Lorrie Moore: The Agony and Fun of Fiction

This spring marks a major literary milestone in American letters: Lorrie Moore’s first collection of short stories in over 15 years has just been released. The author of six books—including the most recent novel A Gate at the Stairs, and the story collections Self-Help and Birds of America—Moore is often hailed by critics and fans alike for her vibrant humor in the face of heartrending sorrows. Well worth the wait, her forthcoming collection, Bark, brings to readers that same perfect pitch of wit and wisdom that has made her one of the most quintessential voices in contemporary fiction. Moore takes the ALOUD stage on Wednesday, April 9 for a conversation and reading. I corresponded with the author before her upcoming appearance at Central Library about Bark, and for a longer version of this story originally published by the Kirkus Reviews.


For almost three decades, Moore taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, but she has recently relocated to Nashville, Tenn. to teach at Vanderbilt University. Readers may begin to wonder how the South might permeate her future writing as the Midwest did for so long, but she’s never been one to rush out new work. She published the first story from Bark 10 years ago. That seems to be a comfortable incubating period for Moore: “If you wait too long you might not recall why you wrote any of them,” she says of her short stories. However, when I asked her about some of the influences of these new stories, it appears time has taken its toll: she’s already begun to forget the specifics. “But they are all responses to something and involve situations I was thinking very deeply about at the time. One then gets very involved with fashioning the story that can contain those thoughts and feelings. But now of course I’ve moved on. That is the beauty of shorter narratives: they allow you to move on.”

Like most Americans, Moore is probably relieved to move on from the fraught political landscape of the last 15 years in which Bark is set. Political consciousness naturally permeates Moore’s characters, who are immersed in the wounded American psyche of a post 9/11 country at war—from a teacher who sings the “Star Spangled Banner” for a ghost to an aloof intelligence agent who gulps down some Côtes du Rhône before a mission to a cynical author who taunts a supporter at a D.C. fundraiser. Moore believes political awareness is just typical of most people. “One’s life takes place in the world,” she says.

Moore_coverIn “Debarking,” the first story of the collection, a recent divorcé up in arms over the U.S. invasion of Iraq is deeply moved by a peace protest he witnesses while driving: “No car went anywhere for the change of two lights. For all its stupidity and solipsism and scenic civic grief, it was something like a beautiful moment.” Yet the story is not about the war, it’s about the absurdities of his struggle to date again. Gleaning insight into how the mentally unstable casually date, the story brilliantly balances the light and dark at the end of the tunnel of marriage. In fact, in many of the eight stories that comprise Bark, the sweeping themes of global politics are often pushed to the backdrop of the more personal moments of “one’s life.”

“Paper Losses,” “Wings,” and “Referential” all follow characters who are unraveling from failed relationships. Breakups and divorces are fodder for much of the pain these characters endure, but there’s some comic relief in how these estranged characters are placed in strange situations. In “Wings,” a struggling musician looks after a zany old man (who turns out to be dying) as a distraction from her boyfriend, whom she no longer loves. Disillusioned by an argument with her boyfriend about whether the old man is her sugar daddy, she has the epiphany that couples might never stay together if they knew the future: “This was probably the reason nine-tenths of the human brain had been rendered useless: to make you stupidly intrepid. One was working with only the animal brain, the Pringle brain. The wizard-god brain, the one that could see the future and move objects without touching them, was asleep. Fucking bastard.”

Although readers might find themselves laughing out loud at some of Moore’s zingers, she does not consider herself a humorous writer. “But let’s face it: These stories aren’t all that funny. Only a little bit,” she says. The bits of humor that Moore reluctantly takes some credit for are like a flock of inflatable dinghies bouncing alongside a sailing ship. Her humor breaks the tension of heightened moments with an effect of dramatic irony that somehow seems completely sincere. As Moore carefully handles all the various emotional vulnerabilities of her characters, she is able to mash up the comic and tragic parts into one lucid whole. In the final story, “Thank You for Having Me,” a woman at a wedding is buzzed enough from champagne to look beyond her own loneliness and see beauty in a shining sun. “I think it’s good to let hope have the last word,” says Moore.

Visit www.lfla.org/aloud for reservations to Lorrie Moore in conversation with Brighde Mullins on Wednesday, April 9, 7:15 PM.

–Posted by Bridgette Bates and author photo by Zane Williams.

Inspiring Dinaw Mengestu’s “All Our Names”

Coming up on Thursday, March 27 at ALOUD, Dinaw Mengestu, the MacArthur Award-winning author of two novels, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears and How to Read the Air, will discuss his new book, All Our Names, with novelist Laila Lalami. All Our Names is a deeply lyrical love story that explores two worlds in the early 70s—a quiet middle-of-nowhere American town and the bustling, violent capital of Uganda. Although the story follows the lives of those living in exile, The New York Times warns readers not to oversimplify Mengestu as a writer of “the immigrant experience” because All Our Names is more profoundly “a story about finding out who you are, about how much of you is formed by your family and your homeland, and what happens when those things go up in smoke.” We caught up with Mengestu before his upcoming ALOUD appearance about balancing the political and personal in his writing, and where he finds inspiration—spoiler alert: the library!

