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Los Angeles

Making Book on Diversity of Ideas

Festival: Thousands crowd the UCLA campus to hear authors and panels of interest. The Times-sponsored event continues today.

April 28, 2002|ERIKA HAYASAKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

From hip-hop to Hanoi, there were topics for every reader Saturday at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

"It makes you realize how many different genres are out there," said Phoebe Prather, 22, a UC Santa Cruz student. She attended the festival with her mother, Nancy, 54, who drove 250 miles from Lone Pine in Owens Valley to hear mystery writers and other panel speakers.

The Prathers were among thousands who converged on the UCLA campus, crowding into lecture halls to hear their favorite authors and gathering beneath white tents to browse through seemingly endless rows of books, magazines and videos.

The event, which drew 120,000 last year, runs through today, and features 375 authors and 95 panel discussions on an array of issues, including writing history, the Los Angeles riots, criminal minds and Vietnam.

Saturday afternoon, hundreds packed Royce Hall to listen to Ray Bradbury, author of "Fahrenheit 451" and more than 30 other books. Mayor James K. Hahn, who introduced Bradbury, selected "Fahrenheit 451" to promote his "One Book, One City" campaign, an effort to encourage civic pride and literacy.

"We turned this city into one single book club," Hahn said.

City officials, who borrowed the idea from Chicago and Seattle, wanted to choose a book that spoke to Angelenos, Hahn said. They settled on Bradbury's book because it allowed "people to question authority and question long-standing beliefs," the mayor said.

"Fahrenheit 451" is a science fiction book about censorship and rebellion. It was written on typewriters in the UCLA library in 1953, in nine days.

Set in a future world in which the written word is forbidden and firefighters burn books, the book recently topped The Times bestseller list.

Bradbury, 81, who wore thick black-rimmed glasses, a navy blue suit and a colorful tie, spoke to the packed auditorium as he sat in a wheelchair.

"The secret of everything is being in love," he told the audience. "I fell in love with so many things growing up that they became a part of my life later on."

He loved magicians, comic strips, King Kong, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" and King Tut--all of which came through in his writing in some form later in life, Bradbury said.

He spoke about living in Venice for $30 a month rent, not knowing where his next check would come from and cramming to read Herman Melville after being offered a chance to write the screenplay for "Moby-Dick."

Joyce Nelson, 54, of Pasadena said she enjoyed Bradbury's message because it made her think about her own daughter, a jewelry maker.

Nelson said she was not happy about her daughter's choice of a career. But hearing Bradbury speak made her think twice.

"It is what she loves to do," Nelson said. "You basically have to listen to your heart and what's inside for you."

Carolyn Jones, 47, of Los Angeles brought her 7-year-old daughter along to expose her to African American writers.

The pair stretched to look over a throng of hundreds who had gathered to hear poet and writer Maya Angelou on an outdoor stage. Jones said she was looking forward to a panel discussion on African American novelists.

"No matter what walk of life you're from, no matter what your financial situation, there is something here for everyone to enjoy," Jones said. She also was pleased that the event provided free entertainment.

Political topics arose in panels such as "The Time Machine: Writing History," where Julian Jackson, author of "France: The Dark Years, 1940-1944," talked about the far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has been accused of neo-fascism and racism, winning the first round of presidential elections last week.

"Here is a leader who makes jokes about the Holocaust, who makes anti-Semitic jokes," Jackson said. "Here we have a resurgence of the past in the present.... The demons of the past are lurking, not only in France, but in Europe."

In a panel discussion on "Vietnam: The Country Not the War," Gen. Nguyen Cao Ky, who was premier and vice president of the Republic of South Vietnam from 1965 to 1967, spoke about moving on from the past.

"Vietnam is still a love and hate affair," he said. "It's time we just forget about the past.... It is time to build a new bridge between America and Vietnam."

Jenny Fox, 81, and Joyce Willing, 60, both of Granada Hills, wandered into a discussion about hip-hop by Russell Simmons, author of "Life and Def: Sex Drugs, Money and God," just as he was explaining the rise of Curtis Blow and Public Enemy.

Willing, who is not a hip-hop fan, said she didn't understand the context or history, but she was interested when Simmons said young people use rap and spoken-word poetry to face their problems today.

Phoebe Prather said the diversity of the festival is the most important part.

"It helps build tolerance levels of people who are different," she said. "You can be other people, be other places [when you read]."

Her mother added that this is the third year the two have come to the festival, and given the outstanding turnout, it appears society's love of reading is still alive.

"It's so easy not to read any more. You can get information from other media sources and TV," she said. "This makes you realize [that] print isn't losing its place."

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