The Book Festival and Me
September 26, 2010

I adore book festivals. I cannot tell you how many people I have either taken or talked into going because I love them so. Which is why my reaction to last week’s announcement that the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books would be moving was fraught with emotion. This festival, which has resided on the gorgeous UCLA campus for its fifteen-year life, will in 2011 move to the University of Southern California’s (USC) campus instead. It too is a stunning university that happens to be unfortunately situated in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. What’s the difference for me? At least forty-five minutes driving time. Each way. Deeper into the likely heavy traffic zones, which I can nearly guarantee will make the homeward bound one a minimum of three hours. After an exhilarating but very long and tiring day.

It’s been a painful realization that I simply cannot do it. I would be a danger to myself and to others to drive in that condition for that length of time. So what I have always looked forward to with great anticipation will no longer be a part of my life. And that makes me sad.

The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books is one of the premier book fairs in the nation. In 2010, it attracted more than 140,000 attendees who interacted with 400 authors, 300 exhibitors, and enjoyed six outdoor stages, a pavilion, and a Hero Complex. Multiple indoor events happen every hour of both days that the festival is open. The grounds are so thick with literary atmosphere that I always come away with as much regret for what I had to miss as joy for what I got to see.

Except for the first year and one year when I could not even get out of bed, I always went. It wasn’t cheap and it wasn’t easy. The costs of gasoline, parking, water, food, and ice (to keep the food cold) added up to approximately $40 for each day—and that’s before I bought any books. I set the alarm to get up at the same time I arose for work in order to get a good parking space on campus. But I never hesitated. It was so much fun to see, smell, and be a part of this tremendous high that revolved around books and reading.

There were the two teenage boys wearing baseball caps turned backwards sitting quietly in the front row before the poetry stage, listening intently, enthralled with the reading. There was the little girl I’d guess to be around six or eight who with her mother behind her ran over to her father sitting on the shaded grass, carrying a newly purchased book  in her hand, then excitedly plopping down to begin reading aloud to him. There were, inevitably, the crowds huddled in and around the discount book tents (where all books went for five dollars), grabbing, holding, poring over the books packed as tightly as the people. There was the rare book dealer who was there every year and who stood out less for his quality of books than his grumpiness at those interested in his books. There was the man who made reading tables who had set up his book as a Victorian bedroom with himself dressed in a nightcap and nightshirt. There were the authors who had lines of fans stretched into the main plaza waiting to get their books signed, and some who had less than five. There were the self-published authors who sat pretty much by themselves over the two days; that was painful to see. There were very long lines for the food, and insufficient tables so that strangers needing a place to eat became lunchtime friends, sharing stories of their experiences.

Despite an affection for USC—one of my paternal ancestors helped to found it, and, beginning in September 1999, I spent a year-and-a-half commuting for their graduate Master of Professional Writing program—I feel as if the festival has been cut out from under me. And how many others? Of course, the decision was taken for financial reasons, and I can support those. I would far rather see something like this move happen than for the festival to be closed. And perhaps it might open it up to others on the other side of Los Angeles who wouldn’t travel to UCLA. What I hope isn’t a part is that this is the beginning of a slide, decision by decision, toward the eventual death of the festival

Even at this personal cost, I hope with all my heart that the festival survives and thrives. Seeing one hundred and forty thousand people getting excited about books and reading is quite something. I want to see it live and thrive. Because if this festival dies, then the southern California world of books and authors and reading will lose its champion. And we, the readers and fans of the festival, will all be so much poorer for that loss.

Upcoming Book Festivals:
A lot of folks are going to have the opportunity to attend and enjoy book festivals this coming week and weekend. Two are in California, but other states are well represented. See below for details.

Beginning September 29 and running through October 3 is the Wisconsin Book Festival. Madison is the host of this festival, which has been running since 2002. More than 100 authors will be appearing in a huge number of events that begin Tuesday evening; continue on Wednesday afternoon and evening; go from morning to night on Thursday, Friday and Saturday; and finish up with a full day on Sunday. Discussion and lecture topics range widely and include nature and science, music, history, politics, spiritual beliefs, Wisconsin, writing & publishing, memoir & biography, fiction, poetry, art, and much more.

The annual Ernest Hemingway Symposium will take place in Sun Valley, Idaho, from September 30 through October 1. This year, the symposium’s focus is on the “Hemingway Influence, how the Pulitzer/Nobel prize winner continues to affect authors, journalists, and readers fifty years after his death.” Five speakers—Walter Kirn, Brady Udall, Mitch Wieland, Clay Morgan, and Edward Test—will speak. Events include a pre-symposium talk, a screening of “The Hemingway Play,” the keynote talk by Kirn, discussions, readings, tours, signings, and more. For anyone who loves this writer, this is one of the best literary events to attend. (In 2011, the theme will be “Hemingway and Women.”)

Bangor, Maine, will be the site of the Bangor Book Festival on the weekend of October 1-2. Twenty-two authors will be making appearances to talk about and sign their books, and several special events promise to be fun: a Literary Scavenger Hunt, an Author Reception, an Author Dinner, a “Draw Down” between two children’s book illustrators, storytelling, book discussions, and readings.

