You can assume we've already considered Of Mice & Men.
September 13, 2012 9:26 AM   Subscribe

Looking for novels about or by authors from the Central Valley of California.

It's my home territory. A few years ago I moved out to the heathen lands of the Eastern Seaboard, and more recently I joined a book club of young professionals here. Each month, the host picks three books and everyone votes on one to read. For my turn, I've decided to go with the Central Valley as my theme to show a little hometown pride but I'm stuck for specifics.

(1) We generally go with novels since they're easiest to discuss, but engaging nonfiction or linked short stories might be OK. An essay collection, not so much. (I'd gravitate to Joan Didion for one option, but I've heard her novels aren't great.)
(2) Please, nothing about World War II. We are sick to death of that era. (This might bounce William Saroyan.)
(3) Minority voices would be awesome.
posted by psoas to Writing & Language (21 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Is Steinbeck too obvious and/or coastal?
posted by elsietheeel at 9:31 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Should we also assume you've already considered East of Eden? If not, you definitely should.
posted by contraption at 9:32 AM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you're okay with nonfiction The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down is about a Hmong family in Merced and the US healthcare system.
posted by elsietheeel at 9:35 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is Monterey Central Valley? You've probably nixed Cannery Row and Tortilla Flat, too then, since you've turned down Of Mice & Men.

I remember reading this as a teen, but it might be hard to get enough copies.

All I know are kids books, really - Beverly Cleary's Fifteen (I think), Dear Mr Henshaw (yes), and Strider may be set, still, in the area.
posted by tilde at 9:36 AM on September 13, 2012

Steinbeck is close, but he's generally more associated with the Salinas Valley, one mountain range to the west. I would think the story types would be fairly similar to someone writing about the agricultural portion of the Central Valley (as opposed to, say, Sacramento).
posted by LionIndex at 9:36 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Digging around the 'zon, this collection seems to be right up your alley.
posted by tilde at 9:37 AM on September 13, 2012

From Amazon's review of Highway 99: "From Library Journal
"Highway 99 is the central artery connecting the cities of California's Central Valley. This anthology is a product of the California Council for the Humanities' planned series of public readings with Central Valley writers from 1996 to 1997. It contains short stories, excerpts from novels, photographs, essays, poetry, and folk tales that reflect the literary heritage of the region. The authors featured in this compilation include John Steinbeck, champion of the migrant farm worker in the 1930s; William Saroyan, Fresno's favorite son; John Muir, leader of the conservationist movement; and Joan Didion, a Sacramento native. As any Californian knows, the Central Valley is the richest agricultural region in the country, and the literary offerings presented here reflect that fact. Muir writes of the valley as a carpet of flowers stretching as far as the eye can see, but Steinbeck's excerpt reminds us of the human cost associated with this bounty. Recommended for all California collections.?Mary Ann Parker, Dept. of Water Resources Law Lib., Sacramento, Cal.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc."
posted by Lynsey at 9:40 AM on September 13, 2012

I used to see this collection at Tower Books a lot in my little Central Valley town. I'd take a look at Raymond Carver's stuff as well.
posted by entropicamericana at 9:41 AM on September 13, 2012

Best answer: Does Bakersfield count? Manuel Munoz.
posted by yarly at 9:43 AM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Nthing East of Eden. I get that Salinas isn't the exact area, but it's sort of close enough and it's an incredible, incredible book.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:52 AM on September 13, 2012

Best answer: Not a novel, but Joan Didion's Where I Was From is essential.
posted by neroli at 9:53 AM on September 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the quick replies! Yes, Monterey and the Salinas Valley are technically "out of range" but not terribly so (and Of Mice & Men is most likely off the list since I think most people have already read it, not that it's not worthy).

I also have a copy of Highway 99, but that's mostly just an anthology of short stories & poem and I'm looking for something coherent as a longer whole.

And elsietheeel, thanks! I had heard of that but it was escaping me somehow.
posted by psoas at 9:55 AM on September 13, 2012

It's kind of a different track to take, but you could also read a biography of someone involved in the Bakersfield country music scene. Possible candidates: Merle Haggard and Buck Owens.
posted by LionIndex at 9:59 AM on September 13, 2012

Best answer: Fat City, set in Stockton is great.
posted by Sculthorpe at 10:09 AM on September 13, 2012

And, of course, William Saroyan's My Name is Aram and The Human Comedy, both set in Fresno, have to be at the top of the list. Finally, as someone who grew up in Sacramento, I agree with @nerioli that Didion's Where I Was From is a worthy choice.
posted by Sculthorpe at 10:19 AM on September 13, 2012

Best answer: David Mas Masumoto
posted by notned at 10:23 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I came in to suggest Manuel Munoz's novel "What You See in the Dark." I found it after searching my local library's catalog for "Bakersfield," wanting to see what type of literature mentioning my hometown was out there. It is a great story. It hits on race and class, which has been a complicated course in Bakersfield for ever. It also has a tie-in to a Hitchcock movie.

I would also suggest a compilation of short stories by William Saroyan, Fresno's native son. The one I like is "My Name is Arum." There's a story in there about a guy who buys a plot of land to try and plant pomegranete trees, just like in the old country... The way he described it, I felt like I was there, tilling the earth with him, watching the jack rabbits and lizards all around. The story about the school-aged boy going against is teacher will make you laugh. It's a great collection.

Finally... there is a great memoir by a former resident of Reedley (I think) called "Mennonite in a Little Black Dress." It was really entertaining, not only because her mother wanted to put raisins in everything, but because it dealt with real-life pain and disappointment in an interesting way.
posted by FergieBelle at 10:27 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yep, just peeked at my copies. Henshaw is set in Bakersfield. Not a lot of description that would make it stand out other than Anytown USA except for its proximity to fields and use as a transit hub.
posted by tilde at 11:48 AM on September 13, 2012

Richard Rodriguez has interesting things to say about his experience growing up in Sacramento in the 1950's in Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez.
posted by easilyamused at 12:08 PM on September 13, 2012

Best answer: Gary Soto - The Effect of Knut Hamsun on a Fresno Boy and others, just be careful you get a book for adults. He's written many picture books.

Eva Rutland - When We Were Colored. I love this one.

I am sure I can think of more, but not right now.
posted by Duffington at 1:23 PM on September 13, 2012

Response by poster: Just want to tank everyone for great recommendations again...we ended up on Saroyan's My Name Is Aram and everyone's really enjoying it.
posted by psoas at 8:54 AM on October 22, 2012

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