Books: The National Book Award winners, Alexander Chee on his mentor Kit Reed and more

Saturday, 18 November 2017, 10:24:50 PM. This weeks Books newsletter from the LA Times features news of the National Book Award winners, an essay by critic at large Alexander Chee on his mentor Kit Reed and more

Hello, readers! I’m Carolyn Kellogg, book editor of the L.A. Times, with this week’s newsletter with some great bookish stories to carry you through Thanksgiving.

THE BIG STORY

When critic at large Alexander Chee took his first creative writing class from Kit Reed at Wesleyan University more than two decades ago, it introduced him to many things: a real working writer, what it was like to live a life in art, and, most importantly, a mentor and friend. Reed died in September and Chee remembers her life and work in this beautiful essay.

Kit Reed Wesleyan University Kit Reed, left, teaching in her living room in the 1980s. Kit Reed, left, teaching in her living room in the 1980s. (Wesleyan University)

NATIONAL BOOK AWARDS

Last week Agatha French introduced us to Robin Benway, the Southern California novelist whose YA book “Far From the Tree” was a finalist for the National Book Award. On Wednesday night in New York, Benway won the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature. Here’s our report on the ceremony, which included appearances by Annie Proulx, Cynthia Nixon and former President Bill Clinton. The other winners were poet Frank Bidart for “Half-Light: Collected Poems, 1965-2016”; Masha Gessen in nonfiction with “The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia”; and Jesmyn Ward, who won her second National Book Award for fiction with her novel “Sing, Unburied, Sing.” (Pictured below, from left: Benway, Gessen, Ward and Bidart).

THE BIG REVIEW

Where have all the rock stars gone? That’s the question David Hepworth sets out to answer in “Uncommon People: The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars.” Hepworth, a British music journalist and former host of the BBC’s “Old Grey Whistle Test,” looks at the way rock’s earliest heroes combined talent and charisma in an intoxicating combination that often became toxic to those who lived too large.Yes, the song remains the same, but Erik Himmeslbach-Weinestein writes in our review, “‘Uncommon People’ really sings when Hepworth connects rock ’n’ roll’s evolutionary dots” from Little Richard to Janis Joplin to Mick Jagger to Led Zeppelin going from rock deities to yesterday’s gods and on to Madonna, Duran Duran and the closing notes of Kurt Cobain.

Led Zeppelin Atlantic Records Led Zeppelin in 1969 Led Zeppelin in 1969 (Atlantic Records)

BESTSELLERS

We welcome a new book to the top of our fiction list this week: the No. 1 L.A. Times bestseller in fiction is “Two Kinds of Truth” by Michael Connelly.

In its second week topping our nonfiction list and its third week on the list overall, No. 1 L.A. Times bestseller in nonfiction is “Leonardo da Vinci” by Walter Isaacson, another masterful tale of genius from the author of “Steve Jobs,” “Benjamin Franklin” and “Einstein.”

See all the books on our bestseller lists here.

Michael Connelly Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times Michael Connelly researching in Los Angeles. Michael Connelly researching in Los Angeles. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

MORE BOOKISH NEWS

Not up for another traditional Thanksgiving? Maybe you’d prefer to opt for a dish or two from the zombie apocalypse found in “The Walking Dead: The Official Cookbook and Survival Guide.”

The British lawyer who helped change that country’s obscenity laws with his defense of the D.H. Lawrence novel “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” Jeremy Hutchinson, died at 102.

Jeffrey Toobin, the legal analyst and bestselling author, is working on a book for Doubleday about Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible ties between Russia and Donald Trump’s campaign.

Who else is working on a book? Academy Award-winning actor Sean Penn, whose forthcoming novel will be titled “Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff.”

Astronaut Scott Kelly, whose memoir is “Endurance,” came to Pasadena to tell a sold-out crowd — and science guy Bill Nye — about his year in space. Agatha French was there.

Scott Kelly, left, and Bill Nye. Agatha French / Los Angeles Times Scott Kelly and Bill Nye Scott Kelly and Bill Nye (Agatha French / Los Angeles Times)

A QUICK NOTE

Next week we’ll be taking a break for Thanksgiving, but the books newsletter will return on Dec. 2. Until then, happy reading!

Terry Pratchett accepts Los Angeles Times Book Prize CAPTION Terry Pratchett, acclaimed author of the "Discworld" science fiction series, sent a prerecorded acceptance speech when he won awarded a Los Angeles Times Book Prize in 2008. Terry Pratchett, acclaimed author of the "Discworld" science fiction series, sent a prerecorded acceptance speech when he won awarded a Los Angeles Times Book Prize in 2008. Terry Pratchett accepts Los Angeles Times Book Prize CAPTION Terry Pratchett, acclaimed author of the "Discworld" science fiction series, sent a prerecorded acceptance speech when he won awarded a Los Angeles Times Book Prize in 2008. Terry Pratchett, acclaimed author of the "Discworld" science fiction series, sent a prerecorded acceptance speech when he won awarded a Los Angeles Times Book Prize in 2008. America's sole romance-only bookstore: the Ripped Bodice CAPTION

Bea and Leah Koch opwned The Ripped Bodice in Culver City to share their love of romance books.

Bea and Leah Koch opwned The Ripped Bodice in Culver City to share their love of romance books.

Reuben Martinez: L.A. Times Festival of Books Innovator award recipient CAPTION

Reuben Martinez, whose barbershop became Libreria Martinez Books and Art Gallery, has received the L.A. Times Festival of Books 2016 Innovator award.

Reuben Martinez, whose barbershop became Libreria Martinez Books and Art Gallery, has received the L.A. Times Festival of Books 2016 Innovator award.

Finding books in the least expected places around L.A. CAPTION

In cafes and bars, skate shops and co-working spaces, books are popping up everywhere in Los Angeles — and as more than just decor.

In cafes and bars, skate shops and co-working spaces, books are popping up everywhere in Los Angeles — and as more than just decor.

Jade Chang CAPTION

Jade Chang's debut novel, "The Wangs Vs. The World," hit bestseller lists last fall. We catch up with the Angeleno to find out how her life has changed.

Jade Chang's debut novel, "The Wangs Vs. The World," hit bestseller lists last fall. We catch up with the Angeleno to find out how her life has changed.

carolyn.kellogg@latimes.com

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