Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

L.A. festival draws throngs of people wild for books

April 26, 2009|Mike Anton
  • Crowds fill UCLA on Saturday for the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. One tent sells a device that keeps nosy people out of your romance novels.
Crowds fill UCLA on Saturday for the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.… (Christina House, For The…)

They walk among us, people whose obsession is so extraordinary that it boggles the mind, people whose single-mindedness makes them an exemplar for a time and a place.

On Saturday at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, that person was Dale Johnson, a 55-year-old postal carrier from Portland, Ore., and the owner of more books than many libraries.

"It was 120,000 books nine years ago when we counted them. It's increased considerably since then," said Johnson's wife, Natalie, who was waiting in line to have writer Joseph Wambaugh sign three of his classic police novels. Her husband was off getting signatures from other writers at the festival.

In all, Dale Johnson has more than 40,000 signed books, which, along with the others, fill the couple's 4,000-square-foot home. (Banana boxes make the best storage, Natalie confides from experience. Sturdy. Good handles.)

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, May 02, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 2 inches; 69 words Type of Material: Correction
Book fair: An article in Sunday's California section about the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books erroneously swapped names of the owner of a book jacket company and her customer. Edie Levenson is the company's owner, who had a tent selling cloth book jackets and was quoted saying why people buy her book covers. Nancy Patterson was the customer at her booth who said she thought they were cute.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, May 10, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 2 inches; 73 words Type of Material: Correction
Book fair: In an article in the April 26 California section about the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, the names of the owner of a book jacket company and her customer were transposed. Edie Levenson is the company's owner, who had a tent selling cloth book jackets and was quoted saying why people buy her book covers. Nancy Patterson was the customer at her booth who said she thought they were cute.

"It's his passion," she said of her husband, the son of a librarian. "Why? Because he's crazy."

Crazy for books. On Saturday, Johnson was among his kind as thousands crowded the UCLA campus for Southern California's annual bacchanal of books. The free event continues today from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

"It's a misconception that L.A. is not a book town," said Emily Pullen, a manager for Skylight Books in Los Feliz, which has a booth at the festival with edgy fiction, handmade zines and graphic novels for sale. "It's got an amazingly rich literary culture. New York is the home of the big publishing houses. But there are so many great, amazing and energizing authors who live in L.A."

Author Dan Goodsell was energized one day when he saw someone dressed as a loaf of bread hawking the product on an L.A. street corner.

From that, Goodsell developed "The World of Mr. Toast," a Web-based comic that eventually graduated to book form.

"His is a simple world," Goodsell said of the main character, a warmed slice of bread whose friends are Joe the Egg and Shaky Bacon.

"It's a classic cartoon world where the characters are flexible and they have a lot of adventures. There's not one overarching story. Just little vignettes. It hearkens back to a simpler time."

These, of course, are not simple times, as Adrian Kalvinskas well knows. The economic crisis has left the founder of Distant Lands, a travel-related bookstore in Pasadena, riding a roller coaster the last six months.

"We can track sales by how the stock market is doing," he said. "Sales have been up and down depending on the market day to day. It's a little crazy."

Kalvinskas said his clients tend to be more well-to-do than most. Still, whether he sells a $30 guidebook has a lot to do with whether someone feels comfortable taking a $3,000 trip.

As potential customers pored over his booth's offerings on exotic adventures, Kalvinskas noted recent trends: Europe is hot because of the U.S. dollar's strength. Australia is flying off the shelves because of airfare wars to the land down under. And local hiking books are a bright spot because many people are looking for adventures closer to home.

"You may not have any money, but you still have two feet," Kalvinskas said.

Through the swarm of foot traffic at UCLA on Saturday, Edie Levenson made her way to Nancy Patterson's tent, where there wasn't a book to be found.

"I just think they're the cutest thing," Levenson said as she bought a handful of cloth book jackets from Patterson, who sells them only once a year, at the Festival of Books. "I read constantly and I'm always misplacing my books. With these, they'll be easy to spot."

Jackets were stacked on a table in a dizzying array of colors, patterns and sizes, some with handles, some with hidden pockets. The business is an outgrowth of Patterson's main line of work: manufacturing microwaveable heat pads for sore muscles. The book covers are made from scrap fabric that's left behind.

"People buy them to protect their books," said Patterson, 61. "And some people buy them because they don't want people snooping over their shoulder and seeing what they're reading, whether it's a political book or a romance novel. Some things are nobody's business."

--

mike.anton@latimes.com

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|