What you should be reading now

LWY's picture used through a creative commons license
LWY's picture used through a creative commons license

Saturday afternoon I had the pleasure of hearing Meghan Daum and Nina Revoyr read at the Hammer, and I’m compelled to break my bloggy silence to recommend both of their books to folks looking for “summer reading” (whatever that is). Those who know me, know my general recommendation for summer reading is Moby Dick, but if you’ve already tackled that, you may want to check out Daum and/or Revoyr.

I admit that I went specifically to hear Ms. Daum whose name you may know from her LA Times column or one of her two books, My Misspent Youth, an essay collection, or Quality of Life Report, her novel. This time, she read from a work in progress, a book about buying a house in 2004, at the height of the housing insanity in LA. More on both Daum and Revoyr after the break. 

The title of the book, she explained, had been Give Me Shelter, until she learned this week that there is another book scheduled for publication six months before hers, also about buying a home during the bloating bubble, titled Gimme Shelter. “So my book is now called Eat, Pray, Love,” she said, “and I don’t want to hear anything about it.” That pretty much set the tone for the whole piece she read, which was clever and made me want to go out and buy her other two books (since this one isn’t due out for two years).  Daum is laugh-out-loud funny and this–whatever it is called–is one of those books that promises to make many of us wince in recognition even while we’re laughing (and here I am thinking in particular about the passage where she describes her first night in her newly purchased home, drinking wine and crying into her dog’s fur, but feeling far superior to those other thirty-something women, at home alone in a rental unit crying into their dog’s fur.

I wasn’t surprised that Daum’s reading was so delightful. The surprise of the evening for me, was Nina Revoyr, who read from her last two novels, Southland, which is set in Crenshaw and spans more than a half century of history:

Moving in and out of the past, from the shipping yards and internment camps of World War II; to the barley fields of the Crenshaw District in the 1930s; to the means streets of Watts in the 1960s; to the night spots and garment factories of the 1990s, Southland weaves a tale of Los Angeles in all of its faces and forms (from Revoyr’s site).

and The Age of Dreaming, about a formerly famous Japanese silent film star now living in obscurity. Both novels are clearly rich in history and very much tied to a sense of place. If you’re looking for a good LA novel, try one of Revoyr’s.

As an aside, the one thing that sometimes makes me not want to go to readings is the stupid questions people ask authors afterward. If you’ve ever been to a reading or two you know to expect a host of questions which basically all translate to one question (“How can I be successful the way you are?”). There was mercifully little of that on Saturday, but there were some moments of shocking denseness. Most notably, one woman asked how Revoyr managed to become interested in the historical events about which she writes. “I lived during those times,” the woman said, “And I barely noticed the Japanese-Americans in my neighborhood being taken to internment camps. How is that you became interested in that history?” And here I will give you a minute to click over to Nina Revoyr’s biography and read for a second. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Revoyr was remarkably polite in her explanation. Me, I just thought, “Yeah, I’ll bet you barely noticed.”

4 thoughts on “What you should be reading now”

  1. You broke your silence and for a great post.
    I learned more about the internment from my neighbors mother and father.

    His mother (rip)was of Japanese ancestory. She was taken to Gila AZ at that dangerous age of 2 with the rest of the family from their home here in LA.

    His father is of Chinese ancestory, a colorful one too might I add. He was born and raised in East LA. He was only slightly older than his wife when the internment started. He talked of the animosity towards asians in the days after Pearl Harbor. Richard said that the animosity ended when they learned he was of Chinese descent. The comment when they learned he was of Chinese ancestory “Oh, you’re a good asian then”.

    I doubt the Japanese living here were “bad” at all.

    Interesting reading, something worth tracking down.

  2. You inspired me; I just popped over and ordered The Age of Dreaming in hopes that maybe I’ll get back into a habit of reading. Of course, class starts in two weeks, so it might be winter break before I get around to reading it.

  3. I did Moby Dick and Billy Buddlast summer. And yea, anybody who hasn’t read Melville as an adult is missing some monster prose. This year I’m plowing through a bunch of non War and Peace Tolstoi. The Cossacks and The Death of Ivan Ilych rock!

    Next up, the current issue of Vanity Fair, with Carla Bruni on the cover. You know, for the articles.

  4. @javajunkee: I took The Age of Dreaming with me when I traveled this summer and it’s a very quick read. You could probably knock it out on a lazy weekend. I do think that Southland is a better novel, but Nina Revoyr does great work with historical Asian American fiction and queer issues. I teach Asian American history at the community college level and find her books extremely accessible. Also, I think it’s in the afterword in The Age of Dreaming but the silent film actor is based on real-life actor Sessue Hayakawa.

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