Nobody Wakes Up Literary: Writers & Activists & Teachers Saturday's Lit O

As promised, Mr. Bib is back this Sunday morning with Part II of a charming if rambling post about Literary Orange, next Saturday, April 6 at the Irvine Marriott. There's something for everybody here - and there - but since I am not everybody, I'll gasbag today mostly about my own panel and the terrific writers participating. Last week you will recall, I suggested unsubtle if totally welcome thematic similarities in the work of Harper Lee and "author-teacher-activist" (as she describes herself on her site) Gayle Brandeis. I love that big, clumsy, wonderful adjectival phrase by the way and have used it myself...on me, of all people!  Brandeis's most recent novel is Delta Girls, though I read on her website about a sequel to her Bellwether Prize-winning The Book of Dead Birds. Speaking of dead, my pal and another author-teacher-activist Diane Lefer, winner of the Mary McCarthy Prize from Sarabande Books for California Transit, has written a mystery novel. While I generally eschew this genre (mostly because I'm too busy reading other books), I had a jolly good time reading Nobody Wakes Up Pretty, a smart and sexy book, every page an attack on all that is decent, from the wry title on.

The smart, attractive heroine of this subversive little novel joins forces with her charismatic homeless (!) black (!) boyfriend, toward figuring out a murder in the Big Rotten Apple, circa 1992.  The humor is vividly and subversively provocative, including a scene involving the screening of a porno snuff film featuring a monkey and President Bush G.W. Bush, just to be clear about the expectations Lefer has about her audience, and their willingness to embrace - or not - yes, the perfect metaphor for that particular political era. Of course, we'll be talking mostly about So Cal on Saturday, to which Lefer is a transplant. She's an amazing person, who worked at the LA Zoo with primates and as a translator for people stuck in INS detention. And wrote about both. At past events, she has arrived wearing the jumpsuit of Guantanamo prisoners. One of the smartest people, let alone writers, I know. No writer's block for this writer.  

1992. That weirdly iconic year of elections and civil unrest is the snuff film of reality which is of course both setting and moment of Aris Janigian's excellent This Angelic Land, a book which will someday be prominent on the list of must-read fiction about the LA Riots, one of those novels which so far has not received the critical and popular attention it deserves. I'd prefer that someday were now, friends, and confess my frustration at the limited attention the novel has received. Let's fix that. Buy a copy or two and read this book, about LA's cultural burning melting pot, and, you bet, the Armenian-American experience, as they say.  See my review of the book some months ago, which I excerpt here: 

"Janigian...finds, works, and totally hits out of the ballpark all expectations...with his mature, careful prose-stylist voice in a a combination of Beat poetic and ecstatic realist and historically confident everyday political layer of the moments before, during and after the violence and catharsis that was (and is) the social earthquake of April 1992. The story is told by a distant yet emotionally intimate voice, an authorial persona whose observations about the putative main character, his brother, give the story urgency, and earn our trust. This point of view gambit is so important, with the brother documentary filmmaker Eric Deridian explaining to us - we soon guess why - what he has learned of both the recent and long-ago moments in the life of his younger brother Adam, a single guy who runs a club in Little Armenia, ir ripped off by his partner, takes home a trouble woman the night of the verdict, maintains strong friendships with mentoring artist father-types and struggles with despair as a kind of LA Everyman. His is only one, if the singular compelling story among the interconnected (as it must be) compelling life stories, case studies for this "a day in the life" (and death) of the city on fire and under fire."

Hey, good review, Mr. Bib. (You're welcome!)

Finally, what's to say about Hector Tobar's The Barbarian Nurseries that hasn't already been said, and by me? I wrote enthusiastically about that novel, too, with more So Cal connection consistent with Saturday's panel. So come along to my nifty panel and find out, I guess, what questions and provocations I can offer the author of this bestseller, and a previous terrific So Cal book, The Tattooed Soldier. Tobar's humanely sardonic, character-driven and not cartoon-based close-to-home send-up, mash-up, take-apart of our collapsing moment shows on each page, in each sentence and paragraph the eye of a journalist carefully sculpting with the hand of a fictionist. It's surprising and funny, and there's a plot which so cautiously satirizes reality that you wonder if maybe it's not satire at all. 

The sincerely offered live-in maid and the self-deceiving bourgeoisies who employ her conspire in their own mutual exploitation in the neighborhood of Ladera Ranch or Anywhere, Nowhere, GatedLand, USA, though of course the people who get hurt most are the kids...or not! Their experience of being kidnapped turns the whole premise delightfully upside-down, and of course allows the LA Times journalist-author a chance to further spoof the media circus. And the perfectly wonderful totem of the downwardly mobile couple's backyard garden...?  Maybe I will ask Hector about that memorable bit of genius in person.

No foolin', this Monday, April 1 at 7 PM, Chapman University hosts another of its own terrific literary events. And free, friends. Don't say they never gave you anything. The John Fowles Center Literary Forum this month brings Andrew Lam, essayist and California writer, to its Henley Reading Room/Leatherby Libraries for a reading and talk. The much-published cultural and social critic, memoirist and NPR commentator has a short story collection, Birds of Paradise, coming out soon.   

Lots of books to choose from this week, but maybe check these out.  Then buy them all, and get them signed at Literary Orange. Here's the Lit O link for the day, for registration and panel information, including my own, "Literary Fiction:  Southland Stories," as well as those devoted to mystery, food, poetry, Young Adult, and more. 

Delta Girls, Gayle Brandeis, Ballentine, 324 pgs., $15.00
This Angelic Land, Aris Janigian, West of West, 234 pgs, $18.95
The Barbarian Nurseries, Hector Tobar, FSG, 432 pgs, $27.00
California Transit, Diane Lefer, Sarabande, 256 pgs. $15.95

Andrew Tonkovich hosts the Wednesday night literary arts program Bibliocracy Radio on KPFK 90.7 FM in Southern California.

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