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    The Book Pages: Wimpy Kid’s ‘No Brainer’ library support tour is coming
    • October 13, 2023

    Imagine a game show where kids and librarians are the big winners – and instead of lifetime supplies of Turtle Wax, they can score free books and support for local libraries.

    Well, it’s happening, and you can take part.

    “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” author Jeff Kinney is celebrating the publication of “No Brainer,” his 18th book in the series, with a traveling game show that will visit 13 bookstores along the West Coast and provide books, financial support and some getaways for lucky librarians.

    Kinney is personally donating $100,000 and dividing it among local libraries along his tour. He’ll also be driving a customized “No Brainer”-wrapped van dubbed “The Wimpy Wagon.”

    “It’s a wrapped, customized Sprinter van that feels like a party bus inside,” says Kinney, who spoke with me by phone and follow-up messages. “Getting honks and waves from people in passing vehicles always adds a lot of excitement and energy to the tour.”

    After starting off at San Diego’s Mysterious Galaxy, Kinney will appear on the book’s publication day, Oct. 24, at an event for {Pages} a bookstore at the El Segundo Performing Arts Center. He’ll eventually finish up the tour on Washington state’s Bainbridge Island at Eagle Harbor Book Co. (a lovely bookstore I’ve visited).

    “Kids are going to have a chance to win money for their school library or their community library. At each tour stop, we’re going to be spotlighting a beloved local librarian,” says Kinney, who asked 10 publishers to donate a range of diverse books – and they all agreed.

    “We’ve got hundreds of books to give away,” he says.

    Third grade student Rhuanma Leiva, 8, reacts as she draws while Jeff Kinney, author of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, looks on at Commonwealth Avenue Elementary School and Commonwealth Gifted Magnet Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. (Photo by Ed Crisostomo, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

    The whole extravaganza sounds fun, but it also came out of Kinney’s desire to support the work of some of the book world’s most important people.

    “Libraries are really suffering and librarians are at the frontline of the culture wars, and so we thought it would be a good idea to celebrate libraries and librarians on this tour,” he says. “The prize money actually goes to local libraries.”

    Kinney, whose books are said to have sold more than 275 million copies around the world, says that his books have occasionally been challenged, but he’s much more concerned that books by people of color and the LGBTQ community are being targeted.

    “My books have been banned here and there but it’s not that prevalent. What I’m really worried about are underrepresented authors whose works are being banned,” he says.

    “It’s just so important that everybody’s voices are heard. We’re living in a time where empathy is really in short supply, and books are really unique in that they can provide a window into another person’s mind – and so I think book banning is a form of erasure. Part of my goal on this tour is to make sure we’re getting books into the hands of kids who really need to discover those books.”

    The author, who owns a bookstore with his wife in Plainville, Massachusetts, and hosts a diverse roster of author events, also has an international tour planned that will take him to Germany, the U.K. and India, where he’s also popular. His work has been translated into 69 languages.

    “It’s really cool, because it suggests to me that there’s a common thread between us, which is our shared childhood experiences. I think I’ve been to 35 countries now,’ he says with recent trips to Sweden, Peru and Columbia.

    “You know, kids are the same everywhere.”

    For more information, go to

    Third, fourth, and fifth grade students react as they listen to Jeff Kinney, author of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, during his visit at Commonwealth Avenue Elementary School and Commonwealth Gifted Magnet Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. (Photo by Ed Crisostomo, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

    Turning pages in Twentynine Palms

    The sun sets behind joshua trees in Joshua Tree National Park Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, in Twentynine Palms, Calif.(File photo by Ben Margot, AP)

    There’s an old bumpersticker slogan that used to ask the question, Where the hell is Twentynine Palms?

    Well, pardon the language, but among its other delights, that’s where you’ll be able to see and hear writers Maggie Downs, Tod Goldberg, Barbara GothardAlexandra Martinez, Ruth Nolan, Ivy Pochoda, Deanne Stillman, Claire Vaye Watkins and more.

    My colleague David Allen alerted me to all of this in his piece about the first-ever Twentynine Palms Book Festival, a free, one-day event Oct. 28 from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

    Learn more at

    • • •

    Read any good books lately that you want to tell people about? Email me at [email protected] with “ERIK’S BOOK PAGES” in the subject line and I may include your comments in an upcoming newsletter.

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    Thanks, as always, for reading.

    David L. Ulin on the virtues of an open-shelf policy

    David Ulin is the author of the “Thirteen Question Method.” (Photo credit Noah Ulin / Cover courtesy of the Outpost19)

    David L. Ulin has written or edited nearly 20 books, including “Sidewalking: Coming to Terms With Los Angeles,” “Ear to the Ground” and his latest novel, “Thirteen Question Method.” Ulin, who has been the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim, Lannan and Ucross foundations, is books editor for Alta Journal and a Professor of English at University of Southern California where he edits the literary magazine Air/Light. He will be appearing with Ivy Pochoda at Skylight Books tonight, Friday, Oct. 13.

    Q. What are you reading now?

    I’m always reading a lot of different things, or looking to read a lot of different things, and I find this material in all sorts of different ways. I read an essay recently, for instance, by Yiyun Li, in which she mentioned a short story, “Silver Water,” which appears in Amy Bloom’s collection “Come to Me.” Bloom is a writer I admire, but I haven’t read this book. Now I will. As for what I’m currently reading: Viet Thanh Nguyen’s “A Man of Two Faces,” Jamel Brinkley’s “Witness” (savoring the stories one at a time), Walt Whitman’s “Specimen Days” (for a project on which I am working), Amy Kurzweil’s “Artificial.” I’ve also just finished Daniel Guebel’s “The Jewish Son,” a remarkable short book inspired by Kafka’s “Letter to the Father,” which I then went back and re-read. For me, one book leads to the next and then to the next in a chain of conversation. It is one of the things I love best about making a life out of language and narrative.

