Best of the LA Times Book Fest: New California and Old, and Bruce, too!

Mr. Bib caught up with friends, and met new ones, at last weekend's Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at USC. I'd like nothing better than to do that every weekend. Imagine: a world where the value of literacy, poetry, science, the arts, civic participation is assume, despite or in opposition to the occasional weird cult or huckster, awful gene fiction or corporate media goofs trying go all populist and, somehow, literary, on everybody. And at USC, where the school mascot is a prophylactic. Fight on!

Funny story, with apologies to those who've heard it before. For years, Santa Monica Review's booth was immediately next to the L. Ron Hubbard double-wide trailer of a tent.


“Fiction novels (sic) by L. Ron Hubbard,” read their idiotic sign. And every year, year after year, the same group of half-human, half-insect proselytizers of the notorious Ponzi scheme cum sci-fi religion set up their cornucopia of craputopia. By the second day of witnessing them bother all manner of apparently unknowing, timid or naive people, young and old, the Bibliofella would just lose it, shouting “It's a cult” or otherwise interfering with their invisible vortex of heebie jeebie.
This year, friends, the Dianeticians were elsewhere, nearer Tommy Trojan himself, sporting new bright-red t-shirts. But I recognized them, the same sad, apparently unevolved, unascended, didn't quite pass “go” disciples, selling their late leader's horrible books. I walked quickly by without punching anybody in the nose but, I kid you not, overheard one of them ask the other where the Ron Paul booth was. Perfect!
Happily, this year SMR was flanked by former oldies-turned-reactionary talk radio station KRLA and, yup, Atheists United. Granted, OC GOP henchdude Hugh Hewitt and the odious Dennis Prager didn't show up and, yes, the non-believers are a weird, wacky bunch who write way too much genre fiction, but among them were some Good Eggs including a lovely, smart comic who apparently everybody else has heard of but me: Betsy Salkind.  I was immediately charmed. And how often do you meet a stand-up comic? Okay, all the time, but how about a genuinely smart and funny one sitting right there at the atheist book signing her perfectly offensive (in a good way!) Betsy Salkind's Sunday School Bible Classics, which comes with a parental advisory sticker for its explicit content? Needless to mention to the thoughtful OC Bookly blog-reading audience, but I will say it anyway: Anybody who bothers to actually read the Old and New Testaments can't possibly want to share either with children.
Some weekend! Busy meeting atheists, broadcasting Bibliocracy Radio live, and distributing free copies of the newest Santa Monica Review left little time for browsing, and I caught only two actual performances, readings by poets Campbell McGrath and UCI's Michael Ryan. McGrath is at this moment my favorite poet ever. He is political, funny, droll. Ryan is dark, funny, droll. I like droll. My kind of poets.
But then, as if I weren't having enough fun, New California Writing: 2012 from Heyday! I'd missed the publication party earlier that week hosted by the estimable David Kipen at his most excellent Libros Schmibros bookstore. It was my son's acting class that same night. He is the White Rabbit in Alice, so we are now both late for everything anyway. This is the second volume of Heyday's annual “best of” anthology, edited by Gayle Wattawa under the affirming, wise and generous supervision of legendary people's publisher Malcolm Margolin.

Margolin looks like Mr. Natural, cracks witty and wise like Groucho, is the Mahatma Gandhi of publishing, and the singular booster of California history, botany, wilderness, indigenous culture, new fiction, you name it he publishes it…especially when other for-profits won't. You can support the excellent work of Heyday by joining its “Publishers Club” and get a discount on your purchase of New California Writing, which has a foreword by Kipen and, yes, features short stories by all kinds of important writers on or from California including our longtime SMR pal Janice Shapiro (Bummer) and another contributor, Sean Bernard. Not to brag or anything!
Also got a chance to meet one of the editors of a long-awaited, much-needed revisionist historical guide to Greater LA, just out from UC Press. A People's Guide to Los Angeles is a beautiful collection of short essays, maps, stories, photographs, directions and secret histories. It's a guidebook to the past. I talked on the radio show live from the KPFK booth to editor Laura Pulido, who's put together a book that, whichever page you open up to, links place and memory, from the Black Cat Bar (site of LGBT liberation struggles) to Santa Anita Racetrack, where Japanese-Americans were held before internment. We need a book like this for Orange County, as we have plenty of stories that need a place on the map, as Mendez, et al v. Westminster, et al. and all those nasty OC pioneers who where KKK that Gustavo chronicles. The past isn't dead; it isn't even past.  Maybe that's why so many people are trying to kill it?

Well, there it is. Faulkner. My segue to the happy ending of last weekend, and the happy beginning of this one. My best friend from elementary school, attorney and bon vivant Wayne Clayton (and his lovely wife Deborah) not only hosted the White Rabbit's tenth birthday party but got the Bibster a ticket for Sunday afternoon to see the best panel ever, and the last one of the weekend, celebrating he anniversary of the publication of The Port Huron Statement, with UCI History Professor Jon Wiener as moderator, and Robert Scheer, Abe Peck and of course Tom Hayden, each being sober or brilliant or funny or angry, or all of that, appropriately. 

Then, as if space cult to cute comic atheist to seeing SMR credited in the Heyday anthology weren't enough, super-mensch and Liberty Hill board member Gary Stewart gifted me tickets for Bruce Springsteen, people's musical artist extraordinaire, at the Sports Arena Friday night.

“Broooooce!” So, books, music, friends! Nothing but gratitude this week, folks, beyond the above recommendations.  Possibly the best show by the Boss I have seen lately. Thus concludes my report. 

New California Writing, Gayle Wattawa, ed, Heyday, 336 pp, $20
 People's Guide to Los Angeles, Laura Pulido, Laura Baraclaugh and Wendy Cheng, eds, UC Press, 328pp., $27.95
Andrew Tonkovich hosts the Wednesday night literary arts program Bibliocracy Radio, on KPFK 90.7 FM in Southern California.

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