Much of your work focuses on personal stories that take place within tumultuous political climates. What interests you in the balancing act of these two worlds?

Mengestu: A large part of that interest is inevitably born out of my own family history–our migration from Ethiopia to the United States as a result of Ethiopia’s communist revolution. I grew up intimately aware of how politics can radically alter the course of a nation, and of course by extension the life of an individual or family.

Along the same lines, your new novel All Our Names is a love story that is also about exile—what was the genesis for this story?

Mengestu: For me this story is first and foremost a series of portraits of love. The exile that follows places those love stories into a state of crisis.

Since ALOUD is part of the Los Angeles Public Library, we’re always curious about authors’ connections to libraries. Do you have any connections to libraries—growing up as a kid, or as a parent, or do you use the library as a working writer?

Mengestu: As a child I spent much time in my public library, not only reading, but buying massive amounts of used paperback novels during the library book sales. By the time I graduated high school I had a wonderful personal library, purchased from my local library that I carried with me for years. While living in both New York and Paris, I did much of my writing in two beautiful reading rooms, one at the New York Public Library, and another at a small library that overlooked the river Seine.

Can you recommend other books to our readers—writing from a diaspora, political novels, or love stories—that have influenced your work?

Book Jacket for: Season of migration to the North
One of my favorite novels of all time, and the one that I consider to be the most influential in writing All Our Names, also happens to be the same one that Laila Lalami wrote a superb introduction for: Season of Migration to the North.



Learn more about Mengestu’s upcoming ALOUD program and make free reservations here.


Bookmark This #18

Bookmark This #18

February is the month of love, and we love sharing reading recommendations with you, especially as the 26th Annual Stay Home and Read a Book Ball is just around the corner.  What a fun way to love and celebrate the Los Angeles Public Library by lounging around the house and reading a good book!


Louise Steinman is the Chair of this year’s Stay Home and Read a Book Ball.  The founder and curator of the award-winning ALOUD series at Central Library, she is also the author of three books, most recently The Crooked Mirror: A Memoir of Polish-Jewish Reconciliation.

Louise recommends Women Without Men,’by Shahrnush Parsipur.

“When the artist Shirin Neshat spoke at ALOUD last December, she mentioned her first film was based on the novella ‘Women Without Men’ by Shahrnush Parsipur. Both Neshat and Parispur are Iranian-born, and both live in exile in the U.S.  Parsipur spent years in Iranian prison, under the Shah as well as under the rule of the mullahs– who banned her novels.  Women Without Men follows the interwoven destinies of five women—among them a schoolteacher, a wealthy housewife, and a prostitute—who by various means find their way to a lush magical garden outside Tehran.  Parsipur weaves together recent Iranian history with age-old Dervish tales. One woman returns from the dead as a clairvoyant ghost. Another plants herself as a tree in the garden where the others nourish her with human breast milk. Women Without Men is a provocative and poetic portal into women’s lives in a tradition-bound society.”


Marsha Hirano-Nakanishi is a past president of the Los Angeles Public Library Board of Commissioners.  She recently spent a weekend in San Francisco with book lovers stalking Sam Spade, Dashiell Hammett, and Maltese Falcon locations.

Marsha recommends Lillian & Dash by Sam Toperoff.

“After rereading the Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man, and Joe Gores’ Maltese Falcon prequel Spade and Archer, I plunged into Toperoff’s reimagining of the on-again, off-again love affair of Dashiell Hammett and playwright Lillian Hellman from their meeting during Depression-era moviemaking in Hollywood through the Spanish Civil War, Hellman’s successes and failures on Broadway, World War II, HUAC, through to Hammett’s burial in Arlington National Cemetery in 1961. Using the voices of Dash and Lillian to illuminate their contrasting remembrances, criticism, encouragement, and caring, the third person narrator stitches the part-gossip, part-factual, part-imagined 30-year journey together.”


When Roz Bonerz was eight years old, she won her first “Bookworm” pin from the local library.  She had to read 12 books over the summer vacation to become an official “Bookworm,” and she has been a “Bookworm” ever since.

Roz recommends The Road Home by Rose Tremain.

“In Rose Tremain’s The Road Home, you travel with Lev- a Russian immigrant, from the small town of Baryn to London on a bus.  Lev is looking for work.  He goes from distributing flyers to dishwashing to prepping vegetables to being a chef as we follow his life in London.  We’re with him through all his trials and adventures, two steps forward, three steps back.  Lev is easy to like; he’s kind, hard-working, but prone to trouble.  I stayed with him through it all with a sense of wonder and wow.  In the end, it’s all about the writing- the beautiful writing of Rose Tremain.”


Maureen Moore is the Associate Director of ALOUD and an avid cultural enthusiast. If her job permitted, she’d spend her time traveling the world collecting stories, snapping photos, sipping coffee, and contributing the occasional post to her ‘cultural musings’ blog.

