Books
Five firsts: Dana Johnson on identity, code switching, and erasure

Five firsts: Dana Johnson on identity, code switching, and erasure

Every month, I interview an author I admire on her literary firsts. July’s featured writer is Dana Johnson, author of Break Any Woman Down. This award-winning short story collection is complex and provocative, often starring characters in the margins of society.  A black stripper tries to figure out what she wants in her relationship with a controlling white porn star. A woman defiantly goes to bars alone, over her daughter’s protests. They’re stories of power and acquiescence, stubbornness and change — all cutting across lines of race, class, and gender. Dana took a couple stories from Break Any Woman Down and expanded them into a novel, called Elsewhere, California. More recently, she published a short story collection about downtown L.A. — and its gentrification — called In the Not Quite Dark. She teaches at my grad school alma mater, USC. In this interview, Dana talks about code switching, reveals which dunzo DTLA restaurant she misses the most, and gets Libran about identity. Sign up with your email to be entered to win a copy of Break Any Woman Down  — and to get notified of future interviews! ___ Siel: Some of my favorite parts in your stories have to do with language. In Break Any Woman Down, there’s […]

The TNB Book Club: Get literary gems delivered to your door for under $10

The TNB Book Club: Get literary gems delivered to your door for under $10

A couple weeks ago, I got home to find a little, nondescript package at my door — a cardboard fold-up marked only with my and the return addresses. Which made me wonder: Who is Fat Possum Records and why did they send me mail and could it be anthrax? Of course, I immediately opened the package — and out came a copy of The Sarah Book by Scott McClanahan. That was all that was in there. There wasn’t even a packing slip! Who sent me the mysterious book? It took me a while, but I remembered that I’d signed up for The TNB Book Club a week or so earlier. TNB stands for The Nervous Breakdown (so yes, the book club is The The Nervous Breakdown Book Club), a literary website that publishes fiction, book reviews, and funny self-interviews where authors ask themselves questions then answer them too. I joined the book club on a whim, partly because I’m a fan of TNB founder Brad Listi’s literary podcast, Otherppl, and partly because I’m a fan of book subscription boxes in general. That said, to call The TNB Book Club a book subscription box is a bit of a stretch. First […]

L.A. Girly Book Club: Fiction, food, and fun excursions

L.A. Girly Book Club: Fiction, food, and fun excursions

What is a book club without appies and drinks? Well, I guess it would still be a book club, technically. But if you prefer your literary discussions to take place over wine and cheese plates at a fun spot in the city, join the L.A. Girly Book Club. The Girly Book Club’s actually a global group, with groups meeting from Seattle to Singapore, all discussing the same book. Most of the novels are by female authors, ranging from the more literary to chick-lit-ish to thrillers like Liane Moriarty’s What Alice Forgot. Last month, the pick was Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing (my microreview here)! The L.A. chapter’s organized by Janie, who picks out a different fun bar or restaurant for each meeting. I joined eight other girls at Vinoteque in West Hollywood for a lively conversation about identity and singing and feminism and work. At the end of the meeting was a raffle for a copy of the following month’s book — then we chatted and socialized over more drinks before calling it a night. With most of the girls in their twenties and thirties, this book club skews much younger than say, the West Hollywood Women’s Book Club. And — thanks […]

Cake Time interview with The Rumpus

Cake Time interview with The Rumpus

Thank you to The Rumpus for interviewing me about Cake Time and writing! Here’s a quick excerpt from A Funny Inevitability: In Conversation with Siel Ju: Rumpus: You ended the novel on this note of uncertainty with the character in this common adult situation, with someone who doesn’t want to define the relationship. And your main character is suppressing an urge to laugh at life’s absurdity. How did you decide that was where you wanted to end the novel? Ju: I think I wanted to leave it like a continuing journey, because real life doesn’t have neat tied up ends. Chick lit generally ends with a happy ending of the girl gets the guy, so I wanted this book to be somewhat in contrast to that. I wanted the sense that she had learned something, but that there are other things that are not learnable in a way, because life isn’t over. Read the whole thing over at The Rumpus. Talking to Stephanie Siu was a blast — I wish I could have hung out with her while I was in New York last month. Follow her on Twitter at @openstephanie!

Belletrist: Emma Roberts starts a book club for the age of Instagram

Belletrist: Emma Roberts starts a book club for the age of Instagram

Do people read anymore? Apparently not, according to the headlines. The Washington Post reports that literary reading’s been victim to a long, steady decline (only 43% of Americans managed to read even a single literary work in an entire year!) — and The New Yorker reports statistics aren’t likely to improve with the next generation — since teenagers are too busy playing with their phones to read books. But what if all those screen-addicted young people could be enticed to join an Instagram book club — by a hot celebrity? have you gotten your copy of #touchthenovel yet? we want you to so we can start discussing #touchvstech! 📷: @putnambooks A post shared by Belletrist (@belletrist) on Jun 15, 2017 at 2:10pm PDT That’s sort of the idea behind Belletrist, an online book club hashtagged into existence by actress Emma Roberts and her friend Karah Preiss. With pretty pictures of Emma reading and gorgeous flat lays featuring book club pics, Belletrist’s Instagram account already boasts 93,000 followers — a.k.a. #belletristbabes — posting their own bookish selfies and commenting on club discussions. That following’s dwarfed by Emma’s own 10.9 million fans on Instagram, but hey — a book club’s gotta start […]

The Book Drop: Handpicked reads delivered from an indie bookstore

The Book Drop: Handpicked reads delivered from an indie bookstore

If you’re like me, you love reading shelf talkers at independent bookstores — You know, those handwritten notes from the booksellers recommending books they love. These shelf talkers often pique my interest enough to pick up books I’ve never heard of before — and more often than not, I end up loving those books too. Now, you can get those little notes — along with the recommended books — delivered to your doorstep, thanks to The Book Drop. The Book Drop’s a monthly book subscription box program run by Bethany Beach Books, a little independent bookstore that’s been in business for over 25 years in Bethany Beach, Delaware. Each month, bookseller Amanda Zirn curates a new set of boxes, sending out books she loves to readers all over the world along with a little shelf talker-like note. I got the June box earlier this month — and I have to say there’s something thrilling about getting mystery bookmail, where you don’t know what novel’s in the box. I ripped it open to find Hemingway’s Girl by Erika Robuck! Hemingway’s Girl follows Mariella, a young maid hired to work for the Hemingways when Ernest and Pauline lived with their sons in […]