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70,000 Navigate Crowds at 9th Festival of Books

They make purchases from some of the 280 exhibitors and choose from 90-plus events.

April 25, 2004|Cara Mia DiMassa | Times Staff Writer

Dawyn Price has attended the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books each of the event's nine years. She has learned from experience, she said Saturday, that navigating it takes certain tools.

A buddy system helps, as does a suitcase. As Price, 37, of Diamond Bar, sat outside the Book Soup booth around noon, three books by Carrie Fisher tucked under one arm, she showed a grid she'd made on her computer of the authors she wanted to "get" -- festival parlance for having authors sign books. Alice Walker, Maria Shriver and Eric Jerome Dickey were among her targets.

The festival, which continues today, drew 70,000 people to the UCLA campus Saturday. Under sunny skies, fans mingled with their favorite authors: celebrity scribes like Fisher, Larry King and Julie Andrews, and wordsmiths, such as Wole Soyinka, Jane Smiley and Edward P. Jones (who recently won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his book "The Known World").

They bought books from some of the 280 exhibitors and tried to choose from the 90-plus events.

The talk at several of the panels focused on the war in Iraq. Panelist after panelist mentioned the photographs released by the Air Force last week of the coffins of soldiers returning from Iraq.

Appearing on a panel titled "The Seduction of War," New York Times writer Chris Hedges told the audience that while the technology of war has changed, "the fundamental essence and attraction of war has not."

The electronic media's coverage of Iraq, he said, has been largely an "exaltation of the power of our country's weaponry, and by extension our power."

The public doesn't want to hear about the carnage of war, he said, because the "myth is too powerful, and too enticing."

In a panel discussion titled "Can America Pursue a Moral Foreign Policy?," panelist Samantha Power (author of "A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide") said it is "important to be feared but essential to be respected. This is something the United States has squandered."

Times book editor Steve Wasserman said that the festival's programming committee had invited "many people" with other political viewpoints but many had declined for a variety of reasons.

"In some measure, we are constricted by what's being published; we are at the mercy of the books being bought and issued to the public," Wasserman said. A number of recent books have been critical of the Bush administration, he said, and many of those authors were present at the festival.

"In those cases where we weren't able to achieve ... a strict diversity of opinion, we encouraged our moderators to pose questions that would challenge the presumptions and prejudices of both the panelists and the listening public," he added.

A gentler view of government was found in the children's area, where the singers School House Rock Unplugged entertained the stroller set with the song "We the People," a primer on the structure of the U.S. government.

Watching her granddaughter rock along to the music, Sheryl Farmer of Rancho Cucamonga said, "She loves this."

Farmer said she also had the event down to a system: "I always look at the events for the children and schedule my time around them."

Many festival attendees Saturday said that they were seasoned veterans of previous years' events and had diligently prepared.

Andrew Walters brought a programming grid and a cooler full of sandwiches for his waits in line to have books signed by William Gibson and Donald Westlake.

Norma Bartholomew, a teacher from Riverside, said her students had been learning about Ray Bradbury, a perennial festival favorite who spoke in Royce Hall. She'll give those who make the trek from Riverside extra credit for attending the event and writing about their experiences.

Bartholomew said she hopes that seeing and perhaps meeting their favorite authors will serve as an inspiration.

Meanwhile, she'd been waiting 40 minutes to have Carrie Fisher sign her copies of "Postcards from the Edge" and "Surrender the Pink." Seeing the authors and meeting fellow bibliophiles was, she said, "a total blast."

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