Monday, April 25, 2005

LA Times Festival of Books 2005

Some weeks, the blogging commentary just comes forth without effort, and other weeks are marked by barren landscapes of thought and activity. The past two weeks have been filled with much activity, and little to show for it on this site. Nonetheless, my period of (in)activity was topped this past weekend by the 10th Annual LA Times Festival of Books, now one of the largest bibliophile festivals on the west coast, and associated happenings.

A few comments and observations are in order:

I've organized and chaired more than a few panels at professional meetings in the U.S. and abroad, so I have some experience about what makes for a good moderator, and a poor one. Next year, if you are selected to chair a panel, please keep in mind the following:

A) Time is important - make sure a panelist doesn't hog the microphone, it's a panel, not a presentation.

B) A Q&A Session is one structured around brief questions from the audience, and succinct answers from panelists. It is not, and should not, be a "Speech and Answer" session, giving airhead windbags a moment of theatrical elevation at the expense of everyone else in the room.

C) Control the discussion by taking the middle road: Most of those in the audience are not industry "insiders," so they won't get obscure jokes or references, nor are they complete dimwits - this is a book festival, not a NASCAR race. Have panelists briefly explain concepts or historic events that might not be familiar to everyone in the audience, and keep the discussion away from esoterica.

Last comment: Getting tickets for this is a pain! While free at participating TicketMaster locations in SoCal, repeat festival goers know that in order to get into the larger events (i.e., cosmological writers and/or celebrities) you have to camp out in line far in advance of the noon release. This year I arrived at the Pasadena spot at 11:45 am and finally picked up my tix at 2:15 pm! The experience would not have been as traumatic if senior citizen "Ruth" and her friends standing immediately behind me had not complained incessantly about the most mundane minutia for the entire 2 1/2 hours. Finding parking in Westwood on a Saturday and Sunday was a breeze compared to that experience.

Now for the observations. First, it was thankfully cooler this year, and we were spared from a chance of Saturday afternoon rain on the UCLA campus. Saturday morning I went to the "Writers in Exile" panel, primarily to see Chris Abani, who has written a wonderful first novel Graceland, but the feel in the room and at the signing afterward was that many came to see Ved Mehta, a well-known writer and former staff writer at The New Yorker (and another victim of Tina Brown's tenure). The afternoon was capped with another great fiction panel, "First Fiction: Finding a Voice" featuring Lisa Glatt and Sarah Shun-lien Bynum (another Iowa grad). Lisa regaled us with a hilarious account of going out to dinner with a fellow student at Sarah Lawrence who was "obviously insance" but lacking any other friends Lisa continued to have dinner with her unbalanced fellow MFA student in the name of companionship, if not sanity. And when the moderator Mark Rozzo (first fiction editor at the LATRB) reminded everyone to turn off their cell phones, Lisa was the first to jump off her chair and do so (usually, this request is directed at member of the audience, not the panel).

Saturday night Jim Ruland hosted yet another memorable gathering of irreverent writers and poets at the Mountain Bar in Chinatown for Vermin on the Mount, an occasional reading series, this time co-sponsored by Swink Magazine. I think it was the best by far, with a respectable crowd. Julianne Flynn read from her work-in-progress novel Buzzkill, and let us see the face behind the legs on her lit blog. She has posted several pictures of the evening for those of you who might want to see "proof" that there is a thriving literature community in Los Angeles. And Mark Sarvas, who detailed happenings at the Festival of Books on a real-time basis at The Elegant Variation read from his novel under construction.

Sunday I popped in at a couple panels on Hollywood (last year I focused on Crime and Mystery writers, this year, the other sordid aspect of LA) and finished with "A Sense of Place: The Liturature of Cities" featuring Marc Cooper, who has just completed a work on Las Vegas. But, in a final gesture of bureaucratic irony, the moderator's gavel was given to Thomas Curwen, the LAT editor of the Outdoor Section, on a panel of writer and researchers who focus on cities and urban areas. Go figure.

Still, highly enjoyable and rewarding. Make the effort to go next year - just don't get stuck next to Ruth in line.


J-Fly said...

Hey there,
Does this mean you came to the reading and didn't say hello?


Sybille Amber said...

Hi, angry anthropologist, I hope I can come next year´s LA Times Festival of Books...