Maureen recommends LA Son: My Life, My City, My Food  by Roy Choi.

“LA Son: My Life, My City, My Food is a chance to ride shotgun with Roy Choi.  The narrative takes you on an odyssey through our state, from the early days of his family’s culinary outings when they trekked up to Santa Barbara for abalone or to Indio for bean sprouts for his mom’s bi bim bap to his first time eating a banh mi in the O.C.  Food has colored Choi’s world from the moment he entered it, and LA Son blends those stories with the rhythm of his bad boy street slang, keeping things picante, just like the salsa roja of LA’s most flavorful taco from the famous Kogi BBQ truck.  When I first learned of the title of the book, I thought he’d called it, ‘LA SoHn’ …Son…as in the musical rhythm, the backbone of Latin music – the one you hear driving down Whittier Blvd. or cruising through MacArthur Park.   It’s that rhythm and soul that he puts into his food and everything he does.  The beat on the page keeps up.  Choi-isms are sprinkled throughout like little pieces of advice next to his recipes: drink, burp, smile.  Choi’s voice is practically in your ear, and the promise of his culinary creations meeting your palate is just a few bites away.”


Noel Ople is a new intern for the Library Foundation.  He loves yoga.  Practicing for more than two years, he finds it absolutely amazing both physically and mentally and plans to obtain yoga teacher training certification this summer.

Noel recommends Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer.

“One of my favorite books is Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. I don’t think I’ll be doing any traveling into the wild any time soon, but the idea of leaving everything behind and going on a journey of self-discovery was really inspiring, especially to a younger, more rebellious version of myself.”


More than 6 million books are available through the Central Library, 72 branches and www.lapl.org and include print, audio and digital formats.  Browse through the catalog and bookmark your own must-reads for the Stay Home and Read a Book Ball!

If you want to share what you’re reading, contact Membership Director Erin Sapinoso at erinsapinoso@lfla.org to recommend a book for an upcoming post.

Happy reading, and stay tuned for next month’s issue of Bookmark This!


Tales from Two Cities

From the gritty drama of noir to the free-spirited poetry of the Beats, how does the literature of California tell us who we are? This Thursday, February 20, ALOUD kicks off the second part of this special home-grown conference in collaboration with The Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West. Free and open to all at the downtown Central Library, Tales from Two Cities will explore the language, culture, and aesthetic that has helped to shape the writing of California. Here’s the full schedule of events, but for a sneak preview at some of the California voices gathering this week, check out these highlights from past ALOUD programs.

Walter Mosley, Between the Sheets: Sex, Literature, and the Future of Erotic Fiction. Listen to the podcast here.


Attica Locke, The Future of African American Literature and the Paradox of Progress. Listen to the podcast here.


David Ulin in Conversation with Joan Didion.


Poet Gary Snyder. Listen to the podcast here.

Learn more about the other upcoming participants and how you can watch the conference from home.

Bookmark This #17

Happy 2014, everyone!

If you are still looking for something to read in celebration of the start of this new year, consider any one of the following five recommended books OR choose from more than six million others that are available through the Central Library, 72 branches and www.lapl.org.

Also, if you are you interested in providing a reading recommendation for an upcoming issue of Bookmark This, contact Library Foundation staffer Erin Sapinoso at erinsapinoso@lfla.org.


A new Member of the Library Foundation, Jonathan Lorenzo can’t believe it’s already 2014! His favorite movie trilogy is the “Back to the Future” series, and he looks forward to flying cars, hoverboards, and power laces next year… a la Part Two.

Jonathan recommends The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey.

“This book is a classic.  I used to read it every six months or so because it’s that good.  I wanted its lessons to be second nature to me, so I just kept reading it and reading it.  Stephen Covey lays out the fundamental principles I try to live by every day.  The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is a must-read for everyone who wants to make the most of their lives, both professionally and personally.”


Rebecca Shehee is the Vice President of the Library Foundation of Los Angeles.  A voracious reader and stalwart supporter of libraries, she is also an accomplished quilter.

Rebecca recommends The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner.

“A book that really captured my imagination recently is The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner.  This novel tells the very compelling story of a young artist, our narrator, Reno, and her experiences with an older Italian lover, her own quest to understand her art and herself.  Reno self-describes as one who is “shopping for experience.”  After a violent brush with an underground fascist group in Italy, Reno returns to America and considers her past and future but draws no conclusions.

This novel received immense praise from reliable sources, and I certainly had high expectations after reading Dwight Garner’s review in the New York Times:  ‘Her prose has a poise and wariness and moral graininess that puts you in mind of weary-souled visionaries like Robert Stone and Joan Didion.’  In my humble opinion, he was right!  My favorite type of novel is one that is very literary but also has a can’t-put-it-down plot, and this is one of those.

The Flamethrowers was short-listed for the National Book Award.  I enjoyed it so much that I now want to go back and read Kushner’s prior novel, Telex from Cuba.”


A Library Foundation staffer for six years, Libby McCarthy is an avid reader and recently completed a very glamorous quilt.

Libby recommends Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand.

