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California Calling: A Self-Interrogation

4.54  ·  Rating details ·  81 ratings  ·  28 reviews
California Calling is a lyrical self-interrogation of obsession, emigration, and identity. Natalie Singer's story opens in a courtroom on a witness stand, where she's forced to testify in a family breakup that changes the course of her life. At sixteen Natalie emigrates from Montreal and the secrets it holds to the golden promise of the California Bay Area, just as her Jew ...more
Paperback, 292 pages
Published March 13th 2018 by Hawthorne Books
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Average rating 4.54  · 
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Julie Ehlers
On reading California Calling: A Self-Interrogation (hey, someone was going to do this, so it might as well be me)

You were really excited to win this book in a Goodreads giveaway, weren't you?

Yes, I was! In fact, of all 123 books I've won in Goodreads giveaways, I may have been most excited about this one.

Hold up. You've won 123 books in Goodreads giveaways? But no one ever wins those. Do you have a fix in or something?

Sigh. You have to be fairly systematic about it. I check the giveaways every
Tim Elhajj
Mar 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is amazing and clear and funny and poignant and filled with many good things. I love coming of age stories and now California Calling is one of my favorites, right up there with Tobias Wolff and Frank McCourt. I love the architecture and the premise of an interrogation. I love the spare, beautiful prose. Ms Singer has created something wonderful from a lifetime of longing for a very special place.
Candace Morris
Feb 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
"Every time I open my mouth in public to speak, it feels like I am on a witness stand. My chest tightens and my heart crawls up my neck. Even when I'm asked something as simple as my name, it seems like I'm being asked to account for everything that is." 

When the narrator was 16, she was asked to testify in family court and she found herself totally mute. This is a pivotal moment in her life, the losing of her voice. The book takes the reader through the beautiful, confusing, complex journey of
Tabitha Blankenbiller
Mar 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I so enjoyed this soulful, meditative look at the myth of home and place play in developing an identity. Singer writes about her experience in an immigrant family moving toward the edges of the American West with lyric beauty and a layered, reverberating style. Definitely a stand-out in what memoir can become in the hands of writers that refuse to remain the the traditional boundaries of the genre.
Sep 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: cool-women, memoir
In one of the back-cover blurbs for this book, memoirist Abigail Thomas says "the originality of Ms. Singer's voice and mind is as exciting as anything I've read in years." I thought, huh, okay, that's pretty cool. AND THEN I READ THE BOOK.

California Calling is magnificent, and throughout it, I marveled at the way Singer's mind works. How she weaves, builds, tears down, builds again. How something random becomes something monumental. How the structure is so original, and I can't imagine this bo
Jennifer Haupt
Feb 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a fascinating memoir written more as connected essays than a straight-forward story arc. Singer is a woman in her mid-30s looking back at the journey of her life, trying to sort out her identity as an American, an immigrant, the child of divorce... a woman in today's sometimes confusing sexual and cultural landscape. I highly recommend this book, both for the story and the writing.
Lisa Kusel
Jul 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
A book unlike any I've ever read. Natalie Singer is a poet disguised as a memoirist, and her story is a rich one. To be honest, I read this book slowly (as I would a collection of poems), often flashing back and forth between awe and only slight frustration. At once I loved the concise moments where she was able to convey, in as little as two sentences or perhaps a long paragraph, an entire life experience; while at other times I wanted MORE. Her tale is relevant and provocative, from the backst ...more
May 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Natalie Singer has created a beautiful work of art, a fresh approach to the memoir where a place is a character in the work, and an intense struggle to find herself in a disfunctional world. I found each discrete section intriguing and caught myself double checking the title of the section and the content to make the association between the two. This slowed me down to savour the writing, the characters (including California) and the self-discovery of the narrator. I recommend this book highly.
Marissa Korbel
Jun 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This memoir reads like an echo or a dream. Experimental in a way that opens up the reader's experience rather than blocking them out, Natalie Singer's moving, poetic, lyrical prose made me think about my home state in a different way. As a person that grew up in California, full of the mythos of my own special birthplace, that's harder to accomplish than it sounds.

