I’m tardy on the newsletter this week because Derek Walcott died yesterday — a great loss of a great poet. Adriana Ramírez, one of our critics at large, has our appreciation.
THE BIG STORY
John Scalzi, another of our critics at large, lives in two Americas: an Ohio county that voted 78% for Trump and an online community of writers, artists and friends who are devoted liberals. He writes about what it’s like living in two separate bubbles. (And by the way, his next book, “The Collapsing Empire,” comes out Tuesday.)
Elif Batuman made a name for herself with her debut essay collection “The Possessed,” which was loosely based around her affection for the great Russian writers. And while her debut novel is “The Idiot,” a title taken from Dostoevsky, it’s entirely modern — a young woman goes to Harvard in the 1990s and falls in love. Dustin Illingworth has our review, and Batuman comes to ALOUD on Monday.
Mohsin Hamid just visited Los Angeles this week — did you catch him at the Skirball? The novelist best known for “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” is back with a book that gives the plight of refugees a magical realism twist, while remaining completely human. Everyone is raving about “Exit West,” including Mushtaq Bilal, who has our review.
And then there’s the novel “White Tears” by Hari Kunzru. The book begins as a satire of young white audiophiles obsessed with blues music. But, writes Michael Broida in our review, it soon turns darker and stranger.
A DESK-SHARE OF ONE’S OWN
Perched above Hyperion Avenue in Silver Lake, books are being finished in an office in a mid-century building. Agatha French visits Suite 8, where novelists, nonfiction writers, comics and screenwriters share desks, space, ideas and community.
Now in its third week on our bestseller list is George Saunders’ novel “Lincoln in the Bardo,” at No. 1 in fiction.
Saunders is coming to the L.A. Times Festival of Books. I’m excited to be interviewing him on stage.
FESTIVAL OF BOOKS
The schedule for our Festival of Books — which will take place April 22-23 on the campus of USC — was announced this week and tickets are available now.
Perhaps you’d like to see Margaret Atwood, who’ll be talking about “The Handmaid’s Tale” with Calendar editor Mary McNamara; U.S. Rep. John Lewis with Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell, the co-authors of his National Book Award-winning graphic novel for kids, “The March: Book 3”; author Roxane Gay in conversation with critic at large Alexander Chee; Chuck Palahniuk interviewed by Isaac Fitzgerald of Buzzfeed Books; critics at large Laila Lalami and Viet Thanh Nguyen in conversation; actor Byran Cranston interviewed by the Times’ Lorraine Ali; Kareem Abdul-Jabaar in conversation with L.A. Times editor and publisher Davan Maharaj, who will also interview critic at large and Man Booker Prize winner Marlon James. And that’s just a start.
The National Book Critics Circle held its awards ceremony Thursday night in New York. The board chose “LaRose” by Louis Erdrich for its fiction prize and Matthew Desmond’s “Evicted” for its nonfiction prize. As a former board member, I know how much work goes into the reading and selection of these and the other four categories; congratulations to the judges and winners.