As June gives us reminders of what summer in the Valley holds in the weeks ahead, we may be encouraged to read some books that give us some laughs in the face of adversity.

“Stay Up with Hugo Best” (Scribner, April) by Erin Somers gives us June Bloom, a young assistant writer for aging comic Hugo Best’s late-night show, just as it is canceled. Best invites her to join him for the Memorial Day weekend at his estate. Against her better judgment and her friend’s advice, she goes. The results are not what might be expected. 

In a strange setting for humor, Ryan Chapman provides laughs during a prison riot in “Riots I Have Known” (Simon & Schuster, May). A Sri Lankan prisoner incarcerated in New York is trapped in the media center of the prison as a riot breaks out. He has been reporting on prison life for several years in a prison journal called “The Holding Pen,” which has become a popular read outside the prison. Now he is narrating his life story as the riot closes in on him. For some reason, he is blamed for the riot. 

Another title that definitely would imply the opposite of humor, “My Sister, the Serial Killer” (Doubleday, November 2018) by Oyinkan Braithwaite, has been called “the wittiest and most fun murder party you’ve ever been invited to” by Marie Claire. Which is not to say that the seriousness of the subject is forgotten. The story of the two sisters, Korede and Ayoola, takes place in Lagos, Nigeria, where the two women are at the mercy of men, starting with their father. 


Since humor is the topic, look for “18 Ways to Write Funnier Fast” by Susan Shapiro on Writer’s Digest website at Some of her suggestions include experiment with a variety of forms, watch repetitions, visit comedy clubs, use odd juxtapositions and do the unexpected by twisting clichés. She offers these suggestions not only to would-be comedy writers as such, but also for authors who want to incorporate humor into otherwise more-or-less serious stories. The article is an excerpt from her book, “The Byline Bible: Get Published in Five Weeks.” 


Fresno author Mark Arax won a 2019 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for feature reporting for his story “A Kingdom from Dust,” which ran in the California Sunday Magazine. The lengthy article tells the story of Stewart and Lynda Resnick, owners of the Wonderful brand of mandarins, pomegranates and almonds whose farms cover about 280 square miles in Kern County and who have their influence over so much more. It seems that the Resnicks have the Midas touch with whatever they do, including the ability to keep the water flowing to their trees in the depths of drought. The article can be read at

The article is a part of Arax’s latest book, “The Dreamt Land: Chasing Water and Dust Across California,” published last month by Knopf. He writes of the way that California has crafted water and soil into a dream that has built the Golden State since its earliest days of the Gold Rush and now is threatening to be its undoing. Arax travels the state geograph-ically and historically following the water. His book tour kicked off last month with a ticketed presentation in Clovis, which benefitted the Clovis Library.


The 2019 San Francisco Writing for Change Conference will be held on Saturday, Sept. 14, at the Unitarian Universalist Center. All genres are included because any type of book can bring change. Speakers include author Nina Amir, agents Peter Beren and Laurie McClean, and “The Writer” editor Melissa Hart. Early registration is open for $99. Limited to 100 attendees. Details at


The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction went to Richard Powers for “The Overstory” (W.W. Norton), Drama went to Jackie Sibblies Drury for “Fairview,” Poetry to Forrest Gander for “Be With” (New Directions) and History to David W. Blight for “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom” (Simon & Schuster).


“If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.” – Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919)