Tuesday Book Talk: The Festival!

The last weekend in April is always a great time for Southern California book lovers, as we make our way to the UCLA campus to party with the books! I don’t usually go for the entire weekend, but this year I made a full day of it on Saturday – and it was a full day.

Several book bloggers had been planning to meet up and experience the Festival together, but no thanks to a lost e-mail (yes, they get lost in the mail, too), I missed the finalizing of the details on Friday evening. I was almost late to the first of three panels I was attending, but fortunately I had not missed the messages regarding coordinating everyone’s sessions, and the group was expecting me and saving a seat! Official introductions were rushed under the circumstances, but almost weren’t necessary, and we settled in for the discussion about “New Media and Social Networking,” which is what brought us all there together in the first place.

The panel included Wil Wheaton, whose online history goes back to almost the beginning of online history itself and who is now one of the most-followed people on Twitter, and Otis Chandler, founder of Goodreads (the latest of several online-community ventures for him). The emphasis of the panel was on conversation and community, and the variety of forms they take online. I’m not sure I really learned anything new, but it was a good session, and Wil in particular was knowledgeable and funny. (Gentle Reader has a much better recap of this panel in her FoB post on Shelf Life.)

No one was heading directly to another panel after that, so we all went to grab some lunch together, and that was when I actually got to talk to people a bit. No one was an outright stranger to me, but I’ve known some of these women and their book blogs longer than others. Tracy (Gentle Reader) from Shelf Life is one of my newest blog acquaintances, and we had a little time to talk over our salads. She was one of the folks leaving for another panel at 12:30, though, so we couldn’t chat for long. Ti from Book Chatter and Other Stuff arrived around the time several people were leaving – she had been at a different panel. I ended up hanging out with her and Jill (Softdrink) from Fizzy Thoughts for most of the afternoon; we were all going to the same panels, so we wandered around the vendor booths together as we made our way from one auditorium to another.

The afternoon was all about fiction. The 1:30 panel, “Window on the World,” included Lisa See, Jonathan Rabb, Vanina Marsot, and Muriel Barbery. Ms. Barbery was accompanied by a translator, since her native tongue is French and she felt less confident of her spoken English. The general theme of the panel – fiction as a means of viewing the world – arose from the fact that each author’s novel was set in a foreign place or time (or, in Rabb’s case, both). I left the panel looking to purchase copies of Ms. Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog (done, at the Vroman’s booth later in the afternoon) and Ms. Marsot’s Foreign Tongue (not found at the festival or on a Sunday visit to Borders, so that one may be getting ordered online soon), and planning to read Ms. See’s Shanghai Girls once it comes out in paperback – it will be out in hardcover next month, so I’ll be waiting a while.

Jill, Ti, and I all agreed that we really enjoyed our last panel of the day, another fiction session titled “Intimate Strangers.” The theme wasn’t entirely clear, even to the participants, but this one included genuine discussion among the participating authors, Gina Nahai, Jean Hanff Korelitz, Andew Sean Greer, and Janet Fitch, which was certainly more enjoyable for the audience, and I would assume for them as well. (Ms. Nahai and Ms. Fitch both teach in the graduate writing program at USC, so they’ve probably had discussions before.) I’ve read Ms. Nahai and Ms. Fitch before – both of them have books currently in TBR Purgatory, and Ms. Nahai’s newest, Caspian Rain, may be joining them there soon. Ms. Korelitz’ novel Admission has been on my wish list for a couple of weeks already. And when we left the session, all three of us bought copies of Greer’s The Story of a Marriage (autographed by the author at Vroman’s booth just before the panel met), because we’d found him such an engaging panelist.

Everyone’s panels were done by 5:00, and we met up in front of the UCLA Bookstore to carpool to dinner at Jerry’s Deli in Westwood, leaving once we were joined by Trish from Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’?, who got involved in a post-panel discussion of her own and then got stuck in line at one of the book-signing booths.

The great thing about our dinner together – besides the good food – was that the conversation around the table was just a continuation of the same things we talk about online all the time, like blogger/publisher relations, review ethics and practices, and the ever-growing TBR stacks. Outside of the full-table conversation, I was sitting at the end of the table with Wendy (Literary Feline) from Musings of a Bookish Kitty, her husband Anjin, and My Friend Amy (who learned a few things at the Festival), and it was great to have the opportunity to talk with them. I’ve probably known Wendy the longest of all of my book-blogging friends and have hoped to meet her in person for ages – we had attempted to arrange it at last year’s FoB, but it didn’t work out (again, a lost e-mail was to blame). I’m glad it finally happened.

Gentle Reader couldn’t stay for dinner, but here’s a post-dinner photo of the rest of the group (taken by Anjin and borrowed from Ti’s Festival of Books post):

back row: Jill, Ti, Lisa, Trish, Amy
front row: Natasha, me, Wendy

With Amy, Trish, and Natasha from Maw Books Blog, we had half of the book-blogger panel at next month’s Book Expo America in New York City in one room on Saturday night! They left dinner together to do some brainstorming about that (and to work on a vlog…).

This was the first time I’ve gone to the Festival without my husband, and I missed him – people-watching without him just isn’t nearly as much fun. But I don’t think he would have enjoyed the talks as much as I did, and I couldn’t have had better company for those. I’m glad that Lisa from Books on the Brain was willing to take the lead in organizing our book-blogger get-together, and I hope we’ll do it again for next year’s Festival – and if we don’t have to wait that long to meet up again, that would be even better!

(I’m also talking about the Festival, from a slightly different angle, on the LA Moms Blog.)

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  1. Kathy (Bermudaonion) – I totally agree, on all counts! I’m sorry I didn’t get back there for Day 2, but Day 1 was excellent.

    Beth F – We did talk about some of the things that might come up during the panel, and I’m pretty sure you’ll hear more about that from Amy, Natasha, and Trish.

  2. I think staying home and taking a nap was the smart thing to do. I’m still tired, and it’s Tuesday!

    Still, it was worth it…I had a great time and look forward to seeing you next year!

  3. Natasha – I hope the same thing. It was great meeting you too – come back next year!

    Wyatt – Thanks for that info; I checked it out, and I like her photographs. I also saw that Vanina Marsot will be signing copies of Foreign Tongue at Village Books in Pacific Palisades next week.

    Ti – Right back at you! I’m glad it all worked out so well too – same time next year?

    Terri – Hopefully you’ll feel up to attending the Festival next year, and we can meet up then :-).

    Jill (Softdrink) – I think I’m finally recovering. I’m old and it takes me longer 🙂 – I don’t know if I would have made it through two days. I’m glad you’re planning to come back next year!

    Wendy (Literary Feline) – I’m really glad it worked out this year, too! It was so nice to talk with you and Anjin.

    I think you might have enjoyed that panel too; the discussion was very good. I think your recaps of the panels you went to were excellent, by the way – I edited the post to add your link :-).

  4. Florinda! It was lovely to meet you and I’m so glad we had the opportunity to get together. We must do it again next year!

  5. LisaM – I totally agree! And you know that Jill is lobbying to get us to go up to San Jose for Book Group Expo in the fall…maybe there’s a road trip in our future?