The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books is this coming weekend (April 24-25) on the UCLA campus. I am unable to go this year because of other commitments, but I have attended several times in the past, and it is always a pleasure to see so many thousands of people excited about books, especially the kids.
I went one year with my grandson, when he was about four. At that time he was a fanatic fan of the Thomas the Tank Engine stories by the Rev. W. Awdry. He had some of the toys and the books. The Rev. Awdry’s son Christopher, who continued the series, was there signing books. It was a rare delight to see my grandson walk up and get his first book autographed. No direct connection, but now at age 13 he is a very busy reader. He saved up birthday and Christmas money and bought himself a Kindle recently. I am going to wait until the e-book readers shake down before I decide whether I will get one. Books are not “read and forget” items for me. I like to see them on the shelf; I like to hold them in my hand; I like to turn their pages. As my wife laments at the cluttered shelves, I like to keep them.
If you are in LA this weekend and have never been to the festival, you might enjoy it. Admission is free, and parking is about ten bucks. Even if you do not have tickets (also free) to the various panel presentations, there are still lots of authors to see and hear and books to tempt you.
Some of the high points of my previous Festival trips include the following:
Listening to T. C. Boyle mesmerize an auditorium full of people with a cheesy story, but a true storyteller’s delivery.
Watching Annie Proulx play her curmudgeon role and resisting standing up and asking her a question about “Brokeback Mountain,” one of my favorite stories.
Hearing Jane Smile talk about Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel and getting sidetracked to talk about horses.
One time I was strolling up the aisles of tents and did a double take when I passed George Plimpton in front of one of them, all by his lonesome, promoting The Paris Review. I swung around and shook his hand, introducing myself as a professor at a Southern California University. “Oh, Yeah, he said, with a sophisticated and supercilious smirk, “And what, pray tell, do you profess?’ At that particular point, I wasn’t quite sure.
Some of the writers at the Festival this year who I would not mind hearing:
Chitra Divakaruni, on a fiction panel entitled “Writing the Other.”
Dave Eggers being interviewed by LA Times Book Editor, David Ulin
James Ellroy in conversation with Joseph Wambaugh
Yann Martel in conversation with Michael Silverblatt
Bill McKibbin in conversation with Susan Salter Reynolds
Herman Wouk in conversation with Tim Rutten
T.C. Boyle reading a story to thousands gathered around a campfire.
Bret Easton Ellis in conversation with Erik Himmelsbach
And the best panel of all: Susan Straight, Maile Meloy, Mona Simpson, Jane Smiley, and Marianne Wiggins. Wow, if I could, I would go just for this one panel—truly star studded.
Which reminds me of one of the downsides of the Festival. Since this is LA, within which, as the big sign of the hill reminds us, is Hollywood, there are lots of stars, who have little to with literature, that many people will come to gaze at in wonder.
Trisha Yearwood will be there, and Daisy Fuentes, and Pam Grier, and Peter Yarrow, and Carl Reiner, and Bernadette Peters, and Carol Burnett, and even the Fonze Henry Winkler. Granted, these big names are there primarily promoting children’s books, but the parents will be happy to be star struck in the audience.
Nothing much about the short story this year—no panels, and with the exception of T.C. Boyle, no readers of short stories. However, on one bright note, two collections of stories are on the short list for the Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction this year:
Daniyal Mueenuddin, “In Other Rooms, Other Wonders.”
Wells Tower, “Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned.”
I posted blogs last year on both of these books: Liked the Mueenuddin, did not like the Tower.
If any of you attend the festival this weekend, I would appreciate your posting a comment to let me know what it was like and what you liked about it.