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L.A. Times Festival of Books goes beyond words

Attendees listen to poetry, watch cooking sessions, dance to local bands and go to panels on a variety of topics, including Hollywood, crime, graphic novels and political cartoons.

April 20, 2013|By Anna Gorman, Los Angeles Times
  • Collin Hinds carries his son Preston, 4, during the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at USC.
Collin Hinds carries his son Preston, 4, during the Los Angeles Times Festival… (Gary Friedman, Los Angeles…)

Charles McKay makes a detailed spreadsheet of the authors he wants to hear during the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, typing in his first and second choices and getting tickets ahead of time.

Jerry Oborn, from San Diego, said she goes about it another way: "I just wander around."

But McKay and Oborn both said they finish the festival the same way — with a long list of new books to read.

"It takes us months to get through all these books by authors who inspired us," said McKay, who lives in the South Bay.

McKay and Oborn were among the 150,000 people expected to attend The Times' 18th annual book festival, being held this weekend at USC. In clear, hot weather Saturday, visitors listened to poetry, watched cooking sessions, danced to local bands and shopped at dozens of makeshift bookstores. They also attended panels on a variety of topics, including Hollywood, crime, graphic novels and political cartoons.

Introducing the festival Saturday morning, L.A. Times Publisher Eddy Hartenstein said, "This is our gift to the city." And he invited visitors to come see some of the day's speakers — Margaret Atwood, Kevin Starr and Daniel Handler, also known as Lemony Snicket.

McKay said he has been attending the festival for four years and loves hearing the authors' back stories and learning about them as real people.

"It's amazing how great the authors are," he said. "In an hour, it gives you a flavor of their journey."

The festival began the day after the L.A. Times book prizes were awarded.

Ben Fountain, who won the fiction award for "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk," read from his book, which he described as an anti-war novel. "I don't see how you could write a war novel and not have it be political," he said.

Fountain said that when he started writing, he didn't know where the story would go or how it would end. "That's where the discovery happens," he said. "You go by instinct and intuition."

Seated beside him, Lauren Groff, author of "Arcadia," said she researches a topic for about a year before she starts writing. Then, she said, she pens her first few drafts longhand.

"I can't read my own handwriting, so it's good," she said. "My process is nuts."

At an afternoon session, Carol Burnett spoke before a packed lecture hall about her recent memoir that explores her relationship with her daughter, Carrie Hamilton, who died in 2002 at age 38. Burnett said writing the book was a challenge — until she figured out how to do it. Then, she said, "it just kind of poured out."

Burnett also shared anecdotes about working on her long-running television show and recalled how she created some of her most beloved characters. At one point, she did her famous Tarzan yell.

Across campus, families congregated in the children's area, where they were greeted by Curious George and Llama Llama, dressed in red pajamas.

Gisela Monterrosa brought her two daughters, ages 4 and 5, to the festival. Monterrosa said she didn't grow up reading but her daughters can't get enough of it.

"My girls love books," she said. "They are excited because they get to see some of the authors they love."

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