    Q. Do you remember the first book that made an impact on you?

    Robert A. Heinlein’s “Red Planet,” which was published in 1949 and which I read in 1968 at the age of 7. It’s one of Heinlein’s books for juveniles, as he described them, and it takes place at a boarding school on Mars. As a kid in the late 1960s, I was, of course, fascinated by the space race, and by the Apollo missions; one of the first things I remember writing was a composition about the Apollo 7 mission when I was in second grade. That was part of the appeal of the Heinlein to me, since it takes place in a future where space exploration is common. But equally important was the book as object: a small hardcover, not unlike the books I saw my father read. Simply holding it in my hand felt like being initiated into something, like I was a real reader in some essential way. If, to paraphrase Saul Bellow, all writers start as readers in emulation, then this is a key access point not only to my life in reading but to my life in writing, as well.

    Q. Is there a person who made an impact on your reading life – a teacher, a parent, a librarian or someone else?

    I feel like this is a good place to acknowledge my parents, who – both in their own ways – helped create a space for me to read and write. As for the former, my father has always been, and remains, an active daily reader, with a large library that I was encouraged to plunder as a kid. There were no rules or restrictions to his library; I was allowed to read whatever caught my fancy. Call it an open-shelf policy, if you will. Sometimes that led to what the current flock of puritan book banners in the schools and legislatures might call inappropriate reading, which, I want to argue, is entirely the point. If you want to be a reader, you need to confront work that is beyond you, work that makes you uncomfortable, that provokes your sensibilities. This is something I try to activate in my writing also, to challenge assumptions, to ask difficult or provocative questions, to disrupt in the best and most fundamental sense of the word. If you’re not going to shake it up, what’s the point? I do not read or write to be reassured. As far as my mother, she was a former English teacher who edited every composition I ever wrote in grade school, a process that – I will admit – I hated in the moment. But now, I see, she taught me the mechanics of how to write and revise.

    Q. What do you find the most appealing in a book: the plot, the language, the cover, a recommendation? Do you have any examples?

    For me, it’s point of view. That’s the only thing I really care about, the voice, the perspective, the take on the world. Language, of course, is a big part of that – but language alone is not enough. We’ve all read gorgeous sentences or paragraphs that don’t say anything, that exist as elements of an author’s self-regard. I want language that is beautiful, not least because it is in service to, or conversation, with the take, the argument, the set of questions at the center of a piece of writing, that becomes a driver of its point of view. Plot, for me, is overrated; it’s really just a scaffolding on which to hang the interesting material, which is always that which expresses the inner life. When I teach, I often refer to the relationship between what I call the overstory and the understory: the former is the plot, which keeps a reader moving through the narrative, and the latter is the emotional life of the narrative, which is another way of saying: point of view.

    Q. What’s something about your book that no one knows?

    As a writer, I love games, particularly structural games. I often create a set of rules I have to follow. A number of years ago, for example, I wrote a series of weekly essays chronicling my 53rd year – there were 53 of them, and in the drafting, at any rate, they followed a sequence of word counts: the first essay was 1961 words long, since that was the year I was born, and each subsequent essay was one word longer than the one that preceded it, until the cycle was complete. I should note that, in revision, I discarded the word count structure, but it was useful in allowing me to conceptualize the sequence. I got the inspiration for all this from a couple of sources: the French writers of the Oulipo group, who often worked under self-imposed restraints, and, of course, the Situationists, with their notions of psychogeography and the derivé. In the case of “Thirteen Question Method,” I wanted to work with the number thirteen as an essential framing mechanism. As a result, the novel is comprised of thirteen chapters, each of which contains thirteen pages. I like the superstructure that this offers, both in the process of writing (it’s always useful for me to have some guardrails) and in the experience of reading the text.

    More on books, authors and bestsellers

    20 books we’re looking forward to in the fall and winter of 2023. (Covers courtesy of Grove, Scribner, Doubleday, Riverhead, One Word, Liveright, Knopf, Harper)

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    20 books we’re looking forward to reading in the fall and winter of 2023. READ MORE

    • • •

    “KAOS Theory” is by Ben Caldwell (center) with Robeson Taj Frazier (right). (Courtesy of “KAOS Theory: The Afrokosmic Ark of Ben Caldwell by Robeson Taj Frazier with Ben Caldwell, published by Angel City Press)

    Theory and practice

    How Ben Caldwell and Robeson Taj Frazier’s ‘KAOS Theory’ project came to be. READ MORE

    • • •

    “The Fraud” by Zadie Smith is the top-selling fiction release at Southern California’s independent bookstores. (Courtesy of Penguin Books)

    The week’s bestsellers

    The top-selling books at your local independent bookstores. READ MORE

    • • •

    Bookish (SCNG)

    What’s next on ‘Bookish’

    On the next installment Oct. 20 at 5 p.m., Amy Ferris and Chuck Palahniuk join host Sandra Tsing Loh and my colleague Samantha Dunn to talk about their new books. Sign up for free now.

    And if you missed it (or just want to relive it), watch the previous Bookish with Lee and Tod Goldberg and Jesus Trejo.

    • • •

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