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Where books reign and readers celebrate

The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books fills the campus at UCLA with wit and wisdom. The festival continues Sunday.

April 24, 2010|By Carla Hall, Los Angeles Times
  • Carl Reiner talks about his latest book, "Tell Me a Silly Story," at Target Children's Stage on Saturday.
Carl Reiner talks about his latest book, "Tell Me a Silly Story,"… (Ann Johansson / For The Times )

Mystery writers can be a dark lot.

"When I was growing up, I was always interested in those books, ‘Women Who Kill,' " Megan Abbott, author of "Bury Me Deep," intoned as her audience laughed. She chuckled. "Strange kid."

Across the UCLA campus Saturday, there were writerly confessions — and not just from the authors of noirish mystery tales — and political musings. Celebrities reflected on their lives, poets read from their works and a person or two could be found strolling the grounds in costume.

For the 15th year, the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, which runs through Sunday, sprawled across the campus of UCLA, offering visitors both logistical and cognitive challenges. For example: Do you hear TV personality Melissa Rivers give advice on how to be "Red Carpet Ready" (the title of her book) or do you listen to an L.A. River expert discuss the future of water? Doing both would require being in two places at the same time. (On the other hand, the panel of science writers convening later Saturday to talk about the universe could tell you how that might be possible one day.)

Rivers and her famous mother, Joan, virtually invented covering the red carpet at awards shows. But Melissa had less advice for her audience than funny stories about her life as a divorced mother, her stints on celebrity TV reality shows and her mother's antics. She's about to begin shooting a reality show in which her mother comes to live with her in the Santa Monica home that Melissa shares with her boyfriend, son, another friend, two dogs and a turtle. "It's called ‘Mother Knows Best?' — with a question mark," she said.

At the mystery writers' panel, another author talked about her parents. Attica Locke, a Hollywood screenwriter turned novelist, channeled her fascination with her own parents' political activism into "Black Water Rising," a novel about a criminal defense attorney in Houston during the Reagan era.

"I'd say to my father, ‘Describe for me the night that Stokely Carmichael came to the University of Houston campus,' " said Locke (who was named for the prison where the infamous uprising occurred decades ago.) "My parents were part of the black power movement.... I was really interested in the pathology of the movement."

For her main character, she borrowed from her father's past. Gene Locke was on trial for inciting a riot in 1970 in Houston — he was acquitted — and became a lawyer.

"My mom read it and cried," Locke told her audience, which included her mother, Sherra Aguirre. "She said, ‘I really feel seen by you.' "

At noon, the campus was covered with wandering festival-goers, along with baby strollers, dogs and small children trailing balloons and toys. A soap bubble wafted by lazily. The air was scented by the sugary smell of churros and kettle corn.

"For us, this is kind of a must-do event," said Steve Miranda of Diamond Bar, who makes the trek to the festival each year with his wife, Lucy.

Fans waited in long lines for authors to sign books.

"I want to get published," said elementary school librarian Heather Nobles, waiting for popular author Meg Cabot ("The Princess Diaries"), not for an autograph but for advice. Nobles wrote a book for young readers about a tumbleweed and its Mojave Desert cohorts. "I have it with me right now," Nobles said.

Early in the afternoon, weary visitors took refuge on the shaded steps of Powell Library. With all the chattering conversations and snow cone vendors barking, it took a few minutes to realize that a young woman standing on the steps talking urgently wasn't shouting to friends. She was reciting her own poetry.

"His name is too big for me — it has my heart causing sparks under my tongue when I try and push it out whole," recited Briauna Taylor, 18, a member of a group of young poets called Get-Lit. (They'll be performing on the Poetry Stage at 10 a.m. Sunday.)

The young poet wasn't the only one ruminating on romance. At the panel of "All the Single Ladies," three memoirists were bitingly funny about love and loss and the jerks they dated. Moderator and advice columnist Amy Alkon merely announced the title of comedy writer Julie Klausner's book, "I Don't Care About Your Band: What I Learned from Indie Rockers, Trust Funders, Pornographers, Felons, Faux-Sensitive Hipsters, and Other Guys I've Dated" — and drew applause from an audience of delighted women and somewhat amused men.

"My book is about how terrible it is to be in your 20s … dating guys who were faux-sensitive," said Klausner, the first of the three to explain her book.

"Mine is about cooking for the guys Julie went out with," said Giulia Melucci, who penned "I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti: A Memoir of Good Food and Bad Boyfriends."

Sascha Rothchild, author of "How to Get Divorced by 30," went last: "Uh, mine is about marrying one of the guys that Julie —" The audience erupted in howls before she could continue.

carla.hall@latimes.com

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