Taylor discusses his book with MEL contributor — and prolific tweeter — Miles Klee.

Tuesday, 7:30 p.m., Skylight Books, 1818 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz. Free.

Heads in the sand

Strange things are afoot at the ostrich farm. When Tallulah Jones returns to the Mojave Desert to take over her late grandmother’s ostrich farm, the big birds take a turn for the worse. They suddenly stop laying eggs, leaving Jones on her own to salvage the family business and reexamine the unusual circumstances around her grandmother’s death. “142 Ostriches” is La Cañada Flintridge-based writer April Dávila’s debut novel, which the fourth-generation Californian will discuss with author Mark Sarvas at this signing.

Wednesday 6:30, Diesel, A Bookstore, 225 26th St., Santa Monica. Free.


The fading blue collar

New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof grew up in the small working-class town of Yamhill, Ore., where his family enjoyed the idylls of pastoral life. When Kristof returned home decades later, he discovered that his once peaceful hometown was desiccated by addiction, depression and financial strife. Using Yamhill as a starting point, Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn’s book “Tightrope, Americans Reaching for Hope” reveals how rural America has suffered as blue-collar towns have lost their once lucrative union jobs. “Along with a series of personal stories,” writes Times reviewer William Nottingham, “Kristof and WuDunn provide a whirl of statistics suggesting that cycles of poverty, drug abuse, unemployment and — in the case of children — parental deprivation resulting from shattered families have left not quite half of our nation adrift and seemingly destined to stay that way.” Kristof and WuDunn — the first husband and wife team to share a journalism Pulitzer Prize — cast light on the turmoil in this talk with journalist Willow Bay, dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., Aratani Theatre, 244 S. San Pedro St., downtown L.A. $30–$45.

American dreams deferred

California’s home sale price record was annihilated this month when Jeff Bezos bought a $165-million mansion in Beverly Hills. For nonbillionaires, California’s housing market is a much tougher sell. New York Times journalist Conor Dougherty has covered the West Coast housing crisis, recounting the economic disparity in his Bay Area home base and beyond. His book “Golden Gates: Fighting for Housing in America” delves deep into the historical factors that spawned the current calamity and highlights the activist movements that are fighting back. Dougherty discusses his book with Times columnist Steve Lopez, who has chronicled Los Angeles’ own inequity epidemic.

7:00 p.m., Thursday, Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Free.

Fantastic voyage

Before it even landed on bookshelves, Booker Prize winner Marlon James’ fantasy epic “Black Leopard, Red Wolf” was dubbed the “African ‘Game of Thrones.’” When the book finally came out in 2019, James joked about the expectations of George R.R. Martin fans: “They’re going to be so disappointed ... except for the sex and violence.” It was clear that James’ expansive world — partly based on African myth among myriad other influences — was actually much more daring than bad-breathed dragons and overcaffeinated zombies. James eschewed well-trodden, Western story structures, instead opting for a phantasmagorical griot tale that was queer as heck. In his review for The Times, author Jeff Vandermeer said the book is — take a deep breath — “bawdy (OK, filthy), lyrical, poignant, violent (sometimes hyperviolent), riotous, funny (filthily hilarious), complex, mysterious, and always under tight and exquisite control.” James discusses his imaginative book at this talk. And if you run into the Jamaican author afterward, ask him how he landed Venezuelan illustrator Pablo Gerardo Camacho for his eye-catching cover art.

8 p.m. Thursday, Glorya Kaufman Dance Theater at UCLA, 20 Westwood Plaza, Westwood. $46.

Tewksbury is a writer, editor and producer in Los Angeles. He’s the director of digital content at KCRW.