Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, April 2009

For Wendy -
Get that bit between your teeth!
Your Pal,
Craig Johnson
Inscription written inside my new copy of The Dark Horse

The weekend was beautiful weather-wise, especially considering how hot the week before had been. I almost wished for rain so it would thin out the crowds, but that would not have been fair to the vendors and authors who had come out for the occasion. Anjin and I have made a tradition of attending the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books each spring. We take in the author panels and browse the booths, often coming home with backpacks full of books and a lot less money in our wallets. This year was not much different, with one big exception: this year we met up with a few fellow book bloggers for the first time. I was both nervous and excited about the opportunity.

Saturday, April 25, 2009, UCLA

On Saturday morning, Anjin and I arrived too late to meet at the designated meet-up spot where the bloggers had agreed to meet, and so we headed straight to Franz Hall for our first panel, Status Update: Social Networking & New Media. We took our seats and it was not long before the room began filling up. And then I heard voices right behind me that sounded awfully familiar. I leaned toward my husband and told him that I thought that might be them. I would know Natasha's voice anywhere. He asked me if I wanted him to say something, but I told him no, I would do it. I just needed to work up the courage. Just then, two women took to the empty seats next to us and I heard one of the women mention Florinda 's and my name. What are the chances that, in such a big room, the book bloggers attending the same panel would sit right there next to us? I took that opportunity to introduce myself to the group. Lisa from Books on the Brain, who had taken the seat next to me, instantly put me at ease. Also there for the panel discussion about social networking were Jill from Fizzy Thoughts, Amy from My Friend Amy, Trish from Hey, Lady! Watcha Readin', Natasha from Maw Books, Tracy from Shelf Life, and Florinda from The 3R’s: Reading, 'Riting, and Randomness. It wasn't until lunch time that I got the chance to meet Ti from Book Chatter. She had attended another panel that morning. Everyone was so nice and friendly.

The Social Networking and New Media panel was comprised of Wil Wheaton (actor, author, twitterer and blogger), Otis Chandler (founder of Goodreads.com, which I decided to try again--as if I need another online community to keep up with), and Sara Wolf (dance critic, e-zine creator and Facebook user). The discussion opened with the role of social media on reading. Otis Chandler mentioned that he had started Goodreads as a way to make reading a social experience. He wanted a place where readers could come to talk about what they are reading, get excited about reading and get recommendations of books to read.

Wil Wheaton had a lot to say on the topic. He is well versed in the different types of social media out there and has used them to his full advantage. He pointed out that technology is not responsible for the dumbing down of society. Both he and Chandler pointed to television as being partly to blame for that. Wheaton talked about the advantages of getting oneself known in a viral atmosphere such as Twitter. He also touched upon the topic of book recommendations made by friends online. Friend recommendations, he said, add legitimacy. How many of us prefer reviews from each other over the more professional reviews today? I know I do. Wheaton went on to say that authors too can find value in the attention their books receive through social media. The author can get a better idea of what readers are getting out of his or her book. Christopher Meeks said something similar on my blog not too long ago.

Sara Wolf's experience with social networks seemed more limited. As a dance critic and the creator of the e-zine Itch, she talked about social media as being a way to "rehearse conceptually." She further described it as a constellation, connecting various people with related ideas together.

The panelists also discussed the importance of incorporating user feedback and quality control. Wheaton said that users have more of an investment in social media, own it in a sense, and therefore their needs and desires should be incorporated. He also suggested that users need play a part in the quality control of social media sites. I immediately thought of LibraryThing.com and how actively involved many of the users are in maintaining the quality of the site along with the founder and his staff. Tim Spalding, of LibraryThing, has done a good job of fostering such an environment. It was an interesting panel, overall.

The panel was followed by lunch. We bloggers found seats at a table at one of the outdoor food courts to eat and chat, getting to know each other a little better. Afterward, we divided up, going our separate ways, some to other panels and Anjin and I to visit the booths.

