The LA Times Festival Of Books Is My Coachella

Every year I look forward to the LA Times Festival of Books with something close to breathless anticipation. I’m on Ticketmaster the hour panel tickets become available, I agonize over who to see, which day to go, and which booths to visit first. Every year, whichever luckless friend has accompanied me is dragged from booth to booth, event to event until we’re hot, footsore, under-hydrated and over-stimulated. (Is it a coincidence that no friend has ever gone to the LATFOB with me twice? I think not.)

You know you’re on the USC campus when…

This year the festival had an added level of excitement because I was going as the Reading Rainbow Mom, and live-tweeting the experience to Reading Rainbow Twitter fans. In retrospect, I’m not sure this was as much of an event for the RR audience as I had hoped it might be, but it was—without question—a growth experience for me. This year, instead of roaming the campus with my mouth agape (as I admittedly have done in the past) I felt I had purpose.

For someone who is usually shy, this weekend I made myself say hi to people. I introduced myself to vendors and took photos for our Twitter fans; I listened to the speakers not only for myself but for the entire RR Twitter fan base.  What would interest RR kids? What questions might parents have? What quotes could I share that would speak to them? What authors or wares would they appreciate most?

Being at the festival as the RR Mom made me brave, it’s as simple as that.
I went right up to authors at whom I would normally gape in awe from afar and struck up conversations. I know this marks me (accurately) as a total fan-girl-geek, but… I talked to authors and they talked back to me! <swoon!>
The moral of the story is that when you take a risk and fully engage in a thing the experience will be richer because of it.

And now to the authors, because we all know that while you may indulge a few paragraphs about myself, it’s really about the authors.

Margaret Atwood signed my book!!

First and foremost—Margaret Atwood! Meeting Ms. Atwood was a dream come true. She has been one of my most beloved and admired authors since I first read The Handmaid’s Tale at age 15. I was able to get tickets to see Ms. Atwood in conversation with Michael Silverblatt, and she was, not at all surprisingly, utterly eloquent. She was a perfect mixture of thoughtful, humorous, political, and reflective. Here are some of my favorite quotes gleaned from the conversation:

On how technology is impacting readers: “Reading is not diminishing, but if you’re looking for it in traditional places you may not find it.”

On becoming a storyteller: “I spent a good deal of my youth amusing young children. I had a business in high school running a puppet show.”

On classic fairy tales: “One of my favorite books as a child was the collected Grimm’s Fairy Tales… a [combination of] cannibalism and suspense.”

On unexpurgated books: “Some kids can handle it, like my bloodthirsty brother and I, but my sister didn’t want it, she wanted the 12 Dancing Princesses and the like.”

On being a reader: “It’s important to know what story you’re in. You might think you’re in Cinderella, but you might actually be in The Robber Bridegroom and barely escape with your life.”

On writing about sex: “I came from a family of scientists. We didn’t talk about people-sex very much, but frog-sex [was fair game]… It was a household in which the Thanksgiving turkey was dissected and labeled right there at the table.”

On character: “A person who is a paragon of virtue, who never does anything wrong and achieves everything they set out to do is unreal… Total perfection is very hard to achieve, even for Greek Gods, as we know.”

And my very favorite quote: “Fiction writers are better placed to learn the truth because we’re licensed fabricators.”

Tom Angleberger signing one of his books for a fan.

Later in the day I attended a panel discussion called Children’s Books: Words, Wit and Pics; featuring Tom Angleberger (author/illustrator of the Origami Yoda books), Annie Barrow (author of the Ivy & Bean series), Suzanne Selfors and Dan Santat (author and illustrator, respectively, of The Imaginary Veterinary series). This panel of children’s book authors was wonderful and engaging! They were knowledgeable, but funny and self-deprecating; and they enthralled grown-ups and children alike as they shared their experiences struggling and working their way to where they are today.

On doing what you love and working hard: “Chasing my passion has paid off in spades… I’ll never get tired of it, I always love drawing. We’re good at what we do because we do it A LOT. Art is like riding a bike, if you just ride that bike more than anyone else, you’re going to be better at it.” –Dan Santat

“I know it sounds cliché, but if this is your passion, you have to fight for it.” –Suzanne Selfors

Annie Barrows with Ivy & Bean.

On how they get ideas: “When my daughter was young we read the Magic Treehouse series, we read Junie B. Jones, we read everything, we ran out of things to read by the time she was seven! That’s how Ivy & Bean came about.” -Annie Barrows

“If I were a kid again, I wouldn’t want to read about regular old dogs and cats, I’d want to read about a vet treating DRAGONS and such!” –Suzanne Selfors

On being a nerd: “All my life I’ve been a big Dungeons & Dragons nerd. That’s how I got my drawing skills, from copying the monster manual.” –Dan Santat

“I hope that both boys and girls are reading my books, I write my books for nerds of every kind!” –Tom Angleberger

At the end of the day I stopped at the Children’s Stage to see Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen talk about their new book The Dark. (Tom Angleberger sat next to me and chatted a bit… giddy nerd moment!) My kids were a bit too old and a bit too young when A Series of Unfortunate Events came out, so I never read them, but Klassen and Snicket (represented by Mr. Daniel Handler) were so funny that I am now inspired to read the books just for myself. Mr. Handler began by addressing the audience of children in a slow, pause-filled, scary movie narrator voice: “I know you all… were abducted from your homes… and dragged out here… in the searing heat… to this field… where who knows how many people are buried… or how recently.” He introduced the book by saying “Mr. Snicket and Mr. Klassen have collaborated… much the way you might collaborate with your friends… to rob a bank… or kidnap a child…” The two went on to give a very disparate slide show, and a live reading/illustrating of their new book. Needless to say, the entire audience was rolling in the aisles by the time they finished.

The talented & charming Brian McMullen.

I was also lucky enough to run into a couple authors while walking around the festival between panels. I found Brian McMullen at the McSweeney’s booth (always my first stop—and sometimes my last as well—so great is my love for their products). McMullen is the co-author of Hang Glider & Mud Mask, the newest book of the McSweeney’s children’s line; and in true McSweeney’s fashion this is no simple book… It’s a mobius strip of a story, meant to be read from either end, and that reads in a continuous loop, with the end of one side leading directly to the beginning of the other. Brian was eminently charming, signed my book AND gave me a discount. Could I love the McSweeney’s people more? I think not.

I caught Loren Long, bestselling author of the Otis books, as well as the book Of Thee I Sing with President Obama, at the end of one of his signing periods. He spoke with me for a while and graciously posed for a picture with his newest book. A gentleman through and through!

Loren Long with his beautiful new book.

And so, with tired feet but a renewed spirit (and full notebook) I left the festival. I’m already looking forward to next year. My husband (who used to work in the video game business and frequented their expos) once accompanied me to the LATFOB and said this of it, “It’s just like E3, but smarter conversation and fewer strobe lights.”

I’ll gladly do without the strobe lights in exchange for truly excellent conversation. Thank you LA Times Festival of Books.

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2 thoughts on “The LA Times Festival Of Books Is My Coachella

  1. LOVE! Thank you SOOOO much for sharing! I loved reading the quotes; it makes me feel a teensy bit less sad that I couldn't be there! Sounds like such a great time!!!

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