Every year I go, I can't believe the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books still exists. This last weekend was the 18th time it has unfolded and the 9th consecutive one I've attended. Since it began, bookstores have died off en masse. The Times itself is in bankruptcy, its future in doubt. And yet the festival not only took place this year as it has before, but our experience was as pleasurable as ever.
Over our two days on the USC campus, Steve and I spent time in 8 events. We judged three to be stupendous: the hour we spent listening to sci-fi master Orson Scott Card, the crackling panel focusing on political cartoons, and the knot-tying (and teaching) performance by Philippe Petit, the tightrope artist who commanded global attention 40 years ago when he danced on a wire at the top of the World Trade Center towers. We liked two other panels where the talk ranged from Hollywood mogul Lew Wasserman to the early years of Saturday Night Live and Joseph Papp's Public Theater to the role of storytelling in human life to a scientific defense of procrastination. Watching celebrity chef Susan Feniger whip up Asian millet puffs on the outdoor cooking stage (and then toss them out, as one might lob nutrition pellets at the bears in the zoo) was fun too. To the panel of novelists gathered under the dubious title “The Ties that Bind” and the one discussing “Landscapes Real and Imagined,” our reaction was lukewarm — but even those included a few valuable nuggets.