Kim Stanley Robinson shares the books he loves — and a story that improved with age – Orange County Register

Spending a Saturday listening to authors discuss their work while you have lunch and talk with other readers sounds pretty good right about now.


That’s what’s happening tomorrow at the Pasadena Convention Center as the 14th annual Pasadena Festival of Women Authors returns after two years away. The festival features a stellar group of authors: Maggie ShipsteadGabriela Garcia, Nadia Hashimi, Alka Josi, Sarah Manguso, Claire Vaye Watkins and Monica West.

To find out more, I talked to Norah Morley, who is the chair of the event, and she filled me in.

“We invite seven award-winning female writers to come and speak about their journey as a writer and as a woman,” says Morley. “The day is filled with authors speaking, people asking questions from the audience, a luncheon is served, books are sold and authors sign their books.”

Masks will be required (except while eating and drinking) and all attendees must show proof of coronavirus vaccination.

One other thing to highlight: It’s a charity fundraising event; the tickets are $100 and include lunch.

According to the group, the Pasadena Festival of Women Authors has awarded $400,000 in grants to community non-profit organizations since 2009.

Morley talked about where the support goes: Pasadena City College’s Writer-in-Residence & Summer Creative Writing Academy; Pasadena Public Library’s One City, One Story program; Pasadena Senior Center’s Masters in Learning Series; PEN Center Los Angeles’s You are a Writer workshops and WriteGirl’s Creative writing workshops and mentoring for high school girls.

As well as providing support for literary programs, she also makes the case that it’s a good time.

“It’s a really wonderful day, because you have the stimulation of hearing from these authors who speak about their personal journey, as well as how they wrote that particular book. And you’d have an opportunity to press the pause button in your life, and to be in a room, listening to writers and talking to other people about writers. And, of course, having lunch with friends.

“It’s just a great, energetic, uplifting, kind of a day. And I think, given what we’ve all been through, where we felt we couldn’t gather, that we could try to gather now and enjoy this day, I think will be a really lovely time. We’re all looking forward to it.”

And yes, in case you’re wondering, men are welcome, too. “Absolutely. I’m bringing my brother,” laughs Morley. “I was bringing my husband but he just had a knee operation.”

For more information on the event and its COVID safety policies, go here.

Rose Leslie and Theo James in
Rose Leslie and Theo James in “The Time Traveler’s Wife.” (Photo by Macall Polay / Courtesy of HBO)

Last week, I mentioned a bunch of literary adaptations I wanted to watch, and neglected to mention HBO Max’s “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” based on Audrey Niffenegger’s novel (that’s Rose Leslie and Theo James from the series up above).

I remember loving that book, and even slipping out of work one evening to see the author talk about the paperback release at Book Soup. I’m adding that one to my (already too-long) list of things to watch.

What will you be reading or doing or watching this weekend? Email me at [email protected] and I may share your response in future newsletters.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

Kim Stanley Robinson on “The High Sierra” and books he loves

Author Kim Stanley Robinson's latest book is
Author Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest book is “The High Sierra.” (Photo credit: Darryl DeVinney/Courtesy of Little Brown)

Kim Stanley Robinson is the bestselling author of more than 20 books including the Mars trilogy, “2312,” “Shaman,” “New York 2140,” and “The Ministry for the Future.” While he’s won science fiction’s prestigious Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards for his work, his latest book, “The High Sierra,” is an expansive personal account of his nearly 50-year experience trekking in the Sierra Nevada mountains, offering a deeply engaging Collection of memories, maps, photos, anecdotes, poetry and more.

Q. The Sierra is a vast, glorious area. What drew you to it initially?

My friend Terry talked me into it along with our friend Joe. We had been friends since junior high school and drove to Florida together after high school graduation. The summer after our junior year of college, Terry said, “Let me show you something great,” and Joe and I said yes. Our first trip was epic and we never looked back.

