An Angeleno’s Ultimate Literary Workout: LAT Festival of Books Part I

(Note: Bea Brooks has kidnapped Tuesday’s Child Denise Dietz in a move to win the hat contest at Malice Domestic. As a result, Wednesday is beginning a little early this week.)

Naomi Hirahara

I’ve been doing my body crunches and push-ups expressly for this weekend: yup, it’s time for the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

I’ve been to the first and every one since–it’s going on its 11th year (wow, unbelievable). I’ve been inspired, angered, energized, and always entertained by the amazing variety of writers at the festival. They have included Sherman Alexie (husband’s favorite), Walter Mosley, Anne Proulx, Maya Angelou, Tony Hillerman, Alexander McCall Smith, Jane Smiley, Percival Everett, Arthur Golden, Sandra Tsing-Loh, Mike Davis, Richard Flanagan, and the list goes on. But what’s even more notable is the sheer number of people who go to this thing, the shine in their eyes as they open up the spine of a new book find, the anticipation as they line up for a panel featuring that favorite writer who they’ve never seen in person before, the conversation between that small press publisher with that special-interest enthusiast. It’s the ultimate rock concert for the book geek.

THREE GREAT THINGS ABOUT THE LAT FESTIVAL OF BOOKS

1) Reportedly 120,000-130,000 people go to this festival, the largest public book gathering in the nation, over its two days. Even if you knock a couple of tens of thousands down for crowd inflation, you have a population that’s larger than most American cities. And they are all folks who are at least nominally interested in the written word. The festival dispels the image of L.A. being a cultural wasteland, concerned with only Botox, celluloid, and cellulite. (But, on the other hand, I won’t mention who Robert Scheer’s going to be talking to on Sunday at noon.)

I love the atmosphere of the event. The crowds are like waves on a beach–it’s mesmerizing to just watch them going from booth to booth.

2) Admission is free. Probably the biggest factor in achieving No. 1.

3) Authors, books, authors, books. To be specific, more than 350 authors and 300 book booths, a bulk of them independent booksellers.

THREE NOT SO GREAT THINGS ABOUT THE LAT FESTIVAL OF BOOKS

1) That approximately 120,000-130,000 people go to this festival. If you’re not into crowds, what can I say? Well, first of all, go early, even before it officially opens at 10 a.m. Bring some tea or coffee and walk through the Murphy Sculpture Garden. Go to the festival until noon, when the crowd really starts to buzz. The food has vastly improved and the prices are not as outrageous as for a hot dog and Coke at a Laker game, but I’d still recommend you bring water and snacks. Who wants to wait a half an hour for a chicken teriyaki bowl, when you can be looking at more books!

2) Parking has gone up to $8. I like to park in the far north parking structure Lot 3, not recommended for the handicapped or those who have problems walking. Forget about the high heels and kinky boots, and for the fair skinned, bring that hat and sun screen. So far this has said that there’s a small chance of rain on Saturday, but yeah, we’ve heard that before.

3) The festival is usually scheduled on the same weekend as this worthy event.

There will be more than a hundred panels all throughout the weekend–some in lecture rooms that seat 200; one that seats 1,800. Although the events are free, seating is limited in the indoor venues, so it’s best if you get tickets beforehand through Ticketmaster. You have until Thursday at 5 p.m. to preorder, but be prepared, you may leave empty handed. In fact, you had to go stand in line this past Sunday at noon, when tickets were first made available, to get into the more popular events. Apparently at my local Ticketmaster location, more than 50 people were in line an hour before it opened.

If you didn’t get a chance to go to Ticketmaster, don’t despair. The festival holds onto 15 percent of the tickets to distribute on the days of the festival. Each venue also has a stand-by line; just go early. Moreover, there are these outdoor stages that do not require tickets. That’s where you can see T. Jefferson Parker, Robert Crais, and Michael Connelly read and discuss their books. The Children’s Stage is where all the celebrities will be: Henry Winkler, Rhea Perlman, Barney, Billy Crystal, Julie Andrews Edwards, and John Lithgow (will this trend never end?).

This year 1 p.m. on Saturday looks like the panels’ prime-time hour. Joan Didion will be in conversation with L.A. Times book review editor David Ulin; Michael Connelly and Robert Crais will be talking to each other; Ayelet Waldman will be part of a panel on "Fiction: Reinventing the Family." And more.

Authors wonder on how they can get on a panel. The festival is not organized by the L.A. Times Book Review section or editorial staff; you have to approach the festival directly by four to six months earlier. If you need more info, I would suggest you ask this mystery writer, the queen of connections in L.A. Because of some personal stuff that was happening around the holidays, I dropped the ball in trying to get on a panel, but I’ll be signing at a number of booths. With 60,000 individuals who have some interest in books milling about each day, it’s an amazing marketplace.

For example, my easiest book sale ever occurred at the festival last year.

Naomi to a passerby who fit her series reader profile: Hey, you should buy this book.

The passerby, opening his wallet: Okay.

As easy as that. And as Hollywood goes, there’s always a sequel, so turn in tomorrow to hear perspectives from participating booksellers, publishers, and more authors!

8 thoughts on “An Angeleno’s Ultimate Literary Workout: LAT Festival of Books Part I

  1. JT Ellison

    Makes me want to move to LA, if only for a weekend. What an amazing line-up. One day…Thanks for all that great info. I look forward to tomorrow’s installment.

    Reply
  2. Louise Ure

    Naomi, thanks for all the helpful tips. I’m attending the LAT FOB and signing at several mystery bookstore booths this weekend for the first time. You’ve made it even more exciting for me now, and a little less scary!

    Louise

    Reply
  3. Brett Battles

    I can’t wait for this weekend! I remember wandering around last year thinking “oh my God, there is so much here!” I think I eventually left because I felt overwhelmed and my mind had gone numb.

    Thanks, Naomi, for the great breakdown. I look forward to reading more tomorrow (and seeing you this weekend.)

    Reply
  4. Naomi

    Louise–

    One hundred thousand Angelenos all together in one place not scary? You must be an extrovert!

    I see that your paperback book has just come out–excellent. Paperbacks do the best at the festival, unless you are aiming for the collectible market.

    One thing for a newbie and festival virgin–you’ll have to initiate conversations with strangers. So have your logline, whatever, ready.

    I signed with Joanne Fluke one year, which was quite serendipitous. People kept coming over for her delicious cookies.

    And try to go to at least one program/panel. One year all I did was sign books and really missed out on the content.

    Reply
  5. Naomi

    Brett–

    It’s easy to be overwhelmed. Tomorrow I’ll cover where the mystery bookstore booths will be located so you could target those first. I’d try to go to at least one panel, even maybe something you know little about.

    The panels serve to anchor the entire event.

    I only have 10 a.m. on Saturday open for a panel so I got tickets for Jim Fusilli and KCRW’s Nic Harcourt’s music biz panel; a panel on building a creative community with Carolyn See and others; and finally one on revising history with Jennifer Haigh, Luis Rodriguez, Harry Turtledove, and Jonathan Kirsch. I think I’m going to the history one because of the interesting mix of panelists and my personal interest in history. But the other two seem great, too. Not to mention the Roberge/Seranella/Wilson/Klinger session and the Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson pairings during the same time. Riches, such riches.

    Reply
  6. Elaine

    Egad, Naomi! I’m dizzy just thinking about the crowds! If I go next year, can I hold your hand? Have a terrific time and sell a zillion! Oh,keep an eye out for Louise-you’ll love meeting her if you haven’t already.

    Reply

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