I especially like the title of a 12:30 panel at next weekend's two-day annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books for its helpful reminder and either existential celebration or complaint. "You are Here: Perspectives on Life in Southern California," featuring Times columnists suggests that old-time movie newsreel declaration, and so much more, or less. Because the Festival of Books is sort of what you make of it. With hundreds of vendors, dozens of panels, speakers galore, you'll find plenty that argues the best about our region and observe, politely, a jumble of foolishness, hucksterism, and benign co-optation of book culture. As it ever was, perhaps, yet being there means being part of the conversation about books, culture and politics. You gotta be there. "Otherwise you got nothing to talk about in the locker room," as Maude said to Harold in one of everybody's favorite films.
Marching bands, kids' readings, poetry readings, theater, cooking talk, Spanish-language presentations and live music, appearances by celebrities and elected officials, it's all happening at this zoo of a book event. A couple of hundred thousand Angelenos attend each year, this festival hosted again by the Trojans of USC. What a scene. My own tent, "Santa Monica College - Santa Monica Review" # 974," near the LA Times Stage, was last year situated under the big trees between jolly atheists and a right-wing AM talk radio station. We used to be next door to the Scientologists, hustling their L. Ron Hubbard "fiction novels." You have not lived and died and lived again, friends, until you have spent two full days watching these sad insect people doing their proslytizing for their bizarre sci-fi Ponzi scheme cult. (Don't take the personality test!) I was
one year almost run over by Kareem Abdul-Jabar, being chaperoned in a golf cart back at the original UCLA site of the festival. I flirted with Arianna Huffington. She's fun. Joyce Carol Oates walked by, wearing her big dark glasses. She scared me a little. Come by our tent on either day for a free sample copy, the latest issue of the mag, this one with a complete novella and the usual excellent short fiction.
Of course, you need to plan for the day or weekend, by way of parking, bringing a lunch and, most importantly, choosing in advance where you will be, as "here" is a very big place indeed at this huge and busy event with lots for sale, free stuff, KPFK Radio (Go team!) doing a live broadcast from its own big tent. Here, then, some of what Mr. Bib looks forward to. Note that although you officially need to secure tickets to be sure of getting in, the non-ticketed waiters in line usually find seats. But do arrive early for the popular
events, this year likely Margaret Atwood in Bovard Auditorium at 11 am on Saturday. She'll be interviewed by Michael "Bookworm" Silverblatt of KCRW.
There's every genre and topic imaginable, from mystery to science to even the unimaginable: gimcrackery, self-help, inspiration and "book products." Yikes. Sometimes the moderator is the star, as in "The Real LA Noir," with everybody's favorite hat-wearing public radio host Patt Morrison. On Saturday's Poetry stage, check out Charles Harper Webb, who teaches at Cal State Long Beach, and is weird, funny, smart. I assume he will sign copies of his recent collection, Shadow Ball.
Also on Saturday is "Cultural Coming of Age," with local favorite Janet "Paint It Black" Fitch and the author of one of my favorite novels of last year, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, Ben Fountain. Great, great book.
All-around good guy David Ulin, the Times's book reviewer, moderates something called "The Social Novel." (Me, I like the anti-social ones, too.) Two OC editor-writers appear on a Nonfiction panel. I've worked for both Gustavo "¡Ask a Mexican!" Arellano of, you bet, this very alternative weekly, and Marty Smith of Orange Coast magazine, who is also an author of fun books about history and pop culture and a crime series.
Writer and illustrator Alison Bechdel does one of those one-on-one "In Conversation With" panels. She's author of the most clever autobiographical comic books, Fun Home and Are You My Mother?
Of course, I'll attend anything, everything with veteran journalist, Ramparts and TruthDig.com founder and radio commentator Robert Scheer. He hosts a Saturday afternoon panel on American political cartoons, catnip to this newspaper reader.
And, yes, Julia Sweeney, author most recently of If It's Not One Thing, It's Your Mother (and
with whom I am deeply enamored) will be at the LA Times Stage at 1:20, cracking wise and wisely, humanely meditating on family, love, politics and being the mother of an adopted girl. She'll be on everybody's favorite radio show, Bibliocracy Radio, this Wednesday. How about that?
On Sunday, the poetry stage features local eco-hero Lewis MacAdams, founder of Friends of the LA River, LA poet laureate Eloise Klein Healy and Ron Koertge. Koertge is also at the Young Adult stage, as the long-time Southern California poet is also a popular and terrific writer of edgy and smart middle and high school age novels including, most recently, Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses.
From Orange County-way, UC Irvine joins the line-up with Barry Siegel and Amy Wilentz, sitting on a panel about nonfiction. Siegel directs the aspiring literary journalists at UCI and Wilentz teaches there. Her new book is a take-apart of Haiti, where she visits plenty, and has been one of the go-to writers on the exploitation of that benighted republic of poverty.
I'll for sure be at Seeley Mudd 124 at 11 am for "Fantastical Visions," with four writers doing their thing for the surreal, including my mentor, Jim Krusoe. Ben Ehrehneich, contributor to a recent Santa Monica Review, sits next to him, along with Francesca Lia Bloch, author of the terrific Weetzie Bat books and more.
Aris Janigian, author of the best book on the LA Riots (This Angelic Land) joins a panel on immigrant voices, moderated by ZYZZYVA editor Oscar Villalon.
Big names also in conversation include Jamaica Kincaid and Joyce Carol Oates who, despite frightening me a bit with her ghostly pallor and big dark glasses has written an amazing new book. Granted, new book with the most prolific novelist in America is relative, but her recent interview with Silverblatt had both of them laughing and talking politics and history, and got me to order it for sure.
Kid-song troubador Jose-Luis Orozco will be singing bilingually and historically. He's great. And Lemony Snicket will be there. My wife and son and I hope to meet him. UCI Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky joins UCLA prof Adam Winkler to talk about guns with Celeste Fremon.
I will unlikely make it to all of those as I need to meet and greet over at SMR tent, but I plan to be sitting up front for Margaret Atwood, and the 1:30 panel on the short story. Come by and say hello, biblio-friends!
Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, easy-peasy link here.
Andrew Tonkovich hosts the Wednesday night literary arts program Bibliocracy Radio on KPFK 90.7 FM in Southern California.