The number of listings on Chris Erskine’s day planner must rival those on a Union Station train schedule these days, as the La Cañada resident promotes “Daditude,” his latest book, with a flurry of signings and speaking engagements.
The well-known Los Angeles Times columnist and father of four spoke in Glendale Wednesday and appears at Pasadena’s Central Library tonight, where he’ll share the collection of his columns on “the joys and absurdities of modern fatherhood” with yet another packed house.
But one stop on his whirlwind book tour — La Cañada’s One City, One Book event on Oct. 14 at the public library — will be special, not only for the short commute it will afford him, but for the fact it will be a full-circle moment for the 61-year-old author.
Erskine was fresh off the heels of his first book, “Surviving Suburbia,” in 2004 when he served as a committee member and moderator for the city’s inaugural event, hosting then-San Francisco Chronicle book critic David Kipen in a discussion of John Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley.”
“I was glad to help get the thing going,” Erskine recalled. “It was a great summer book, and Kip knocked it out of the park. I’m flattered they thought [“Daditude”] was something that was worth reading.”
Former La Cañada Mayor Laura Olhasso remembered the formation of “One City, One Book” 15 years ago under her tutelage as a newly elected mayor.
“In my book club we were talking about it and thought why don’t we have something like that in La Cañada?” Olhasso said. “It was the first time I was mayor and I thought, ‘I’m the mayor — I can do that.’”
Today, the annual One City, One Book discussions draw crowds. Olhasso said she’s glad priority is given to authors who can speak at events and meet with readers in person.
In a recent interview at his La Cañada home, where famed “300-pound beagle” Koa and still-adolescent husky Sierra (“the wolf”) offered full-body introductions, Erskine reflected on his long journalism career and chronicling family life in Los Angeles.
“People think of L.A. as movie premiers, but it’s also Cub Scouts and soccer drafts and the craziness of back-to-school nights and plays and concerts,” he says of the fodder for his “Middle Ages” column in the Times’ Saturday section. “It’s about nothing, but it’s about everything.”
“Daditude" comprises columns written between 2002, beginning with the birth of youngest son Jack (aka Little Guy), and 2017 when wife Cathy (Posh) was diagnosed with cancer. Throughout are “tailpieces,” footnoted commentary that lets family members and other column subjects get a word in edgewise.
What’s absent are more recent articles on the March 4 death of the Erskines’ 32-year-old son, Christopher, who died in a car accident on the 215 Freeway in San Bernardino while driving home from work. Erskine has written candidly on the subject, though it’s hard to guess the true toll the loss has taken on the family, given their immense graciousness and goodwill toward house guests.
When local publisher Colleen Dunn Bates, of Prospect Park Books, offered to postpone the release of “Daditude,” Erskine pressed forward, letting Christopher’s commentary in the book stand for posterity.
“It was kind of a way to pay tribute to him. Because he had the little tailpieces in there, he gets to weigh in,” he said. “It was a strange time to promote a book, but in some ways, I think it’s helped to talk everything through.”
One City, One Book selection committee member Irene Christensen called “Daditude” a truly great read. Though its April 17 publication made it a late entry, the book jumped to the front of a long line of literary contenders.
“I think people love reading him and feel they know him,” Christensen said of Erskine. “I’m not personally friends with him, but I’ve followed him enough [through his columns] and we’ve seen him in town. He feels like a friend.”
Erskine, for whom local notoriety can be both a blessing and a bit of a curse, admits the feeling is mutual. For all its foibles, La Cañada is the sort of hometown that draws around a person in good times and bad, making them feel less alone in the world.
“I’m totally appreciative of this place — it really did change our lives,” he said. “In many ways, it’s one of the great things that happened to us.”