By SARAH SHMERLING | Editor-in-Chief
The second annual Palisades Reads, hosted by Pacific Palisades Library Association, was virtually attended by more than 30 community members who tuned into the Zoom on Thursday evening, December 3.
This year, the communitywide book club, which was launched to “foster connections, spark conversations and celebrate reading,” featured “In the Not Quite Dark,” a collection of short stories about Los Angeles penned by author Dana Johnson, who was born and raised in and around LA.
“I am obsessed with writing about Los Angeles in ways that aren’t cliché,” Johnson shared during the talk. “It’s one of the things that I keep trying to do.”
Johnson, the director of the PhD in Creative Writing and Literature and associate professor of English at the University of Southern California, attended the event to answer questions from the moderator, Laura Diamond, and audience members.
PPLA President Laura Schneider led with a welcome message, explaining that in its inaugural year, Palisades Reads focused on a novel by Diamond, including a two-part in-person event at the library.
“This is the virtual edition,” Schneider said.
Diamond then assumed her role as moderator, sharing a sentiment as reading being something different to break up days that can be monotonous as the COVID-19 pandemic and the shut downs that have been put in place in response continue.
“This has been an unusual year and we find ourselves in its waning days—thank God—we are in an ecosystem where we found a lot of isolation and disconnectedness,” Diamond shared. “If you haven’t had a chance yet to read [Johnson’s] stories, what I think that you will find when you do is that these are characters that are craving connection, whether that’s across time and history, or across the street, or within their family. It was such a pleasure to be submerged in these worlds where connection was the most tactical part … of the stories.”
Johnson then answered a series of questions from Diamond, including her writing process in the pandemic.
“I think as a writer, it’s sort of two-fold where a lot of us are introverts but we’re also always trying to connect at the same time,” Johnson explained. “There’s a sort of observance of other people and how they live and wondering about other peoples’ lives that has always drawn me to stories.”
She shared that she is finding that writers are finding it terribly difficult to write in this time or they’re getting a lot of work done—depending on their personal methodology. For her, she shared, it’s a bit harder since she is not overhearing conversations and people-watching.
“For me, I miss being of the world,” Johnson said.
Though “In the Not Quite Dark” was published in 2016, Diamond touched on the fact that the stories are still relevant today, that they are “timeless in a sense,” and the “vast, diverse” array of characters Johnson writes into her stories.
“I never want to write about the same kind of people over and over again,” Johnson responded. “I’m just really interested in all the different ways in which we live.”
As the conversation continued, Diamond asked Johnson about what she believes the role of fiction to be.
“The best fiction makes me think of things that I hadn’t really thought about before or challenges me in ways that I haven’t been challenged before and sometimes makes me uncomfortable,” Johnson explained. “I think that’s what the best fiction does is, it’s not to placate—what I hope to do with my work is never provide answers because we don’t have the answers to everything.”
At the end of the second iteration of Palisades Reads, Schneider shared a message of thanks to both Johnson and Diamond.
“It was a wonderful conversation about the book, but also about fiction and Los Angeles,” Schneider concluded. “It was illuminating, so thank you. It’s wonderful to read a book, but to hear from the author, it’s just a treat.”
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