Also on the weekend of October 1-2 is the Santa Fe Antiquarian Book Show, which takes place on Friday from 4:00 to 9:00 p.m. and on Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. More than three dozen book dealers of books, prints, maps, and ephemera will be there to share their wares and their expertise. Also making appearances will be several authors to sign their books; this is a special collaboration with the Santa Fe 4ooth Anniversary Celebration.

The four-day Brattleboro Literary Festival will be happening beginning on September 30 and running through October 3, in Vermont. Three dozen authors are scheduled to appear in panels, talks, and at signings. Reading events include Vermont Reads; An Evening Without: Giving Voice to the Silenced; Motion Painting & Poetry; Where I Live: Maxine Kumin, Interior Lives; Novel as Film, Novel as Poetry; Letters to Jackie; and more. They are also offering four special events especially for children.

Litquake is the spectacular multi-day literary festival that takes place from October 1-9 in San Francisco. If you are in or around this city during it, you really should participate as fully as you are able. It’s impossible to list even half of the events offered but among them you’ll find Night of the Living Read (the opening night cocktail party); Off the Richter Scale Readings; Constantly Risking Absurdity; the Literary Film Festival; the North Beach Walking Tour; the Lit Show; New Writers Night; Words and Waves; Kitquake; Lit & Lunch; Feast of Words; Flight of Poets; Litquake at the Bookstore; Bawdy Storytelling; Teen Crawl; It’s All Over but the Crying: A Night of Authors on Sports; Litquake in the Bikestore;  and The Infamous Indefatigable Lit Crawl!!!! (Exclamation marks are theirs.)

Cincinnati, Ohio, hosts Books by the Banks on October 2 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Duke Energy Convention Center. More than one hundred authors in the areas of children’s, cookbooks, fiction, graphic novels, local nonfiction, other, teen and travel will be appearing. There are panels scheduled from 11:00 to 2:00, and signings will take place all day. The K12 Kids Corner offers, in addition to authors, storytelling, character meet-and-greets, and a variety of crafts.

Also on October 2 is the Capital BookFest in Largo, Maryland. (You’ll have to click on the specific link on this page to get to the Maryland festival’s page.) This is a day to meet authors including Sonia Sanchez, Victoria Rowell, Wes Moore, Michele Singletary, and more, as well as vendors and exhibitors.

Collingswood Book Festival, which will take place in the historic town of Collingswood, New Jersey, on October 2, which is the culmination of a full week of activities. From 10:00 am to 4:00 pm on that day, six blocks of the town will be turned over to forty-five authors as well as storytellers, booksellers, poets, and entertainers who will offer talks, signings, discussions, performances, poetry events, and musical entertainment.

The North Texas Book & Paper Show will be hopping during October 2-3 in Fort Worth at the Roundup Inn. More than thirty dealers in used, rare and collectible Books, ephemera, autographs, photographs, maps & prints, postcards, cookery, history, Texana military, and more will be there. The event’s hours on Saturday are 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, and on Sunday from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. Admission is $5; those under the age of twelve are free.

And in California, the Orange County Children’s Book Festival will be hosted by the southern California city of Costa Mesa on October 3. If you are in the Orange County area and you have children, this is the best place to take them. From 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., sixty-eight authors and eight  illustrators as well as storytellers, entertainers, and more than ninety exhibitors will be there to keep children engaged and focused on reading. There will also be a petting zoo, train rides, a wild animal arena, costumed book characters, literary resources and events, health screenings, a craft corner, and more.

The Pub House:
Zoland Books
is an imprint of Steerforth Press, is where you’ll find all their fiction, poetry and arts-related memoirs. It offers attractive and interesting books including The Woman of Rome, a novel of passion and betrayal that begins with a young woman who uses her beauty to survive by modeling for a painter, eventually moving into a life of prostitution and the men who surround her during the rule of Mussolini and Italian Fascism. Under the Red Flag is a collection of twelve  short stories that take place during China’s Cultural Revolution and encompass both the small (human) and the larger (moral history) issues. It won the Flannery O’Connor Award for short fiction. A different sort of novel, Angels on Toast is an entertaining and fast-paced story of a group of intertwined characters each with her or his own passion and wants jockeying for dominance.  And then there’s the mysteries.

Imaging Books & Reading:
What sculpture could be better for the entrance to a library than this? Addison Public Library in Illinois is the recipient of this nearly six-foot bronze sculpture of a boy reading a book surrounded by books. James Haire is the artist, and many of the titles at the base of the statue have invented titles by Jim’s family. In addition, the story being read is titled Castle Calderone, written by the sculptor.

Of Interest:
If you have ever thought that you could come up with a better book title than that, I have a site for you! Better Book Titles is the brainchild of Dan Wilbur who (brilliantly) takes book titles and gives them what he thinks are better ones. Meaning ones that give you the gist of the story in just a few words. A recent example is Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which he has renamed War and Peace and Russians and Napoleon and Hard Names To Remember and Even Harder to Pronounce and Lots of Talk, Talk, Talk. And Snow. He encourages readers submissions (the above is one such), and boasts, not inaccurately, that his blog is for “people who do not have thousands of hours to read book reviews or blurbs or first sentences. I will cut through all the cryptic crap, and give you the meat of the story in one condensed image. Now you can read the greatest literary works of all time in mere seconds!”

Until next week, read well, read often and read on!




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