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Festival of Books: Pick a page, any page

The two-day event kicks off with panel discussions, author signings and row upon row of fiction, nonfiction, comics, plays, cookbooks, biographies and more. Some 150,000 attendees are expected.

May 01, 2011|By Mike Anton, Los Angeles Times
  • Jennifer Dao, 15, left, and her friends Paula Quach, 14, and Jessica Dong, 14, read in the shade of USC's campus at the L.A. Times Festival of Books. Dao and Quach were looking through "Cartoon America -- Comic Art in the Library of Congress," and Dong was reading "Sundays at Tiffany's," by James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet.
Jennifer Dao, 15, left, and her friends Paula Quach, 14, and Jessica Dong,… (Genaro Molina, Los Angeles…)

The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books kicked off Saturday with enough books to stock a library (of course), hundreds of authors signing their works and engaging in panel discussions (naturally) and a rousing performance by the University of Southern California marching band.

Say what?

"People think we just play at football games. But we're doing events all the time," said USC student Anthony Ghavami, who plays the snare drum. "Weddings, bar mitzvahs, corporate events…"

"Funerals for alumni," added tuba player Justin Wilburn.

Photos: Festival of Books

The Festival of Books moved from UCLA to USC for the 16th annual event, but aside from the Trojan band and three pom-pom-shaking cheerleaders, the scene was as familiar as a well-worn book.

Visitors could find everything from mysteries to metaphysics, poetry to travel, artful prose to graphic novels at one of the hundreds of exhibitors' tents sprawled across campus.

"It's just so eclectic," said Dave Buckner, 66, of Irvine, a first-time attendee who came with his wife, Kathy, a high school English teacher. "And it's easy to find a bathroom, which is a good thing at my age."

Some 150,000 people are expected to attend the festival, which is free and continues Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Among the events are book readings, cooking demonstrations by celebrity chefs, a wide variety of live music, theatrical performances and scores of interviews with authors discussing their craft and the publishing business.

Panel discussions offer something for nearly everyone — from "The Living Constitution" and "Stories from the South" to actress Barbara Eden of "I Dream of Jeannie" fame discussing her autobiography.

For one weekend, at least, lovers of reading could focus on books, not screens.

"E-readers like the iPad are eventually the way things are going to go, but there's definitely still a market for physical books," said Gian Lisi, who works for Schwabe Books in Simi Valley, which specializes in selling to schools and libraries.

In today's marketplace, a bookseller needs to seek out niches — in Schwabe's case, it's the "$5 or Less Bookstore," a spinoff that was doing brisk business Saturday.

"We're living in a different technological era," Lisi said. "But look at this — people will still buy books, especially if they're a bargain. There are still niche markets that will take a long time to disappear."

Lela Lee's niche combines anger and little girls into a series of comic books that really aren't for little girls, including "Angry Little Girls," "Still Angry Little Girls" and "Angry Little Girls in Love."

"I created the idea in 1994 when I was in college. I was an angry college student. Angry at life. Angry at boys, and parents and society," said Lee, who seemed cheerful enough, although she warned: "I still have a quick trigger."

Brendan Kelso is hoping to hook children with Shakespeare.

Kelso, an engineer and occasional actor, wrote a series of 15-minute Shakespearean plays for children in various age groups.

Shakespeare wasn't writing for elementary school students, but Kelso believes that's the best age to get acquainted with the Bard — providing it's written in language a child understands.

But fishing requires bait, so Kelso hands out a "Shakespeare Insult Generator."

Just combine one Shakespearean word from each of three columns, and as quickly as you can say "beslubbering, clay-brained maggot-pie," the child has invented a 16th century put-down.

"Start them out with this and they'll think, 'Hey, this Shakespeare guy is kind of cool,' " Kelso said. "The best way to learn is to have fun. All you need to do is open the door for them and children will step through."

Photos: Festival of Books

mike.anton@latimes.com

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