Two hours ago I got back from attending the LA Times Festival of Books and I want to tell you all about it before I forget it all. Because apparently the fact that I jokingly say I have the memory of a goldfish is totally true (apparently it’s a myth that goldfish have a 3 second memory, but I’m all about selective belief, so I’m going to believe, for purposes of my story, that goldfish have a 3 second memory).
I forgot to grab my camera before I left for Southern California which is a 7 hour drive from where I am. I thought about getting a disposable camera but decided that no pictures aren’t the end of the world.
The festival started off, for me, with one of the best, if not The Best, panel of the weekend: Fiction: Life Stories, moderated by David Kipen, who I ended up loving to fangirl proportions (see picture below) for his enthusiasm and preparation and general awesomeness.
To be fair, Kipen had quite the panel with Paul Harding (Pulitzer Prize winning author of Tinkers), Colson Whitehead, and Rafael Yglesias. I ended up buying both Whitehead’s Sag Harbor and Yglesias’ A Happy Marriage. The panel was quite entertaining with Colson’s humor, Harding’s self-deprecating manner, and Yglesias’ fascinating story about how he ended up writing A Happy Marriage (he wanted to write a book about the ups and downs of a long-term marriage, but he knew he would want to include many of his personal experiences, and a couple of years after his wife passed away, he realized he had that opportunity). I’d wanted to get Harding to sign my copy of Tinkers, but I left the freaking book at home. Gah.
One thing all three authors have in common is that not a lot happens in any of their books, so they all talked about what it’s like to keep a story interesting when nothing is really happening. Whitehead has the gift of humor, though his humor is subtle and easy to miss in Sag Harbor.
I think everyone, from the panelists to the audience, was jealous of Yglesias because his first book was published when he was 17, and he’s been writing ever since. He makes the art of getting published look like child’s play, while Harding relayed how Tinkers was rejected over and over.
I made a point to go to the Fiction: Writing the Fantastic panel because *coughLevGrossmancough* was on that panel. I don’t want Mr. Grossman to know what a freaking huge crazy fan I am, though I DID accost him after the panel and told him what a freaking huge crazy fan I am, but I don’t want him to find me just in case he Google Alerts his name.
(I read all his reviews and even watch these podcasts he does with this other dude about technology. I love it because he is such a nerd about technology. But I have to admit I picked up his book *coughTheMagicianscough* and read 78 pages then abandoned it. So when I accosted him I made sure not to lie and I said, “I love almost everything you’ve written.”)
The Writing the Fantastic panel largely went over my head because the moderator asked such involved and convoluted questions, but I was able to catch when Grossman, talking about his upbringing (lived in the suburbs, middle class, video game geek), said that he realized one day that his history is just that he’s a HUGE NERD.
To round off Saturday, I saw Michael Silverblatt interview Yann Martel, author of The Life of Pi and Beatrice & Virgil, which is his latest. I loved the interview and thought Martel provided some great insights into writing and reading, though I found him rather aloof when I had him sign my copy of Beatrice & Virgil. One of the audience members asked Martel if his use of animals, with their general lack of gender in literature, was purposeful. Martel denied that, but the question really made him think.
(I know I should have more specifics about what was said, but I didn’t have my notebook with me and, well, I’m lame. Sorry.)
When the festival was over, I almost lost my car. I was hobbling around in shoes that were comfortable for the first, oh, 6 hours, but at this point, around 5:30pm, I was ready to gnaw off my feet at the ankles because surely that would have been less painful. The reason I almost lost my car was because when I arrived at UCLA, I didn’t know where the hell I was going so I just pulled into a garage. I was stoked when I realized how close I was to the actual festival, but I only wrote down P3 East, which is what the sign said in the garage where I parked. Little did I know that UCLA has 12 parking garages, numbered P1-P12, and P3 was merely referring to the level I was on. MY CAR COULD HAVE BEEN ANYWHERE. After hobbling around for 30 minutes, I was starting to panic because a quick assessment of the position of the sun (using my fingers as a guide) showed I had an hour and a half to find my car. With a campus the size of UCLA, I figured I better HURRY THE HELL UP. I ended up finding my car directly across from where I was having my melt down.
After my car fiasco, I met up with some really inspiring and amazing bookish folk. While enjoying drinks with my new friends, I spotted *coughLevGrossmancough*! Are you starting to see a theme? I was able to stalk that guy all weekend.
The panels I saw on Sunday were largely ho hum (though I did tweet quite a bit from the Publishing: The Editors Speak Out panel, but that’s because it was a fairly straightforward panel). The one panel that was amazing was Fiction: Unstoppable Voices, with Susan Straight as the moderator. One of the panelists, Maile (pronounced like Miley) Meloy, author of Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It, I was particularly excited to see because I’ve been meaning to read her book for a few months now. When the panelists were asked advice on how to make yourself write, Jane Smiley replied with something along the lines of, “Have lots of kids and lots of horses so that when you do get a chance to write, you take it.”
I almost forgot that the panel The Art of the Critic was particularly exciting because *coughLevGrossmancough* ended up being added to the panel at the last minute. He really took that panel to another level, because I didn’t think David Ulin was a particularly good moderator. Grossman talked about how reviewers are in the business of entertaining people, and ultimately reviewers are writing for the reader, not the writer.
I was surprised to see that *coughLevGrossmancough* doesn’t write negative reviews anymore because I didn’t think his review of Beatrice & Virgil was particularly complimentary. In fact, I got the distinct impression he didn’t like it. I’ll never know, though, because I ended up rushing from this panel so I could go meet Jen from Jen’s Book Thoughts.
I was really stoked to hook up with Jen, even though we only were together for 30 minutes tops. In that 30 minutes, she managed to get me to buy:
I hate to paint Jen as this crazy amazing book pusher (which, is really not a lie. I know she’s never steered me wrong on a book, and I know she’s wracking up quite the body count of bloggers to whom she’s all, If you liked this, you’ll like that. I feel like a junkie around her. “TELL ME WHAT TO BUY!”), because it’s not like I didn’t totally fuel my own habit myself:
Not too bad, huh?
The best part of the festival was seeing so many people excited about books. It doesn’t matter if these folks read a book a month, a book a year, or 500 books a year. They all made a point to be at a festival that focused purely on books. Reading is such a solitary experience, and to feel the excitement from all these folks was really amazing. It made me excited to be a reader.
Here’s some other LATFOB recaps (more will be added as more become available):