Interviews, readings, music, and more from the Los Angeles Review of Books.
Kathryn Ma's "The Chinese Groove"
Kathryn Ma joins Eric Newman to discuss her most recent novel, The Chinese Groove, which follows protagonist Xi Liu Zheng, who goes by Shelley, as he leaves his home in China's Yunnan province to make his future with the help of a rich uncle in San Francisco. But Shelly's journey is a comedy of errors in which nothing is as he expected. Yet, with indefatigable optimism, compassion, and determination, Shelly works to change his fortune and repair fractured family bonds. At once a harrowing immigrant tale and a humorous romp through cultural misunderstandings, The Chinese Groove explores the everyday negotiations of romance and family ties, as well as the power of belief that helps us make our way through the world without breaking.
Also, Curtis White, author of Transcendent: Art and Dharma in a Time of Collapse, returns to recommend two classic authobiographies, The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams, and The Seven Story Mountain by Thomas Merton.
Curtis White's "Transcendent"
Curtis White joins Kate Wolf and Eric Newman to speak about his latest essay collection, Transcendent: Art and Dharma in a Time of Collapse. The book offers an incisive critique of the Westernization of Buddhism, from its adoption by tech companies like Amazon and Google into a practice of corporate mindfulness that aids with productivity in the workplace; to its embrace by New Atheists, such as Stephen Batchelor, who argue for Buddhism without beliefs; to its reduction to being solely a matter of neuroscience. White emphasizes the more unruly, unmaterialistic aspects of the dharma—defamiliarization, passion, and metaphysical consciousness— all of which he argues share a deep connection to the work of Western artists, musicians, and poets. Writing with a fiery skepticism about techno-capitalism as the only solution to solving the world’s crises, White advocates for Buddhism’s place as a form of resistance and a way to think against the status quo.
Also, Anand Giridharadas, author of The Persuaders, returns to recommend V.S. Naipaul's A Million Mutinies Now.
Anand Giridharadas "The Persuaders"
Award-winning journalist Anand Giridharadas joins Eric Newman and LARB’s new Editor-in-Chief Michelle Chihara to talk about his latest book, The Persuaders: At the Front Lines of the Fight for Hearts, Minds, and Democracy. The Persuaders –– this month’s LARB Book Club selection –– offers an inside account of how activists, politicians, educators, and other Left leaders are working to manifest change in a divided America. It is a fabulous study, full of interesting testimonials from hundreds of hours of interviews with Black Lives Matter’s Alicia Garza, Congressional Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders’ campaign workers, and many more. The Persuaders goes deep on what helps change hearts and minds as our fragile nation struggles to find common ground.
Also, Sabrina Imbler, author of How Far the Light Reaches: A Life in Ten Sea Creatures, returns to recommend Patricia Likes to Cuddle by Samantha Allen.
(To sign up for the LARB Book Club membership, visit www.shop.lareviewofbooks.org/join)
Sabrina Imbler's "How Far the Light Reaches"
Eric Newman and Medaya Ocher speak with Sabrina Imbler, a Brooklyn-based writer and science journalist, about their debut essay collection, How Far the Light Reaches: A Life in Ten Sea Creatures. Part creature feature part memoir, each essay explores the life of a unique sea animal as a means of illuminating key experiences from Sabrina's own life story. Across essays the life of a Chinese sturgeon is a catalyst for understanding a grandmother, a whale necropsy for understanding a dying romance, or a bloom of slippery slopes who help us understand the ephemeral joys of queer gathering.
Across the collection they ask us to think about how our lives mirror those of the animals around us, especially the ones who so often escape our gaze, just like the darker facets of our own personalities and histories.
Also, the writer and curator Jordan Stein, author of Riptales, returns to recommend Eat Your Mind: The Radical Life and Work of Kathy Acker by Jason McBride.
Best of 2022: Adam Phillips's "On Wanting to Change" and "On Getting Better"
In an encore presentation, Adam Phillips joins Kate Wolf to discuss his two latest books, both published this year, On Wanting to Change and On Getting Better. The series looks at the very human impulse toward transformation, from religious and political conversion, and the conversion to family life from which one must ultimately emerge, to the aims and practices of psychoanalysis, along with more quotidian ideas of self-betterment. As always in his work, Phillips attends in these books to the aspects of ourselves that can be hardest to bear, and that can lead us to desire more rigid structures — intellectual or otherwise — or desire to be someone else, while also quietly petitioning for a more complex and thoughtful mode of change in which, as Socrates encouraged his pupils, we learn only to be ourselves. How might we get better, Phillips wonders, at talking about what it is to get better?
Also, Pankaj Mishra, author of Run and Hide, returns to recommend Josep Pla’s The Grey Notebook.
Jordan Stein's "Rip Tales"
Writer and curator Jordan Stein joins Kate Wolf to discuss his book Rip Tales: Jay DeFeo’s Estocada and Other Pieces. The book centers on the American artist Jay DeFeo who’s best known for her monumental 2,000 pound painting The Rose, which she worked on for eight years. Following her eviction, in 1965, it had to be removed from her apartment by a forklift after the building’s bay window was sawed off. At the time, DeFeo was in the process of completing another painting, Estocada, a piece on paper stapled directly to the walls of her hallway. Instead of removing it intact, she ripped the pieces of the work apart and over the next decades reanimated the fragments by way of photography, photocopy, collage, and relief. While Stein documents the many incarnations of Estocada in his book, its mutating quality also become a template for writing about other Bay Area artists — including Trisha Donnelly, Ruth Asawa, Lutz Bacher, and Vincent Fecteau — whose work similarly engages with risk, reinvention, absence, ephemerality, and community.
Also, Jamieson Webster, author of Disorganisation and Sex, returns to recommend The Case of Dominique by Francoise Dalto.
Incredible interviews, excellent subjects and great hosts/guests. Good book recommendations.
I listen to the LARB Radio Hour almost every week. It’s a treasure trove of smart interviews with new and returning authors. Often, I listen to episodes more than once to really let what they’re talking about sink in. The radio hosts are all well informed and ask great questions. I get to listen to interviews with my favorite writers who have already written multiple books, and I also discover new writers whom I haven’t heard of before or are writing their first books. I can’t believe this is a free resource for literary folks out there. I also download episodes and listen to them while I’m driving - or doing chores around the house, or exercising. This is a must for all things books. One of the top literary podcasts out there.
Rachel Greenwald Smith…
Great discussion…I wish Rachel would have slowed down her speaking…when you know your stuff this is what happens but it made listening to the discussion difficult at times! I love this podcast!