I was eager to meet Craig Johnson, one of my favorite crime fiction authors, and along the way we discovered a few other authors who I just couldn't pass by without stopping in to visit. I was thrilled to finally meet Christopher Rice (Blind Fall). We also met Gary Phillips (Bangers), and a couple of new-to-me authors, Kate Carlisle (Homicide in Hardcover) and Jonathan Miller (La Bajada Lawyer). Craig Johnson, author of the Sheriff Walt Longmire series, was just as friendly as I imagined he would be. He had driven from Wyoming to California the day before.

In years past, Anjin and I have filled our festival days with panels which meant less time to browse the booths. This year, we decided to go light on the panels and only took two in each day. Our final panel on Saturday was called Religion: The God Question. I was particularly interested in attending this panel because I am reading William Lobdell's book, Losing My Religion. Also on the panel was the moderator, Mr. Zachary Karabell, Chris Hedges, author of I Don't Believe in Atheists, and Rabbi David Wolpe, author of Why Faith Matters. I really did not know what to expect with this panel. I find religion to be a fascinating topic, and I was curious to see what sort of discussion would ensue. The conversation seemed to center on religion as an institution and the positives and negatives of each. Chris Hedges and Rabbi Wolpe dominated the discussion, both offering differing opinions on the topic. They each made many really good points. I walked away from the panel with a lot to think about. In fact, Anjin and I spent much of the ride home from the festival that evening talking about it.

That evening Trish and Lisa treated all of us to dinner at Jerry's Deli in Westwood. Good food and good conversation. Anjin told me later in the evening that he enjoyed listening to us all talk shop. It seemed to end all too quickly when we had to say goodbye.

Sunday, April 26, 2009, ULCA

Sunday dawned early. We hit the road for the hour and a half drive into Los Angeles for the second day of the festival. We managed to snag seats right next to Trish at our first panel for the day, Fiction: Borderlines. Jill joined us as well. Of all the panels that weekend, I had most been looking forward to this one. I was eager for the chance to hear and meet author Thrity Umrigar (The Weight of Heaven) as well as Uwem Akpan (Say You're One of Them). Unfortunately, Uwem Akpan was unable to make it (he had to catch a flight back to Nigeria). As disappointed as I was that he could not make it, I was pleased to discover a new-to-me author whose work, of course, I now need to try. In his place was author Gina Nahai (Caspian Rain). Author Luis Alberto Urrea (Into the Beautiful North), another new-to-me author, was also on the panel, along with the moderator, Veronique de Turenne.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Borderlines panel. The authors each talked about their backgrounds, including their heritage and languages. Nahai was born in Iran and has not been back since she left in 1977. Because of her books, she is not in a position to return there under the current regime, unfortunately. Nahai spoke of a permanent amnesia of her time in Iran, saying that the only time she seemed to remember the country and her life there was when she is writing and it is through her books that her memories flow.

Thrity Umrigar is from India. She talked a little about her own family history. She also talked about her novel, The Space Between Us (which I highly recommend if you haven't read it), and how she had hoped someone else would write the story. The novel is about a mistress and her hired servant and their relationship, their class differences and the bond between them. Umrigar pointed out that, in India, because the labor pool is large and cheap, it is common for middle class families to have hired help. It seemed an obvious subject matter to want to write about, she thought. When she realized that no one else was doing so, she decided that she would.

Luis Alberto Urrea was born to an American mother and Mexican father in Mexico. During his childhood, he thought his mother's strange sounds and pronunciations were funny, however, now, as an adult, it makes him sad. His mother was surrounded by the Spanish language, and yet she could not speak the language, and therefore, had trouble communicating even with her own son.

Each of the authors had a chance to read a passage from their books as well as discuss misconceptions of their cultures. Gina Nahai pointed out that on a positive side, literature has opened many doors to understanding.

