My Festival of Books Report, 2010 edition

Disclosure: I attended this event on my own behalf and received no compensation for going or writing about it. I spent my own money on parking, refreshments, and merchandise – the event itself did not charge admission. I brought several books from home to obtain author signatures; two of those were furnished to me for review, which I disclosed in those review posts (linked below), and the rest were purchased.

The major event on California book-lovers’ calendars took place this past weekend, and once again, I was there! The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at UCLA attracts tens of thousands of visitors to the West Los Angeles campus every year during the last weekend of April, and although I could only attend for one of the two days, I wasn’t about to miss it.
Last year, the Festival of Books was the place where several book bloggers met in person for the very first time, and we were eager to have that experience again this year. There were a few new faces in the group when we got together on Saturday morning for coffee and planning the day, and a couple missing from last year – Natasha from Maw Books couldn’t make it out from Utah this time, and Wendy (Literary Feline) of Musings of a Bookish Kitty wasn’t going to be able to come until the second day.

Off to begin our adventures among the books and authors!
(l – r: Mark from Random Ramblings from Sunny Southern CA, Danielle of There’s a Book, Trish from Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’?, Amy/My Friend Amy, yours truly, Jill/Softdrink of Fizzy Thoughts, Lisa from Books on the Brain with her older daughter, and Ti from Book Chatter)

Last year, many of us were interested in the same panels, but we were a bit more diffused this time. The scheduling seemed to be a little different this year; it seemed that more of the book-industry and media-related panels were scheduled for Sunday, while Saturday’s panels were mostly literary, but across a variety of genres and categories. My first panel didn’t start until noon, so I took the early opportunity to browse the exhibitor and vendor booths on my own. I did my duty to support our local independent booksellers, Vroman’s and Book Soup (which is actually owned by Vroman’s now), by purchasing an assortment of memoirs:

For You Mom, Finally, by Ruth Reichl (originally published as Not Becoming My Mother)
Books: A Memoir, by Larry McMurtry (it’s been years since I read any McMurtry, but how could I NOT buy this?)
Not Now, Voyager, by Lynne Sharon Schwartz (a travel memoir)
I’m With the Band: Confessions of a Groupie, by Pamela Des Barres (a minor classic of the celebrity-tell-all genre that I’ve wanted to read for years, although I suspect the sleaze factor is quite high)

My first panel was a fiction discussion titled “Lives Unraveling,” which featured authors Michelle Huneven, Philipp Meyer, Joanna Smith Rakoff, and Christos Tsiolkas. The only one of them I’ve read is Philipp Meyer – I reviewed American Rust, which was awarded the LA Times Book Prize for First Fiction this weekend, a couple of months ago – but Michelle Huneven’s Blame is on my wish list, and Joanna Rakoff’s A Fortunate Age sounds intriguing (despite middling ratings on LibraryThing and Amazon). This panel was probably the one where the writers most engaged in conversation with each other, which I enjoy. I will be discussing American Rust for an online book club soon, so I took notes at that panel, and when I went over to the signing area after the panel to get Philipp to sign his book, I mentioned the upcoming discussion. He told me to e-mail him if I had any questions before then, which was a very nice offer.

My second panel was also a fiction discussion, “Forging Ahead.” This was the “smart, funny women” panel, and all of their books shared the theme of lives in transition. I own books by every member of this panel – The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister, Getting In by Karen Stabiner, and Going in Circles by Pamela Ribon – but haven’t read any of them yet. The last of these writers was the big draw for me; now a novelist and screenwriter, I’ve been reading her since she was a recapper for Television Without Pity earlier in the decade, and she’s been blogging at since “blogs” were “online diaries.” Her newest novel is an autobiographically-inspired story of divorce and roller derby, and she wrote in my copy that I had “the prettiest name (she’d) ever written here. You win!” (And you could win too, in a contest that could bring Pamie and roller derby to your book club!)

I went to my final panel of the day with Amy, a memoir discussion whose topic, “Keeping the Faith,” is one of great interest to us both. The room was packed, so clearly we’re not the only ones intrigued by the subject, and the panelists were an interesting group who came to the the question of faith from a variety of directions. I was most looking forward to hearing and meeting Hope Edelman, since her book The Possibility of Everything was the only one I’ve read already, but I want to read the books of every member of this panel: Devotion by Dani Shapiro, Losing My Religion by William Lobdell (a former religion writer for the LA Times), and Faith, Interrupted: A Spiritual Journey, by Eric Lax. The conversation was fascinating and could have easily gone on far longer. In the signing area after the panel, Hope noticed that the copy of The Possibility of Everything I asked her to sign was an ARC, and I explained about being a book blogger who had also participated in the Silicon Valley Moms Group book club for the memoir. She informed me that none of the mommy-blogger heat she’s taken for the book came out of that group, which was rather reassuring. (If you read the book, and you know something about mommy blogs, you will not be too surprised that some have reacted rather fiercely.)


The book bloggers re-convened around 5 PM on the steps of the Student Union building, now joined by Leah from Amused by Books and Thea of The Book Smugglers, and headed to nearby Jerry’s Deli for dinner, recaps of the day, and other bookish conversation.

(around the table, l – r: Mark, me, Thea, Lisa, Danielle and her husband Alan, Leah, Amy, Jill, Ti)

I didn’t go back to the Festival on Sunday, but I’m sure it was just as much fun. The weather was gorgeous, the books were plentiful, and the company was excellent. I can’t wait to do it all again next year!

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