Sunday, April 26, 2009

A festival for readers

The LA Times Festival of Books is being held at UCLA, a sprawling campus, located in the Westwood section of the city.

As a longtime viewer of C-Span’s BookTV, I’ve watched much of their frequent live coverage emanating from various major book festivals from around the U.S. Yesterday, I had my first opportunity to attend one of these festivals in person.

Arriving early, with my son, I parked my rental car in one of UCLA’s numerous remote lots and boarded one of the shuttle busses headed for the campus. Even at 10:00, when the festival first opened, there were already thousands of other book aficionados focused on the same task as we were—getting to the festival.

The special festival tabloid the the LA Times handed out was perfect, with a campus map, schedule of events, and bios on the various authors that would be in attendance.

Our first panel that we attended was Biography: The Corridors of Power, and had three authors and historians, each talking about their latest book.

The three authors, Jim Newton, H.W. Brands, and Ronald C. White, Jr., discussed their books, and in particular, how they came to choose to write books about Lincoln, FDR, and Earl Warren.

Brands, a professor of history at the University of Texas, was particularly engaging. Not your typical academic, droning on about facts and minutae, Brands was captivating, and made a compelling case for why he would choose to write yet another book about Roosevelt. In fact, having spent considerable time reading about FDR and the New Deal of late, I fully intend to pick up Brands’ latest book, Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, when I return to Maine.

We attended a second panel in the afternoon titled, Sports: The Athlete As Role Model, which included Diana Nyad, who at one-time was considered the greatest long distance swimmer in the world. She is now a journalist and author. Other members of the panel, moderated David Davis, were Bill Dwyre, sports editor at the Times, and Michael Vetre, who writes for a variety of outlets, including MSNBC.com.

[David Davis, Diana Nyad, Michael Vetre, and Bill Dwyre on athletes as role models]

While I'm not sure I came away with any clearer picture of where athletes fall on the continum between celebrity entertainer, and role model, but the discussion was interesting. Dwyre, the stereotypical gruff, cynical male that used to write sports, before the influx of the new sports "journalists," like Bill Simmons, and others, was a good counter, to Nyad's perkiness.

One of my favorite activities during the festival was visiting and chatting with the many small press publishers that were in attendance.

There were some great literary small presses, like Red Hen Press, and Akashic Books, represented. McSweeney's was also there.

I stopped by the booth of Small Press Distribution and talked some shop with one of their representatives, as well as picking up a book about Los Angeles, by Otis Books, called Seeing Los Angeles: A Different Look at a Different City.

While the festival continues today, I probably won't be attending merely because my stay in Los Angeles is limited and there is just too much to see and do.


[Yours truly with the C-Span bus in the background]

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