So after a few weeks away from blogging due to focusing on work (and then getting sick for ALL of Memorial Day weekend – go me!), I’m coming back today with my first post to recap my experience at the LA Times Festival Of Books.
This year was not just my first time attending the festival, but also my first time attending a book festival of this size in general. I bought myself an All Access Pass (more on that below) and created a schedule of author conversations I wanted to attend (having to make some hard decisions along the way to see one set of authors versus another).
I had a really amazing time getting to see many authors I already loved or had heard of before in person, and listening to interesting conversations on literature, nonfiction, writing and reading. Weirdly enough, I saw mostly nonfiction authors on Day 1 and mostly fiction on Day 2. I’m splitting up my reviews of each day so I can do them justice. Day 2 should be up early next week. I hope you enjoy these recaps!
- The festival itself was huge, with hundreds of booths lining the avenues of USC and panels sprawled out in buildings across campus. However, I felt the vendor booths themselves were a bit of a letdown. I only walked through once and quickly realized there was little I wanted to stop for. Most of the booths were rented out by very obscure self-published authors trying to drum up interest in their titles, and as much as I understand the impetus, I personally tend to steer away from self-published work.
- Getting an All Access Pass was a great idea. It’s definitely on the more expensive side ($100 for both days) but it comes with valet parking at the venue (when regular parking around USC would be $40 for both days combined anyways) and you don’t have to pay to register for the conversations (which would be $2 per conversation or $14 for the 7 I attended).
- I felt that the more expensive pass was absolutely worth it for me because it allowed me to see all the conversations I wanted to, even if some only had a 30 minutes break between them. Having an All Access Pass meant I didn’t have to line up for the conversations ahead of time, since rows at the front of each room were reserved for All Access Pass holders and we could enter ahead of the rest of the line. I used the time in between events, instead, to get books signed and then run over to the next panel. I’ll definitely invest in this pass again next year.
- The conversations and book signings were really what made the event worth it. Hearing authors I love or am curious about speak about their work in well-constructed panels and then getting to meet them in person and come away with a personalized memento was just such a special experience. And being able to attend so many different panels and signings in two days was incredible!
- The food trucks at the event were pretty good. I actually started both mornings with breakfast off-campus at Jacks And Joe – a well known USC area restaurant that has a simplified menu and THE MOST delicious pancakes. For lunch I got lobster grilled cheese from the Cousins Maine Lobster truck both days, followed by ice cream for another nearby truck. I only wish all the food trucks had been centralized in one area, rather then spread out at all four poles of the event.
I fit this panel into my book festival schedule primarily because it was nonfiction focused and because there wasn’t another talk at the same time that I was more interested in. I read Praire Fires several months ago and didn’t really like it – I felt that it was too drawn out and repetitive. However, hearing Caroline Fraser talk about the iconic nature of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life and then digress after a question into the part of the book I found most engrossing (an account of the locust plagues that affected the American prairie during Wilder’s life) was still interesting.
The real surprise of the talk for me was learning more about William Fox, the man who is at the center of Vanda Krefft’s biography The Man Who Made The Movies. Krefft clearly had done extensive research on his life and portrayed his story as that of an entirely self-made man and passionate idealist who lost much of his empire to corporate greed. I ended up buying a copy of the biography and got it signed after the panel. It’s definitely on the heavier side at 944 pages in hardcover (gasp!) but I work in the entertainment industry so I should probably take the time to learn more about its origins.
Lawrence Wright was an absolute riot to hear speak. He had the audience laughing along to the many funny anecdotes he shared from start to finish. His journalistic background and experience as a researcher is clear in how eloquently he speaks about his work. He primarily talked about his new book God Save Texas, but I was even more interested to hear about his book on Scientology – Going Clear – which I mention as my favorite (critical) introduction to the “church’s” history in my Scientology Book List.
In response to a question from the audience, he joked that he wasn’t really worried about writing a book about Scientology (despite the fact they’re notoriously vindictive to those who criticize them), because he had just finished writing The Looming Tower about Al Qaeda – definitely the more significant risk. His wife, however, was more concerned about the Scientologists. They did get threats all the time after he published Going Clear and Scientology even posted attack ads about him online and assigned private investigators to follow him. He still feels he got off relatively easy because there have been stories of Scientology getting writers who were critical of the church in the past framed for murder to committed to a mental institution. Frighteningly, that’s not hard to believe.
I decided to attend this panel because there were multiple authors or titles I recognized in the mix, and I thought the topic of fiction including seriously damaged characters would be very interesting to me. I do sometimes go for the darker fiction, sometimes with terrifying emotional or physical abuse involved.
Each of the books involved parents who damaged their children in different (often quite out there) ways and the authors reflected on what their novels revealed about the meaning of motherhood or parenthood and the social and governmental expectations of being a parent.
Ultimately, I wanted to wait until I had heard these authors speak before I decided if to purchase one of their novels to get signed. I looked through the novels on Goodreads while the panel was wrapping up and none of them rated above 4.0 stars, so I ended up deciding to skip the signing on this one. I’m wondering if they’re very polarizing titles because of the content which could potentially be uncomfortable for a significant portion of readers. Let me know in the comments if you ended up really loving any of the four novels listed above.
Megan Rosenbloom – book coming out in 2019
This ended up being possibly my favorite panel of the entire book festival. It may be morbid and it may be weird but I’ve always been fascinated to learn more about death – both from a biological and from a cultural perspective. I’ve read a few books specifically on the topic – Stiff by Mary Roach, Working Stiff by Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell and Being Mortal by Atul Gawande – with the idea of putting together a book list of nonfiction titles on Death in the near-future (yes, really).
That’s what led me to Catilin Doughty’s new release From Here To Eternity, and her previous book, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes. I just finished Smoke Gets In Your Eyes and thought it was excellent, and my real life book club was inspired by my account of the panel to pick From Here To Eternity as our June 2018 selection.
The panel was a riveting discussion of the traditional system of funeral parlors and cemeteries in America, and how it’s essentially a racket that exerts pressure against any type of modernization in body disposal and burial that would mean cheaper and more eco-friendly funerals and burials for the rest of us. I learned about aquamation, a form of cremation that is better for the environment but still quite rare in the US, and the panelists also discussed something I was already familiar with – the fact that graves in Europe have an expiry date and if not renewed are reused. Maybe I’m a weirdo but I found the entire conversation so interesting. And then I got the amazing signature below from Caitlin Doughty, which topped off the whole experience.
Have you attended the LA Times Book Festival or similar large book festivals in your area? What did you enjoy most about them?
You can also read other recent posts on Novels And Nonfiction including my January 2018 Book Of The Month reviews, review of nonfiction title A False Report by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong, review of contemporary fiction novel The Wangs Vs. The World by Jade Chang and my list of May 2018 Book Releases I’m looking forward to.
Please note this post contains affiliate links from Book Depository.