By Mike Sonksen
As a parent, professor and writer, my house is filled with an eclectic assortment of books. There are the books I read to my kids and then after they fall asleep, I read my own. Here’s a short list with some recent titles by local authors, including one about the late great Octavia E. Butler, who was also one of our own.
A guidebook unlike any other, in “Guide to Spiritual L.A.,” Catherine Auman presents a comprehensive source of Native American sacred sites, meditation gardens, desert day trips, yoga centers and more mysterious spaces, including botanicas and locations of the many infamous spiritual cults that have called Southern California home. As Phillip Goldberg writes in the introduction, “Somehow, a city known for glitz and glamour also acquired a strong ethos of inner development: In what other city could Bhatki Fest, Yoga Month or yoga therapy have been incubated? Where else could professor Christopher Chapple create a Yoga Studies program at the Jesuit-run Loyola Marymount University?” Auman has been investigating spiritual growth for four decades and this book is a culmination of her lifetime research. Combining history, some philosophy and zany tales, this is a fascinating read for anyone curious about L.A.’s many eclectic spiritual traditions. The book offers endless information and dozens of offbeat sites to visit for those who are curious.
“A Handful of Earth, A Handful of Sky” showcases the inner world of Octavia Butler and how the Pasadena-born science fiction author expanded space and time through her discipline and concentration. Grammy-Award winning journalist Lynell George spent four years in the Butler archive at the Huntington Museum, diligently sifting through Butler’s notebooks, to-do lists, recipes, scraps of paper, letters, bus passes, library cards, receipts and other ephemera to meticulously uncover how Butler made the impossible possible and constructed herself through a regimented recipe of reading, writing and ritual. Though Butler passed 15 years ago, her work has never been more popular. George’s book shows how Butler defied all odds to make her dreams come true. Read this for inspiration and as a roadmap for your own journey.
The 31 essays in this collection (edited by Romeo Guzman, Carribean Fragoza, Alex Saye Cummings and Ryan Reft) represent a three-century history of the San Gabriel Valley. Combining creative nonfiction, oral history and traditional scholarship, the various writings here reclaim the histories and geographies of the urban fringe these writers call “east of east.” The book’s spirit writes against the pioneer narrative that falsely claims El Monte is the end of the Santa Fe Trail. “These communities,” the introduction states, “are part of a much bigger story of colonization and conquest, labor and culture, race and suburbanization at the fringe that has not yet been told.” In the epilogue, Wendy Cheng celebrates the San Gabriel Valley’s everyday cosmopolitanism as “a crossroads and a destination, a central part of the great drama of a multiethnic, metropolitan, urban-suburban life that continues to transform cities across the United States in the twenty-first century.”
This one-of-a-kind book, curated and edited by poet Peter J. Harris, is anchored by dozens of historical photos bookended by a groundbreaking essay and five poems meditating on family, fatherhood and the richest interior dimensions of humanity. Harris started the Black Man of Happiness Project in 2010 to explore the important question, “What is a happy Black man?” To Harris this question is too often overlooked because “pain has branded the primary contours of African American history.” The opening essay “What a Treasure Hunt This All Remains,” reflects on a 1965 photo of Stokely Carmichael on a Southern porch in dialogue with an 82-year-old man. “This photo,” Harris writes, “simultaneously captures the living exchange, vision, political work, resistance and existences of folks who refused resignation to dimensional impositions— economic impositions, political impositions, social impositions and interpersonal impositions.” Though Harris acknowledges, “No book of photos, no social media campaign, in and of themselves, can neutralize society’s virulent, visceral historical flow of venom against Black men;” this book shows how joy and happiness animate life and death. The breathtaking photographs, along with Harris’s poignant essay and poems are an “oral history of happiness” that promote renewal, restoration and ethical determination. Harris has done the inner work and wants the world to know that “happiness is refreshing protection and a motivating counter spell.”
Centered on a home that’s been in the same family for over a century in Middleton, Conn., this novella by Kate Maruyama is a horror story with reversal and a lot of unexpected twists. The Massey family is steeped in tradition, including summer barbecues and lobster boils, but the mood shifts every winter solstice. Inheritance is interrogated, as are the sins of the father. This is no story for kids, but any adult who likes horror or teen who sees what’s beyond the facade will love this one. Maruyama packs a lot in 81 pages, from dismantling white supremacy to critiquing dysfunctional families. You never know what might happen on the shortest day of the year.
Looking for a beautiful, quiet outdoor nook to take your favorite book and read in nature, click HERE for the perfect spots in L.A.