“I’m such a fan of true survival stories, and this might be the ultimate one. The book chronicles the incredible life of Louie Zamperini, the arc of which goes something like this: Louie attends USC, breaks track records; he competes in the 1936 Olympics where his performance attracts Adolf Hitler, who requests a personal introduction; he joins the army during WWII as a bombardier; his plane gets shot down over the Pacific and he survives for 47 days at sea….all of this before being captured by the Japanese Navy and held as a POW until the end of the war. The whole story is so much more riveting and triumphant than I could ever describe, but also an important one about war, endurance, and forgiveness. If you haven’t already read it, I urge you to do so before the movie adaptation comes out later this year. Even better, celebrate Louie’s 97th birthday on January 26th. Happy birthday Louie!”


Natalie Arps-Bumbera is a Development Assistant at the Library Foundation of Los Angeles. In addition to a fondness for Jurassic creatures of all sorts, she also loves Jurassic technology like astrolabes, 1920’s Underwood typewriters, and 1919 Contessa Nettle “accordion” cameras.

Natalie recommends Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time by James Gurney.

“I received a copy of Dinotopia from my parents when I was in elementary school, and my copy is still a cherished part of my ‘grown-up’ home library today—broken spine, well-worn cover, loose leaves and all!  The story follows Victorian scientist Arthur Denison and his son, Will, as they set out on a scientific voyage of discovery, only to be shipwrecked before they reach their destination.  Arthur and Will wash ashore on the hitherto undiscovered island of Dinotopia, and are shocked to find it populated by a colony of shipwreck survivors and ancient prehistoric creatures they assumed had long since gone extinct.  I was enthralled by Dinotopia as a child—after all, who doesn’t want to live in a city made of waterfalls, or fly on the back of a huge, winged Quetzalcoatlus Skybax? As an adult, my appreciation of the story has deepened—I love the idea of a utopian society made up of a blend of cultures, animals, and people; I’m impressed by the many ways in which James Gurney incorporates his anthropological background into his work; and I’m enchanted by the beauty of Gurney’s paintings.  Ultimately, Dinotopia does what the best children’s books do: teaches you something new, makes the learning process fun, and presents sophisticated concepts in a simple, elegant way.”


Sarah Charleton is Cultural Programs Coordinator for the Library Foundation of Los Angeles, and works primarily on the ALOUD author series. She one day hopes to achieve her overly ambitious goal of reading all the featured books from an entire ALOUD season.

Sarah recommends the sound recording of Mary Ann in Autumn by Armistead Maupin (He reads the book in the recording!).

“I knew very little about Armistead Maupin, except that his Tales of the City series has spanned three decades. After hearing that Maupin would be featured at ALOUD for The Days of Anna Madrigal – his final book for the series – I checked out the Los Angeles Public Library’s catalogue to find his books and familiarize myself with his writing. Though it’s not the first in his series, I started off with an audio recording of Mary Ann in Autumn, read by the author himself. Maupin’s writing is so funny and truly contemporary. I appreciated his extraordinary ability to weave together the lives and relationships of the many fictional characters that Tales of the City follows, so readers can jump into any book from the series and still feel they’ve really gotten to know the characters. I would recommend Maupin’s books to any reader, as a humorous but real-life look into the San Francisco lifestyle and its LGBT community.”


Roll on 2014, and stay tuned for next month’s issue of Bookmark This!

Tying the Room Together; Highlights from ALOUD

The year brought many unexpected surprises to the ALOUD stage: a first-ever live rap with local hip hop stars backing author MK Asante; Quetzal bringing vintage music from the Los Angeles Public Library sheet music collection to life; Persian short story master Goli Taraghi slyly comparing Tehranian and Parisian cabbies; the late Wanda Coleman delivering one of her last public readings—a passionate poetry tribute to James Weldon Johnson. We sampled sustainable Congolese coffee before a panel on coffee culture, and blissed out when The Dude himself (Jeff Bridges) ruminated on how “love is the rug that ties the room together.”

Please join us once more before the year’s end to laugh, question, savor, and reflect on some of our favorite ALOUD moments from 2013:

Three accomplished short story writers—George Saunders, Bernard Cooper, and Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, unpacked the challenges of the short story form explaining how they work through their own daunting personal doubts.

“Language is like a sword that can defend you.” Iranian writer Goli Taraghi shared this wisdom along with other fascinating insights into how creativity and ingenuity can flourish despite censorship, oppression, and the struggles of an exile living far from her home and mother tongue.

MK Asante and Nick Flynn gifted us raw wisdom in their memoirs, both soaring meditations on the power of poetry, writing, and filmmaking as tools for transmitting universal truths, emotional healing, and unlocking individual freedom.

“Is this your first book in a box?,” asked graphic novelist Gene Yang of fellow illustrator Joe Sacco. Yang dove into a fascinating discussion with Sacco on process, while looking at how artists deal with the ethics of converting history into graphic narratives. Far from being contained within the boundaries of a box, these two artists showed how storytelling is illuminated through diverse forms.