Q. For those who primarily know your fiction, how would you compare “The High Sierra” to your previous books?

It has a similar structure to “Ministry for the Future” and “2312,” in that it is a mix of various styles and contents, with each chapter different than the one before it. And readers of my fiction may recall many long walks across rocky terrain, and even some Sierra trips, taken by characters of mine, so I would say there might be more similarities than differences. In this book, however, I’m doing memoir and also non-fiction: not the same things at all, as it became obvious to me that memoir is closer to fiction than non-fiction.

Q. Is there a book or books that you always recommend to other readers?

If people are interested in trying science fiction but not familiar with it, I always recommend Ursula LeGuin’s “The Left Hand of Darkness.” In the last several years, I’ve found myself often recommending Elena Ferrante’s “My Brilliant Friend” quartet.

Q. What are you reading now?

I’m reading a new novel by the Irish novelist Oisin Fagan, unpublished as yet; he sent it to me in manuscript. Amazing.

Q. How do you decide on what to read next?

I like to be random! I keep a big pile of books that I’ve bought used from library sales by my bed, and when I finish a novel I start another one, almost by chance — whatever seems best in that moment, and very often by a writer I’ ve never tried before. I love the sense of accident and discovering new treasures.

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

Of course! [“Adventures of] Huckleberry Finn,” second grade. So vivid and astonishing — seldom equaled since for me — turned me into a lifelong reader, and later a writer too.

Q. Is there a book you’re nervous to read?

I don’t think I’ll read Bolano’s “2666.” Nervous isn’t quite the word, it’s worse than that; dread. He’s a good novelist.

Q. Can you recall a book that you read and thought that it must have been written just for you (or conversely, one that most definitely wasn’t written with you in mind)?

I think Richard Powers’s “The Echo Maker” had everything I like to experience in a novel. Conversely, I just rolled my eyes at “Infinite Jest.”

Q. What’s something you took away from a recent reading – a fact, a snatch of dialogue or something else?

This is slightly off topic but it really struck me. When reading novels in paper form, you know when the end is coming, and read accordingly — this is a good thing, that awareness. But movies can end abruptly without warning and surprise you off-guard, in good ways. So, in the movie trilogy “Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset,” “Before Midnight,” in the second one of the series, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delphy are in conversation as usual in all three movies, going full tilt, and Julie observes to Ethan, “You’re going to miss your plane” and Ethan says “I know” with his happy grin and the movie just STOPS at that second. It makes me laugh just to think of it.

Q. Which are some of your favorite book covers?

I like the cover of my novel “New York 2140” very much. Otherwise, to tell the truth, I don’t much notice covers.

Q. Is there a genre or type of book you read the most – and what would like to read more of?

I read novels of all kinds, all the time. I’d like to read more poetry.

Q. Do you have a favorite book or books?

You mention books — I love the Aubrey/Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian.

Q. What books do you plan, or hope, to read next?

I’m about to read “The Excellent Lombards” by Jane Hamilton, and the biography of Louise Colet by Francine du Plessix Gray.

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

My mom read to me at night and always encourage my reading (but not when the sun was shining!) Then also Mrs. Catherine Lee, my high school English teacher. She was inspirational.

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, novels center on characters and plot, and then also just the sensibility of the narrator, the feeling I have for the sentences I’m reading — some kind of flow state I like. Examples: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Molly Gloss, Cecelia Holland, Joyce Cary, Peter Dickinson— I could go on a long time.

Q. What’s a memorable book experience – good or bad – you’re willing to share? (A book you loved or hated, or a book you read in a memorable situation)

I read Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet on night trains while traveling around Europe in 1977, out of order such that I read the second volume’s reexamination of the first volume before the first volume itself — unexpectedly powerful! And very, very romantic. I just re-read the quartet last year — crazy but in a very good way; and the volume I thought the weakest in 1977, the third one “Mountolive,” this time around I found was the best of the four by a good long shot. Age’s different perspectives, I’m sure. It’s interesting to re-read the books that hit you hard when you were young— worth the risk!

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