I loved the way she incorporated the questions and the theme of interrogation. It felt congruent with her identities as both a Jew a
Mar 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
With what almost seems like a sleight of hand, this book manages to pack so much into its very spare prose. First off, the structure and the way the book is written tells a story in itself. These snapshots in time tell a larger story, one that the author doesn't spoon feed to her readers. Her theme of finding voice and place, of finding a way of belonging in this world is a universal one, that will resonate with all readers, and told from the unique perspective of someone with a foot across bord ...more
Nicole Hardina
Jul 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What is memoir if not self-interrogation? Singer takes what must be central to every memoirist's process and applies it to form, resulting in a ranging Q and A with a self who once had hold of neither questions nor answers but has come now to control both.
Aug 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
California Calling sounded like such a cliche title (don't we all have our own California Calling?) I didn't have much hope for a well written tale. Instead I took my chances when I saw a former writing teacher wrote the back jacket blurb and several PNW authors whom I admire wrote blurbs espousing brilliance, I had to read it. Plus I had to show my support for fellow PNW writers.
At first I felt I was sitting in one of my past writing classes reading the author's responses to various writing pro
Jan 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I woke up early this morning to savor the last 50 pages of Natalie Singer’s book in the quiet peace of a household still asleep (my preferred method of reading). Where to start? This is not a traditional book, by that I mean form, content and narrative. She calls it an interrogation and to that I would add an exploration and meditation on what it means to be from a place, a family, a lineage and a broken home. What does it do to us when familial threads are raveled beyond recognition? Can reloca ...more
Jan 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I am so fascinated by the structure of this memoir that I have contacted the author in order to interrogate her. Okay, ask her to present at a reading series I curate on how she came to write her story in this unique (at least to this reader) way. I know of the author in the Seattle writing world and have heard her read. However nothing prepared me for the freshness of her approach combined with a look at childhood and beyond that is very memoir-worthy.

Reading her self-interrogation took me bac
Stephany Wilkes
May 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Totally compelling. I could not put it down and tore through it in two days. I appreciated and enjoyed the courage and creativity of the book format. I gravitate to linear narratives, to nice, decisive progression, and am skeptical of "experimental" anything, but this book is exceptional. The format feels complementary, not forced or "different just because." The structure of the book and format of each chapter really enhances the narrative and its aspects of recollection, memories from differen ...more
Nov 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
California Calling is an amazing, absorbing book, a captivating read I could barely pull myself away from just as I wanted to savor every page. Initially, I wasn't sure how the format would work for me and I loved it. The form enhanced the content instead of working against it or just being an artifice, this story is the story it is because of how Natalie Singer constructed it. Sometimes fragmented or experimental forms end up distancing the reader and this had the absolute opposite impact; I fe ...more
Allison Ellis
Aug 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A stunning debut from a talented author. I savored every page, from the lyrical and poetic prose to each beautifully rendered scene. Singer's language is rich with imagery, metaphor and intrigue. This is not your typical coming-of-age memoir but rather a multilayered allegory. The questions posed--from what it means to be a family to sexuality to national identity -- are exquisitely rendered through the use of Singer's literary interrogation technique. This is a gorgeous piece of literature I wi ...more
Sian Lile-Pastore
Feb 22, 2020 rated it liked it
This is a memoir told in short passages about a girl from Canada who yearns to live in California. It's about the seperation of family, coming of age and falling in love and also a book about space and place. I very much enjoyed the writing style and would definitely seek out more writing from Singer, but there was something that was a little bit too slight for me here and I wanted a little more.
Jun 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What does it mean to call a place home? What does it mean to belong? I immersed myself in this beautifully written memoir over the course of a single weekend. I love everything Singer does with language and structure to tell her story, which reads like a coming-of-age story but also a bittersweet love letter to place and memory. It made me feel everything. I loved every word.
Meg Weber
Nov 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I read California Calling in one weekend. It kept me engaged and entertained and riveted from cover to cover. I loved the structure and so many times Natalie's words stopped me cold with their beauty and insight. I've never read anything like this and now I want to read so much more of her work. Natalie's writing is stunning.
Cynthia Glanzberg
Jul 25, 2018 rated it it was ok
Way less into this book than I expected to be. A coming of age story, along with the idea of questioning a sense of home and identity... set in he state I just personally moved to? Sounds ideal. But, I was bored. It didn’t do much for me in any capacity. Gave it two stars instead of one, because I didn’t hate it, I just didn’t like it either.
Mar 09, 2019 rated it liked it
Mixed feelings: I liked the ruminating, inquiring, solitary tone. While I was compelled with the writing style and story structure, something felt distancing so that I could never entirely relax into the story. Still, I'm intrigued with the work and want to know more about the author.
Elizabeth R
May 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
Lovely read about a journey through childhood and how that impacts one’s worldview. Fascinating personal story presented in an unusual way.
Leigh Hopkins
Jun 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Gorgeous prose from a brilliant writer with a format that redefines memoir. This book is a gift!
Donata Thomas
Jan 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
poetics and prose posed as memoir with so many unique artistic twists you will feel humbled as a reader. Added Bonus: a fantastic story
May 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Incredible sense of place in this extremely introspective memoir. Gorgeous writing as Singer tells us of her journey from Montreal to California, from girl to young woman.
Lawrence Coates
Dec 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
I picked up this book because of the title. It turned out to be a very well written memoir that also played out against the backdrop of cultural notions of California as utopian.
Michael Smith
Jun 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I ran across this book randomly and was drawn to the title. A beautiful, raw memoir. Solid read.
Jan Stinchcomb
rated it really liked it
Apr 15, 2018
David Gutowski
rated it it was amazing
Mar 05, 2018
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