The Feminine Mystique, a panel of multi-generational activists, expanded upon Betty Friedan’s seminal book by exploring the evolution of the feminist movement, and why feminism is still considered a “dirty word.” Highlights included learning about the radical and exploratory approaches women took to protect their health in the sixties (the first time anyone produced a speculum on the ALOUD stage!), and consensus from all participants that feminists today are in favor of a more inclusive movement encompassing class and racial equality for both women and men.

The Library jammed to the jazz and world music tunes of Don Cherry in a live tribute honoring an L.A. genius who spread his cosmic musical talent far and wide. In a first-ever hometown tribute, his talented family of fellow musicians—conducted by his son David Ornette Cherry— shared candid stories from his career while also introducing a new generation to his work.

The ALOUD audience was enlightened by a rich bilingual experience about the life of the late poet and novelist Roberto Bolaño. Here’s a gem from an audience member: “Otherness becomes familiar as the magic of unattainable syllables is rendered even more magical with the conveyance of heart pulse, bone and marrow intentions.”

Activists Albie Sachs, Eve Ensler, Jody Williams and artist Shirin Neshat—all by example—showed what we can do as citizens and artists in service of reconciliation, social justice and as agents for positive change in the world: “You cannot not respond to the world around you—culture has to be morally conscious.” —Shirin Neshat (pictured above)

Thank you for spending the year with us! We look forward to seeing you in 2014. Learn more about our 2014 program calendar here.

Bookmark This #16

What better time to give thanks for the Los Angeles Public Library than in November?  As you take a break from trimming the turkey (or tofurkey), mashing potatoes and opening that can of cranberry sauce, consider cracking open one of these recommended books.  In this issue, our contributors take us through life in California, mythical creatures’ discovery of New York, the life of Nelson Mandela, advice for twenty-somethings, and love stories.


Glen Creason is the map librarian for the Los Angeles Public Library, author of Los Angeles in Maps, blogger for Los Angeles Magazine and a native Angeleno, hailing from South Gate, California.

Glen recommends Middle Men: Stories by Jim Gavin.

“This is one of those books that makes you vibrate inside and find parts of yourself on every page. Gavin takes everyday life in SoCal and takes a hard but compassionate look at ordinary people. You will find no heroes here, but you will find those who finish the marathon of working for a living with honor and love in their hearts. You will find people you want to hug and those you want to tell to #@*& off. Very often I knew exactly what the author was trying to say and identified closely with many of the sad situations the young men face in the stories. Possibly the settings around where I grew up added to the resonance of the prose.  I have been to the Luau, and this writer made it so very real. This is a wonderful collection and I haven’t enjoyed such a collection as much since Winesburg Ohio.”


Christa Lorenz is delighted to have joined the Library Foundation of Los Angeles this month! She is a devotee of opera, contemporary classical music, and historical fiction, and is immersed in an ongoing quest to find the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe.

Christa recommends The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker.

The Golem and the Jinni is one of those books that has you making deals with yourself about how much later you can stay up to read!  An early 1900s fairy tale, the title characters set out on a mutual quest to discover what it’s like to be human and how to maneuver in a foreign world. The novel is a wonderful look into Jewish and Arabic folklore and the immigrant community of New York in the early 20th century. A truly mesmerizing debut from Ms. Wecker – I look forward to reading what’s next!”


Krisztina Quick is a non-profit professional with a passion for effecting positive social change, especially in education and animal welfare. Originally from Hungary, she has been calling L.A. her home (with love) for almost 15 years.  She has a goal to run a half marathon in every state, and the best (and unexpected) part of this goal has been the uninterrupted reading time on planes when traveling to different states.

Krisztina recommends Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela by Nelson Mandela.

“I’m a huge fan of autobiographies, and this book didn’t disappoint. I knew Mr. Mandela as a public figure and freedom fighter but didn’t know much about his personal life. I really enjoyed finding out about him as a man, husband, dad and friend. He writes with vivid details of his surroundings and the people around him. Many times I felt I was there with him in prison/secret meetings/rallies, and I knew the people with whom he shared prison cells/work/life. His love for South Africa is undeniable, and he paints an incredible picture of his country. I cannot wait to visit it. His story includes the good, bad and the ugly. What I really liked is how he admits to his personal challenges and weaknesses with honesty and grace. What I connected with the most in this book were: his appreciation for finding deep and meaningful friendships along his journey and his strong view of the importance of self-discipline. I know you will enjoy this book as much as I did and be inspired by the incredible human being Nelson Mandela is.”


Rita Mai is an accounting intern for the Library Foundation.  Born and raised in Los Angeles, she grew up loving the Library and has fond memories of and appreciates what the library offers – knowledge, inspiration, and imagination.

Rita recommends The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter–And How to Make the Most of Them Now by Meg Jay.

“This book offers a great start for those in the young twenties group to plan for adulthood. It offers insight on why decisions in your twenties will affect you beyond your twenties and to make the most of it. At the same time, it offers twenty-year-olds an idea of what they should be accomplishing. This book may provide a good start for young college individuals who have just graduated or those who are trying to figure life out. It will inspire you to want to make the most of your life.”


