Jewish Journal

Choicest of the choice

A guide to the L.A. Times Book Festival

by Jonathan Kirsch

Posted on Apr. 18, 2012 at 1:25 pm

Much has changed in the book business since the Los Angeles Times launched its Festival of Books 17 years ago, but the FOB — as it is fondly known — remains the premier event of the literary calendar for the more than 100,000 readers and writers who never miss it.

The 2012 outing will be held April 20-22 on the campus of USC, a venue that was adopted last year after the festival’s many years on the campus of the Trojans’ cross-town rival, UCLA. USC may have seemed a bit distant for Westsiders, but last year’s inaugural outing at the new location turned out to be rich, lively, diverse, accessible and well-attended.

Admission is free, and parking is $10. For tickets and a complete list of events and participants, visit the Festival of Books Web site at events. latimes.com/festivalofbooks.

The festivities begin on Friday evening, April 20, when the 32nd annual Los Angeles Times Book Prizes will be presented at 7:30 p.m. in Bovard Auditorium on the USC campus. The ceremony is open to all. In addition to prize winners in a dozen topical categories ranging from “First Fiction” to “Graphic Novel,” it will be my honor to present the Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement, named for my book-critic father, to Rudolfo Anaya, author of “Bless Me, Ultima” and other classic works of Chicano literature.

The panels, interviews, addresses and performances will run Saturday, April 21, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, April 22, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at venues across USC’s campus. Hundreds of authors and performers will participate in panels, readings, and both theatrical and musical performances. I’ve listed below just a small sampling of what I see as standout attractions.

The celebrities who participate in the Festival of Books include a roster of best-selling authors, some famous for their literary achievement and some famous for other things, not only Anne Rice (“The Wolf Gift”), Anne Perry (“The Sheen on the Silk”), A. Scott Berg (“Lindbergh”), T. Jefferson Parker (“The Jaguar”), T. C. Boyle (“San Miguel”), Joseph Wambaugh (“Harbor Nocturne”), Susan Orlean (“Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend”), Irvin D. Yalom (“The Spinoza Problem: A Novel”) and Judy Blume (“Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret”), but also Bethenny Frankel (“Skinnydipping: A Novel”), Cheryl Burke (“Dancing Lessons: How I Found Passion and Potential on the Dance Floor and in Life”), Florence Henderson (“Life Is Not a Stage: From Broadway Baby to a Lovely Lady and Beyond”), Betty White (“Betty & Friends: My Life at the Zoo”), Ricki Lake (“Never Say Never: Finding a Life That Fits”), Tori Spelling (“Celebratori”), Sugar Ray Leonard (“The Big Fight: My Life In and Out of the Ring”) and even Rodney King (“The Riot Within: My Journey From Rebellion to Redemption”).

The Poetry Stage will feature readings by, among others, Judith Pacht (“Summer Hunger”), James Ragan (“Too Long a Solitude”), Carol Muske-Dukes (“Twin Cities”), Kevin Prufer (“In a Beautiful Country”), Campbell McGrath (“In the Kingdom of the Sea Monkeys: Poems”) and Kelli Anne Noftle (“I Was There for Your Somniloquy”), and even a ceremony for a new issue of commemorative stamps in honor of 20th century poetry.

Here is a small sampling of the many intriguing panels, all of which are listed and described at the Festival of Books Web site.

“Visions of the West,” a panel that I will moderate, features Daniel Arnold (“Early Days in the Range of Light”), Deanne Stillman (“Mustang”) and Susan Suntree (“Sacred Sites”).

“Fiction: Family Ties” features Janet Fitch (“Paint It Black”), Julie Otsuka (“The Buddha in the Attic”) and Christopher Tilghman (“Roads of the Heart: A Novel”), and is moderated by John Freeman.

“History: City of Angels” features Leo Braudy (“The Hollywood Sign”), John Buntin (“L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City”), Steven J. Ross (“Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics”) and D.J. Waldie (“Close to Home: An American Album”), and is moderated by Richard Rayner.

“Crime Fiction: Tangled Webs” features Dan Barden (“The Next Right Thing: A Novel”), Miles Corwin (“Midnight Alley”), T. Jefferson Parker (“The Jaguar”) and Denise Mina (“The End of the Wasp Season: A Novel”), and is moderated by Dick Lochte.

“The Port Huron Statement: 50 Years Later” features Tom Hayden (“The Long Sixties: From 1960 to Barack Obama”), Abe Peck (“Medill on Media Engagement”) and Robert Scheer (“The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street”), and is moderated by Jon Wiener.

“Graphic Novels: Mythic Stories” features Ed Brubaker (live-action Web series “Angel of Death”), Sam Humphries (“Our Love Is Real”), and Adam Mansbach and Douglas McGowan (“Nature of the Beast: A Graphic Novel”), and is moderated by Leslie S. Klinger.

“Biography: That’s Entertainment” features James Curtis (“W.C. Fields: A Biography”), Emily Leider (“Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood”) and M.G. Lord (“The Accidental Feminist: How Elizabeth Taylor Raised Our Consciousness and We Were Too Distracted by Her Beauty to Notice”), and is moderated by Cari Beauchamp.

And, when you are sated with book talk and book signings, you can browse among the booths and stalls for delicious things to eat and drink, to pick up a souvenir mug — I’ve got one for each year of FOB — or purchase books, and even catch a musical performance by the iconic Trojan Marching Band.

Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of The Jewish Journal. He blogs at jewishjournal.com/twelvetwelve and can be reached at books@jewishjournal.com.

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