Yes!!! People in Los Angeles do read. Not only do we read, but we have the largest book festival in the nation.
On Saturday, I bought a book I recommend for anyone who loves and/or lives in LA: "Down By the Los Angeles River." The great cover art caught my eye. As I reached for the book, I met the author and artist, Joe Linton. He's so passionate and informative about the LA River - that mostly-cementy-kind-of-watery-thing I drive by or roller blade past and wonder about all the time - that I bought the book.
It's filled with his great artwork, lots of information about the wildlife that lives on the river; its history and its future, as well as the walkways and bike paths along the way. Other than the Sepulveda Basin area, I really had no idea the LA River has so much going on.
Next, while scoping out books at a booth, I noticed an older woman who had a Life Magazine photo in her hand: The iconic VJ Day photo of the sailor planting a kiss on a nurse in New York's Times Square. Turns out the older woman, Edith Shain, is the nurse in the photo. Edith and I had fun gabbing. First we talked about her kiss - the sailor caught her off guard and the kiss was very long - and then we talked (I don't know why) about old phone booths (remember those?) and life before call waiting. It's a little scary. Edith's almost ninety and yet I could relate to her so well. Anyway, she was very lively, sweet and full of kind comments.
Later, I walked by the NPR booth and heard author Susan Straight being interviewed. I only stopped because I heard her mention her eldest child was at the Coachella music festival. The interviewer asked, "Oh, so do you think she'll tune in to hear you on the radio?"
I knew I could relate to Susan when she said, "Uh, no. She doesn't listen to me at home. Why would she want to hear me on the radio?" Spoken as a true parent to a teenager.
Susan Straight is an author from the Inland Empire. I only learned that after stumbling upon the book, "Inlandia," and saw that the forward was written by the very same Susan Straight. Intrigued, I bought the book and attended a panel discussion with Susan and other writers from "Inlandia," an anthology of writers from the Inland Empire.
My only time spent in the Inland part of California is whenever I have to pass through it heading for the San Bernardino Mountains to go skiing or the one time I cruised down part of Route 66. As the writers of "Inlandia" tell it, their home has been disparaged as nothing more than where the Hell's Angels, neo-Nazis and smog dwell. Until then, I knew so little about the Inland Empire, I didn't even realize that much about the area.
During the panel, the writers spoke of a place they grew up where orange groves and date tree forests were so vast they'd get lost in them; where the Santa Ana winds and the sand would blast the paint off of cars; where the air smelled of Eucalyptus and orange blossoms. It was where they arrived, grew and stayed.
As a resident of the San Fernando Valley, another maligned Southern California area, I could relate. While I've only read a few chapters of "Inlandia," I'm really enjoying getting lost in the stories of their misunderstood land.
As I bought "Inlandia" from the Heyday Publishing Founder, Malcolm Margolin, he asked me what I do. I told him I'm writing "Craving Normal," my stories of growing up in California and traveling the world as the kid of hippies. Malcolm, the bearded Allen Ginsberg look-a-like, threw back his head and laughed. "Did your parents feed you lentil loaf when all you really wanted was junk food?"
I slapped him on the shoulder. "Yeah, how'd ya guess?"
He told me his kids could relate as children of hippies.
"Yep, I just wanted a Twinkie," I told him.
After that, I blathered-and-bored another group of writers as I bought their books. I made Kevin Roderick's eyes glaze over as I bought his (and co-writer J. Eric Lynxwiler's) beautiful book, "Wilshire Boulevard." And then I moved over to married writers, David Kipen and Veronique de Turenne, and yakked away as I bought the anthology "My California," to which they both contributed their work. I had some nerve to blather about my love for California (Oh please kill me now! What was I thinking? Is all I could think AFTER I had the sense to shut my mouth) when these lovely people donated their work so that the proceeds of the book could benefit the California Arts Council - to bring the arts back into our schools. Some people are not only talented, but selfless...and then there are people like me.
Speaking of talented and selfless - Next, I stopped to listen to Don Cheadle and John Prendergast, authors of "Not on our Watch: The Mission to End Genocide in Darfur and Beyond." It was nice to see a huge crowd there. We all need to do everything we can to end the genocide. It's unimaginable that so much senseless horror has gone on so long. They got me realizing that every one of us can contact our politicians and demand they get the killing to stop or they won't get our votes. Sad to think that's what will make politicians act - as if innocent people being killed isn't a good enough reason to do something.
Next to me on the lawn was a nice woman who offered me a carrot stick. See, I tell you - there are some good people out there! But I was too busy stuffing my face with Kettle Corn. My mouth didn't have room for a carrot stick. But I thanked her for asking. And, hey! she's a Valley-ite like me. See, we Valley people do get out and are curious about the world around us.
Then, I stopped by the Skylight Books booth and bought "The Leisure Architecture of Wayne McAllister." Thank you, Chris Nichols for writing this book. I had no idea all the wonderful architecture Wayne McAllister contributed to California. It'll go right next to Kevin Roderick's and J. Eric Lynxwiler's "Wilshire Boulevard" on my coffee table.
As I was leaving the UCLA campus, I came upon a Latin flavored Ska band called "Upground." They're young guys from East Los Angeles who had a huge multi-generational, multi-cultural crowd grooving. They're really talented. Not only could they play well, but the vocals were really good, too - so good I bought a CD. It's the type of music that makes you want to get up and dance. One man in his 60s was getting funky, while a toddler spun around below the stage, and everyone else was bobbing their heads and smiling.
Yes, it was another great festival of books. Every year it gets better. Now, I just need to find time to read everything I bought.
*More of my Festival of Books photos will be on my Flickr page.