Devon Moffat is an intern for the ALOUD series.  She grew up in L.A., studied history and American studies at Bard College, and in her free time listens to music and watches movie musicals from the 30s and 40s.

Devon recommends Adverbs by Daniel Handler.

“On the back of the book, Handler writes ‘This novel is about love,’ but what that simple description calls to mind does little to prepare you for the type of love stories he tells in Adverbs. This book invites you into a surreal and muddled world with a large cast of characters while challenging you to make sense of the absurd events that take place. You expect the seemingly unrelated chapters to intersect as the novel progresses, and although it’s undeniable that they do, you’re never sure just exactly how—unclear pronouns, unexpectedly recurring elements, and ambiguous character names are unsettling but give the wonderful sense that the novel is a puzzle waiting to be solved. Like Handler’s Young Adult books, A Series of Unfortunate Events, the mood is playful, but dark. The way these cryptic love stories are woven together in Adverbs is unique and entirely engrossing.”


For more reading options, browse through any of the six million books that are available at the Central Library and 72 branches throughout the city and online at www.lapl.org.

Happy Thanksgiving, and happy reading!  Stay tuned for next month’s issue of Bookmark This!

Look Up These Kirkus Starred Books

Since 1933 the Kirkus Review has helped readers wade through the ever-expanding tide of new releases with that necessary critical look at books before they’re hot off the press. Three hundred thousand reviews later, readers have grown to trust the much-coveted Kirkus star as the mark of a good read. With the busy fall publishing season underway, we checked in with Kirkus’ Features Editor Claiborne Smith to offer Angelenos a few specially selected recs for some note-worthy new and upcoming reads.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

THE GOLDFINCH by Donna Tartt
“It’s epically long, but one of my favorites so far this fall. It’s about an orphan, a guy who grows up in New York City. He’s on the way to a parent-teacher conference with his mom in middle school and they stop at a museum and there’s a terrorist explosion. There’s a moral lesson throughout Tartt’s drawn out American narrative—the book is about being true to yourself and about how taking responsibility is a series of decisions.”



Longbourn by Jo Baker



“Longbourn is the estate in Pride and Prejudice. One of the rare novels about physical labor that’s really interesting—she takes the servants of Pride and Prejudice and tells their story. It’s a re-imagining like Wide Sargasso Sea that takes classic literature and messes with it for exciting results. Great for Jane Austen fans.”



Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography by Richard Rodriguez

DARLING by Richard Rodriguez


“A thoughtful essayist with a new book where he talks about being gay and growing up Catholic. He always has an iconoclastic take on America.”





Johnny Cash: The Life by Robert Hilburn

JOHNNY CASH by Robert Hilburn“This is coming out October 29, and at 700 pages, this is going to be the definitive biography of Johnny Cash for quite some time. Hilburn was the chief pop music critic for the Los Angeles Times for more than three decades and he has interviewed people that other reporters haven’t reached—he goes deep into Cash’s history in gospel and his early childhood. You get a very human picture about how Cash was at war with himself, including when Cash first got hooked on amphetamines in 1957—a time when people didn’t understand addiction. It’s a sad story, but shows how his art drew on his suffering.”

A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907-1940
by Victoria Wilson

“A huge bio that will be out on November 12 and of interest to Hollywood fans. Wilson is a long time editor at Knopf, and Simon and Schuster is publishing this book, so lots of people in the industry are buzzing about it.”

Mad as Hell: The Making of Network and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in Movies by Dave Itzkoff

“Another book coming out that should be of interest to people in L.A. It’s about the making of the movie Network in the mid-70s and all the controversies it engendered, by Dave Itzkoff, a New York Times culture writer. It comes out on February 18, 2014.”

Place your hold on these recs at lapl.org today!



Bookmark This! #14

The Santa Ana winds have begun to blow again, and with them has come the start of autumn.  As you enjoy the warm breezes, the harvest of apples and pumpkins, and sitting on your front porch, consider these reading recommendations featuring: dsytopian satire; the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby; a knight and dragon; German progressive rock; and New York City’s Lower East Side.

Let us know what you think about these or other books by posting your comments below.  If you would like to provide a reading recommendation for an upcoming issue of Bookmark This!, contact Membership Director Erin Sapinoso directly at erinsapinoso@lfla.org.


John Nein is a Senior Programmer at the Sundance Film Festival and the curator of the Library Foundation’s new film culture program “Lost & Found at the Movies.”  He went to film school as a director and now watches an indeterminate number of films a year while spending an indeterminate amount of time wishing he had more time to read.

John recommends Tenth of December by George Saunders.

“I don’t think any contemporary author more artfully observes the cruel contradictions of modern American life. Wickedly funny and brilliantly spare, Saunders’ prose assumes the voice and the soul of his characters, and while it’s tempting to see the worlds he creates – vaguely familiar near-future places populated by desperate castaways and crushing adversity – as sad, dark and cynical, there is something beautiful there; it lies in the profound struggle taking place to assert some form of human dignity.”


