Books: L.A.'s new poet laureate, a review of Ta-Nehisi Coates and more
Welcome! I’m books editor Carolyn Kellogg with book news and reviews this week from the L.A. Times.
THE BIG STORY
Poet Robin Coste Lewis won the National Book Award for her stunning debut collection, “Voyage of the Sable Venus” in 2015. Now the new poet laureate of Los Angeles, Lewis, who grew up in a pre-rap Compton, visits her old neighborhood with Times reporter Jeffrey Fleishman to talk about its influence — and others, like an injury that forced her to approach language in a new way — on her work.
THE BIG REVIEW
At the Atlantic, the stories by Ta-Nehisi Coates have become cultural events. Those essays, with additional material by Coates that places each in historical context and connects them to his own evolution as a writer, make up his new book, “We Were Eight Years in Power,” which will officially hit shelves Tuesday. Walton Muyumba has our review of the book (spoiler: It’s really good) and looks at the path Coates has blazed to become one of our most important public intellectuals.
READING THE WORLD
Last week, in connection with this story of the controversial English translation of South Korean Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian,” we asked you, in our first poll, to tell us how many works in translation you’ve read this year. Thank you to everyone who voted! The results were impressive. Of those who voted, almost a third have read four or more books in translation this year — which is a lot. An additional 45% have read one to three books in translation. I’m guessing that those who have read none declined to vote. Among those who did take the poll, more than 75% have read at least one book in translation this year. Only about 3% of books published by major American presses are works in translation, so you, our poll-taking readership, are reading quite widely. If you’re interested in more, some smaller presses that publish many works in translation are Restless Books, Unnamed Press, Open Letter Books and Deep Vellum Publishing.
“Something is happening to women’s bodies,” Ellie Robins writes in our review of “Her Body and Other Parties,” the debut short story collection by Carmen Maria Machado. The characters’ “every experience is expressed through the body, in ways both natural and supernatural.” Robins praises the book: “The collection is that hallowed thing: an example of almost preposterous talent that also encapsulates something vital but previously diffuse about the moment.”
Machado, who has an MFA from the prestigious University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop and also publishes erotica, is a young woman taking charge of the female sexual narrative. I think it’s interesting that her book, which officially goes on sale Tuesday, lands shortly after the death of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner on Wednesday at the age of 91.
For those of you who may have actually read Playboy at least in part for the articles, we have two Hefner-related articles from The Times that I recommend. First is the obituary by Elaine Woo, which captures his importance and cultural impact. Second is this column by Robin Abcarian: Hefner preached sexual liberation but never stopped exploiting women’s bodies.
SoCal readers have an appetite for politics. Five books on our nonfiction bestseller list are about our political moment. Debuting this week, at No. 2, is “Unbelievable” by Katie Tur, her chronicle of covering Donald Trump’s presidential campaign for NBC News. Two books enter their second week on the list — Hillary Clinton’s “What Happened,” also about the campaign, remains at No. 1, and Kurt Andersen’s “Fantasyland,” which threads through American history to explain how we got to now, is at No. 10 (Anderson’s Spy Magazine famously insulted Trump, in 1988, as “a short fingered vulgarian”). Former comedian, now-Sen. Al Franken’s memoir “Giant of the Senate,” at No. 6, is in its 16th week on the list. And J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy,” about his experiences growing up in the white working-class communities of the rust belt, at No. 9, is in its 57th week on the list.
MORE BOOK NEWS
Edward St. Aubyn, known for his autobiographical fiction, updates Shakespeare’s “King Lear” in his new novel, “Dunbar,” in which a media mogul, whose daughters battle for his estate, seems to have lost his mind.
Author Junot Díaz, who is from the Dominican Republic, appeared at a fundraiser for Puerto Rico’s hurricane recovery and quoted fellow Caribbean author, the poet Derek Walcott: “Break a vase, and the love that reassembles the fragments is stronger than that love which took its symmetry for granted when it was whole.”
The Village Voice, which issued its last print edition this week, goes inside the archives at the New York Public Library in a pointedly-timed story about the joy and serendipity of print artifacts.
In Los Angeles, Agatha French went to a reading at the Bronson Caves, the Griffith Park filming location best known as the Batcave from the 1960s TV series “Batman.”