An astronaut’s biography, and a musician’s novel

Written by
"...Heartbreaking yet hopeful."
“…Heartbreaking yet hopeful.” (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

The Echo may not seem a place for a book party, much less a pajama party, but last night it served as both those things.  Writer Willy Vlautin came to town from Portland to launch his fourth novel, The Free, and attendees were encouraged to wear their PJ’s and bring their pillows.  The event was hosted by Chuck Palahniuk of Fight Club fame, and thriller writer Chelsea Cain was there, too.

Why am I telling you this now?  Because our friend, writer and chronicler of all things literary, Carolyn Kellogg of the LA Times absolutely loves Vlautin’s new book.  It’s one of two she recommended this week when we sat down to chat about what to read.

If Vlautin’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s the lead singer of the band Richmond Fontaine; his novel, The Motel Life, was made into an indie film.  Vlautin told Kellogghe started writing novels based on characters and ideas that grew out of his songs.  And Kellogg told me that The Free is a beautiful work, grounded, whose action centers around a returning veteran from Iraq who is drifting out of consciousness.  Not exactly a light, beach read, but a hauntingly beautiful one, she said: “If your idea of fun is reading about real people, an artistic version of real people, this might be your cup of tea.”

Landing June 3rd in bookstores

Kellogg is also excited about a biography of a stellar Los Angeles native that’ll be out in early June: Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space, written by veteran journalist Lynn Sherr, who covered the space program for ABC news during Ride’s ascent in the 80s.  Ride, who succumbed to pancreatic cancer at the age of 61, was a pioneer in more ways than one: “Up until her death, few people had known Sally Ride had a same-sex partner,” Kellogg says.  “Scherr’s book looks at how by the time Ride got into NASA (that) had to be a part of her life that went away.”  In fact, for a time, Ride was married to astronaut Steve Hawley, before divorcing and transitioning into life as a professor and innovator in science education.

How do you write a biography of someone who was really widely known in her moment for one thing but had a whole separate life, Kellogg asks? Sherr does this, and well, in this new book.