After the panel, we made our way to the signing area. I was eager to meet Thrity Umrigar and Luis Alberto Urrea. I would have liked the chance to meet Gina Nahai as well, but since her substitution was short notice, she was not present at the signing. Urrea's latest book, which technically isn't available until next month, was on hand for festival goers, and so I was able to buy a copy for the author to sign while there.

Anjin's and my second panel of the day was called Mystery: Guns and Gams. Being the crime fiction lover that I am, you know I had to attend at least one mystery panel. Sitting on the panel were authors Cara Black (Aimee Leduc series), Lisa Lutz (Spellman series) and Harley Jane Kozak (Wollie Shelley series). It was moderated by Mary McNamara. In this case, I have not read any of the books by the authors present, but I had heard of each of them and have wanted to read their books for some time now. My husband, at least, had read the first book in Cara Black's series, Murder in the Marais.

It was a fun panel. The discussion ranged from food, the creation of their female leads in each of the series, the benefits of having a female protagonist, the sense of place in their novels, and the writing process. I thought the panel make up was perfect--each of the authors are very different from one another as are their series. Lisa Lutz had no intention of writing a mystery series, when she began writing Spellman Files. The book was meant to be comic fiction. Her novels do not include big crimes like murder as so many mysteries today do. Instead, she focuses on every day life and the familial relationships of her characters. Harley Jane Kozak set out to write a literary fiction novel and what she ended up with was quite different. She was relieved when she discovered she was really writing a mystery. It felt like "salvation" she said. Cara Black, on the other hand, set out to write mysteries from the start. She was an avid mystery reader, admiring authors like P.D. James. The idea for her first novel sprang up from a true story her mother told her. She felt the story was important enough to tell and settled on a mystery as the best format to tell it. For Black, sense of place is very much a part of each of her novels. During the session, there were many jokes cracked and both my husband and I were smiling as we left the hall.

For the rest of the afternoon, Anjin and I wandered around the booths. We stopped by one booth to say hello to author Paul Levine (Solomon vs. Lord series) and he was kind enough to sign a book for me. Anjin and I were soon ready to call it a day. With our backpacks full of books, we headed for our car and the drive home.

There were many highlights to this year's Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, but biggest of them all was meeting fellow bloggers. Being able to sit and talk with them truly enhanced the festival experience. I had no reason to be nervous. Everyone was wonderful. And I mean that. I'm not just saying that because they might read this post. I hope we can all do get together again next year. And maybe next time, you can join us too!

If you want to see photos from the festival and to hear what other book bloggers have to say, be sure and stop by the following blogs:
Lisa from Books on the Brain
Tracy from Shelf Life
Amy From My Friend Amy (Vlog)
- (also check out Amy's Ten Things I Learned At the LA Times Book Festival)
Amy From My Friend Amy (Sunday Salon)
Hey, Lady! Watcha Readin' (Part 1: Vlog)
Hey, Lady! Watcha Readin' (Trish Geeking Out Over the Festival of Books)
Natasha from Maw Books Blog (Part 1: Vlog)
Natasha from Maw Books Blog (Part 2: In Which I Meet Awewsome Book Bloggers)
Ti from Book Chatter and Other Stuff
Florinda from The 3 R's: Reading, 'Riting, and Randomness
Jill from Fizzy Thoughts (To FoB or Not to FoB)
Jill from Fizzy Thoughts (Social Networking Panel)
Jill from Fizzy Thoughts (Window on the World Panel)
Jill from Fizzy Thoughts (Intimate Strangers Panel)
Jill from Fizzy Thoughts (Borderlines Panel)

Note: I will be taking a brief break from blogging the rest of this week and next. Don't despair! I will be back. May promises to be a busy and exciting month here at Musings of a Bookish Kitty, and I can't wait to tell you about what I have been reading. Happy Reading!


  1. Great post. I think I would have liked that Borderlines panel :)

    When I got to the festival so darn early (8am), I sat there for awhile thinking that if everyone's writing is truly representative of who they are, then I should already know everyone. That's exactly how it was. There was no "break in" period. It just seemed like an extension to what I already knew.

