The 11th Annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books offered 400 authors, 97 panels, readings and discussions and 350 exhibitor booths representing bookstores and literary associations. Target, Barnes and Noble and several local radio and TV stations were among the sponsors. For two days, while celebrities read children’s stories and the Times gave out its Book Awards, over 100,000 people swarmed the UCLA campus in celebration of all forms of the printed word.
At this, the largest literary event in the U.S, people came to buy books, get copies signed by authors, frolic at the children’s area, hear poetry and readings by beginning writers, attend panels on topics ranging from “First Fiction” to “Pushing The Envelope” and shmooze with other writers and book-lovers.
Saturday morning there was a panel on the music business. Rock writer Jim Fusilli spoke about his short book on the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album, while KCRW’s Nic Harcourt lamented that most music magazines these days are so shallow that he can finish reading them before his plane lands.
Later, Joan Didion was interviewed by Times Book Review Editor David Ulin. The grande dame of California literature spoke about her recent memoir The Year of Magical Thinking, which had just won the Times Robert Kirsch Award for Lifetime Achievement. Despite the theme of loss which her book deals with, she came across as a survivor with common sense as her sustaining element. When asked how she creates her fictional characters, Didion said she starts with “the story – and people who are in the story. They’re people, not characters.”
Emotions ran strong at panels with political topics, such as “Freedom of Ideas” with liberal Ariana Huffington and the more conservative Catherine Seipp (they surprisingly agreed on a few views), and at “Iraq: Where Do We Go From Here?,” where former Times columnist Robert Scheer noted that the pro-war pundits were curiously absent from this year’s panel. A standing-room-only crowd filled Ackerman Ballroom to hear the notorious Larry Flynt, who came across as good-natured, humorous and thoughtful. Best Flynt lines: ”I’ve begun to wonder if Republicans can procreate,” and “If [the human body] is obscene, complain to the Manufacturer, not to me!”
Other highlights included a panel on comic strips, with humorous comic artist/writers like Lalo Alcarez and Cathy Guisewite; a panel of mystery novelists who were just as funny; the wonderful poetry of Eloise Klein Healy at the Poetry Corner; and the Rock Bottom Remainders, a “rock band” composed of authors such as Dave Barry, Amy Tan (who sang Leader of the Pack), Mitch Albom and Scott Turow. Turow took the William Hung Award for Worst Vocal Performance on Purpose by a Crime Writer in a Blonde Curly Wig and Feather Boa.
Probably the best thing one can take home from the Festival of Books is the reassuring feeling that, despite what we hear about people reading less, people are still reading books and engaging in the act of thinking. For anyone who loves to read, the Festival of Books provides a chance to come together with like-minded individuals and receive an affirmation of one’s commitment to the survival of literature and the printed word.