The most unlikely festival

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.

Political cartooning in the spotlight.
At 63, Petit has more vitality (and personality) than most guys half his age.

Chef Feniger is hardly a shrinking violet either.
The whole thing feels like it lives up to the promise of offering something for everyone. In addition to what we did, there are dozens upon dozens of vendors (selling books and a whole lot more), children’s activities, music, and even more films. Almost all of it’s free (though you can assure getting seating by going online and paying $1 per activity.)
Will the book festival make it to the 20-year mark (two years from now)? Will it even be held again next year? Who knows. But if it is, consider making the trip before it vanishes like some glorious Southern California mirage.
Something new this year was the party hosted by The Last Bookstore in downtown LA, which offers both used and new books -- both for sale and incorporated into art works.


Tunnel of books at the Last Bookstore party.


Several readings were going on when we dropped in.


One thought on “The most unlikely festival

  1. czatkin April 22, 2013 / 11:32 pm

    Looking forward to more details over coffee!

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