Robyn Myers has been an employee of the City of Los Angeles for more than 30 years.  Currently, she oversees building issues for all 72 branch libraries as Branch Facilities Manager for the Los Angeles Public Library.  She is always reading at least one book (possibly even two at a time) and gets nervous if there isn’t a book in the “on deck circle” on her bedside table.

Robyn recommends Cemetery John: The Undiscovered Mastermind of the Lindbergh Kidnapping by Robert Zorn.

“When people ask what I read, I usually reply, ‘History and mystery.’  I was delighted to find BOTH in Robert Zorn’s Cemetery John: the Undiscovered Mastermind of the Lindbergh Kidnapping.  Zorn takes a memory of his father (which is brought to the surface by the chance reading of an article on the case many years later), and turns it into a journalistic investigation.  He credibly proves his father’s theory that a former neighbor was the man the press dubbed ‘Cemetery John,’ one of three kidnappers of the Lindbergh Baby.  Zorn has a real storyteller’s gift, making history come alive.”


Aviva Weiner was born in Los Angeles at Queen of Angels Hospital and grew up in the Central Library in the room that is now the Language Learning Center.  Her mother taught her how to read at age three because she became tired of reading to her.  Aviva still goes to the library every week, to get books, socialize, or just breathe.

Aviva recommends The Knight and the Dragon by Tomie DePaola and A Giraffe and a Half by Shel Silverstein.

“These are two of my favorite books of all time.  I do not say children’s books, although they are certainly written for children, because I believe that a well-crafted book is appealing to people of all ages.  Both of these books are written and illustrated beautifully. They are funny and thought-provoking, and the illustrations are detailed just enough to enhance the reader’s or listener’s understanding.”

“These books are designed to bring joy to your soul and will hold your interest enough to be able to read them to your child(ren) night after night after night. (And please, do read out loud to your children, until they are at least 13 years old).”

“Maybe not these books, but something.  Maybe Tolkien, or C.S. Lewis, or even Dickens.). The Knight and The Dragon begins ‘Once upon a time’ as a good story about dragons often does, but it ends wordless.  A Giraffe and a Half begins ‘If you had a giraffe’ and ends ‘You would have a giraffe.’  In both books, it’s what happens in between that really matters.”


Daniel Tures has been a manager at Amoeba Music for 16 years.  He makes kosmische musik in his spare time as the White Widow.  He grew up in El Paso, Texas, and studied philosophy at UC Berkeley.  Now a proud Angeleno, he loves enriching his knowledge of L.A. history and culture through programs at the Los Angeles Public Library.

Daniel recommends Krautrock: Cosmic Rock and its Legacy, from Black Dog Publishing.

“German progressive rock in the 1970s was mocked as ‘krautrock’ by the English-speaking music press, and the musicians embraced the name with ironic gusto.  How could such a frumpy, unswingin’, dour defeated nation possibly compete with the likes of Rod Stewart and the Eagles?  But in its afterlife, krautrock has arisen as a vastly influential source of sounds and ideas for alternative rock, techno, and even hip-hop — Kraftwerk was essential accompaniment for early breakers.  There would be no Radiohead without Can, no Aphex Twin without Neu! and Cluster.  It’s a diverse, gnomic music scene, difficult to explore and navigate; this wonderfully designed book is the perfect introduction.  I loved reading about all these weird bands and producers, on pages packed with flyers and band photos with bad hair and big sweaters, and lysergic album art.  Even the typeface reflects the spare, futuristic sounds.  Fantastisch!”


Jennifer Kondo is the new Director of Young Literati. As a graduate student, she was afforded plenty of time to browse the fiction stacks while pretending to study.

Jennifer recommends Lush Life by Richard Price.

“I lived in New York when I first read this book, and it compelled me to look at the city more closely every time I walked out of my building.  Price’s details, characters, and dialogue are so accurately and painstakingly rendered that his prose seems as if they are the most fantastic field notes ever written.  Price sets this not-by-the-numbers police procedure in his ultra-specific version of New York’s Lower East Side in the first decade of the millennium.  Known for his writing for The Wire, he brings that careful eye to a neighborhood that is exploding with one of the most rapid gentrification trajectories in the city and traces the consequences of this trajectory when a young, white man is shot during a mugging.  By the end of this immersive, fast-paced book, you’ll feel that you are a lifelong resident of this vibrant little section of New York.”


These books – and more than six million others in print, audio and digital formats – are available through the Central Library, 72 branches and www.lapl.org.

Happy reading, and stay tuned for the next issue of Bookmark This!

Bookmark This! #13

Bookmark This is one year old!  In its first year, this recommended reading series has shared an eclectic mix of 60 book suggestions from 58 contributors – all for your reading pleasure!  As it continues into the future, we look forward to finding out more of your favorite page-turners.  Contact Erin Sapinoso at erinsapinoso@lfla.org if you would like to provide a reading recommendation.

This first anniversary issue takes us through the life of Jenni Rivera, familial experiences during World War II, reflections on writing, mysteries of the sea, and the classical elements of cooking.


USC Professor Josh Kun, Director of the Popular Music Project at USC Annenberg’s Normal Lear Center and most recently curator of the Library Foundation’s Songs in the Key of L.A. project, is still catching up on episodes of Jenni Rivera’s reality show for Mun2, “I Love Jenni,” and still collecting early 20th century Los Angeles sheet music for the Los Angeles Public Library.

Josh recommends Unbreakable: My Story, My Way by Jenni Rivera.

“The autobiography penned by beloved Mexican-American musical icon Jenni Rivera before she was killed in a plane crash last December is a raw, wrenching survivor’s song. The Long Beach native who sold real estate before she became a media mega-star was famous for not holding back on stage. She does the same on these pages, diving into her single-mom struggles to rise in the male-dominated Regional Mexican music industry and into her “vida loca” on the working-class streets of Long Beach with candor, attitude, and confession, including numbing discussions of the domestic sexual abuse suffered by her daughters and younger sister. With Jenni’s story as our guide, the book ends up being a crucial portrait of the omnipresent, but all too rarely written about, dynamics of Mexican life and culture in multi-racial Los Angeles.”


Seeta Zieger is a Vice President of Advertising Sales and Member of The Council of the Library Foundation.  If she can’t travel in person, she counts on the Library’s books to take her to exotic and interesting locales!

Seeta recommends Winter of the World by Ken Follett.

“This novel transports the reader to a time and place in recent history that is still unfathomable to those of us who were not alive during World War II. The author’s detailed descriptions of events teach the reader interesting historical facts in the context of five families and their interactions/relationships. (Of course, I am presuming the reader will have started with the first novel in the trilogy: Fall of Giants.) I love this novel as a summer read since it is very intriguing and great company on long plane rides or lazy days at the beach!”


Mary Fitzpatrick is a fourth-generation Angeleno, poet, and Member of the Library Foundation. Having spent large swaths of her childhood at the South Pasadena Public Library, she wrote about discovering poetry there as a girl and, in 2007, was honored to read that poem in that same, beautiful 1907 library.

Mary recommends Swallowing the Sea – On Writing, Ambition, Boredom, Purity, and Secrecy by Lee Upton.

“Lee Upton has written a very clever book on the pitfalls, traps, delights, and temptations of writing. Technically a book of essays, Swallowing the Sea is more a compendium of musings – simultaneously arch, intimate, and confessional. Upton is a poet and professor with 12 books to her name, yet in one essay in which she describes the root of her reverence for books (a library is involved), she confesses she was never so bold as to hope anything she’d written could ever be published. But we’re glad it was. Upton is earnest yet bemused – a smile always at the corner of her lips – as she writes of the torments and triumphs of writers. This book’s bibliography is six packed pages and provides a vision of the author’s library – books bristling with page markers and passages tagged with her themes: ‘Ambition,’ ‘Boredom,’ ‘Purity,’ and ‘Secrecy.’ These are themes based on obsessions and, as we all know, it’s obsession (Herman Melville, anyone?) that compels the writer to the page.”


Jocelyn Yamasaki works at The Library Store in the Central Library.  She loves exploring in and around Los Angeles and capturing it all on her camera.  Otherwise, she can be found perusing the stacks for her next adventure.

Jocelyn recommends Children of the Sea: Volume 1 by Daisuke Igarashi.

“This book is the first of the Children of the Sea manga series. It was recommended to me by a friend who shares my growing love for graphic novels. The book is beautifully written, cinematically drawn, and reads in the traditional Japanese style from right to left. It tells of a young girl named Ruka who encounters a ghost in an aquarium and feels a strange connection to the sea and two boys she meets, Umi and Sora, who were raised by dugongs. Considered a book for teens, Children of the Sea tells a story that adults can appreciate, too, and unfolds in a contemplative and organic way that allowed me to fully take in the mesmerizing landscapes of Igarashi’s art. I fell in love with this book, and putting it down was extremely difficult. I don’t think I ever did, actually! I highly recommend this book to young and old readers alike!”


Nina Koske recently moved to Los Angeles from New York City and also works at The Library Store. She is adjusting quite nicely – thanks in part to the beaches, palm trees, and avocados.

Nina recommends Cooked by Michael Pollan.

“I just recently finished Michael Pollan’s new book Cooked. Having read two of his other books, I knew I was going to like it. Pollan has such a friendly and readable tone it is easy to imagine he is someone I could be friends with. While his past books have focused more on food policy and the troubling side of our food industry, this book is just about the way we cook food and why. He goes through each of the four essential elements in preparing food: fire, air, water, and earth. He explains aspects of each category I had never even thought about – things like the legend of the beginning of fire, gender-equality issues of cooking with water (which is to say, cooking in the kitchen), the erotics of disgust of cheese, and more. It is a thought-provoking, wildly interesting read about food.”


You can find these books – and more than six million others in print, audio and digital formats – through the Central Library, 72 branches and www.lapl.org.

Happy reading!