  2. I love your thorough wrap-ups of the panels you attended - it's like I was there! (Then again, I actually WAS at the first one :-).)

    I really thought about going to that religion panel - the topic fascinates me also, particularly when discussed apart from a particular church. I'm looking forward to your review of Losing My Religion.

    Gina Nahai was on the "Intimate Strangers" fiction panel I attended on Saturday. I've read two of her earlier novels, Cry of the Peacock and Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith, and I have my eyes open for her new one.

    It was a great weekend, and I'm glad I finally had the chance to meet you in person! Let's definitely do it again next year (if not sooner!) :-).

  3. Great post Wendy! It was a pleasure to meet you and put a face with the name! And so funny, you recognized my voice!

  4. It sounds like so much fun! Thanks for the report. I'm loving reading everyone's take on the weekend.

  5. Thanks so much for sharing with us! I loved reading this.

  6. It sounds like a fabulous way to spend a weekend!

  7. I LOVED reading about your experience and had to laugh a little when you were describing your first encounter. Sounds EXACTLY like how I would have felt--whispering to hubby that I may "know" the people behind me, being a little nervous to say hi, and then falling in with shop talk. I'm a pretty timid person when first meeting someone!

    The panels sound really interesting. I've never attended something like this, but I'm definitely intrigued.

    I hope you have a wonderful break. I think some of us are feeling the need for a little break right now. :) Hopefully you'll come back refreshed.

  8. Oooh, lucky! The Festival sounds amazing and to meet up with all those fabulous bloggers is just icing.

    Borderlands did sound like an interesting panel discussion. I hope CNN taped a lot of them for BookTV.

    My word verification is readised. Have I been? I think so.

  9. Thank you for the detailed report! I've never been to a book festival, and now I can't wait to go to one. Will definitely keep my eyes open for events in my area.

  10. Loved every minute of reading this!! Sounds like all of you enjoyed a weekend of beautiful weather, great books, interesting panels, good food and making new friendships!!

  11. I am BEYOND jealous at all of your experiences at this event. I would really love to meet all of you...maybe someday! You have some good time off. I'll be here waiting when you get back!

  12. I enjoyed reading your experiences and other bloggers' as well. It must be so fun attending to such festivals and meeting up with fellow bloggers. :)

    So far I think I had only attended one or two book festivals but they were not as huge as compared to the LA Times Festival of Books though.

    I hope you've a wonderful break, Wendy! :)

  13. i saw all the pics on lisa's blog. lol. it sure looks like you guys had a ton of fun. i'm considering going to the BEA in ny next month...i'll just have to see how my schedule plays out. glad you had a good time--your wrap-ups are so informative--wish i would have been there.

  14. Hi Wendy! Loved your wrap up of the FOB, and especially loved meeting you and Anjin! I still chuckle over how we 'discovered' each other, right next to each other!! LOL The universe is weird.

  15. It sounds like it was an awesome 2 days!

  16. Ti - Thank you. There are so many panels that sounded good, weren't there? I kind of missed going to so many this year, but then it also was kind of freeing not to have to rush all over campus to get to the sessions on time.

    I agree, everyone really did seem to fit the personalities of their blogs. I felt right at home with all of you.

    Florinda - Thank you, Florinda. I admit I was dragging my feet about writing the wrap-up. I wasn't sure where to begin.

    It would have been interesting to get your take on the religion panel. I hadn't known much about the panelists other than Lobdell, I admit, and so wasn't sure what I was in for.

    I am so glad to hear you say you've read Gina Nahai before and that you want to read her new book. I picked up a copy of Moonlight on Avenue Faith to try.

    I enjoyed meeting you too, Florinda. I think it would be great if we could meet up again. :-)

    Natasha - Thanks! It's all those videos you do. :-) I am glad we had the chance to meet too.

    Suey - I am enjoying reading everyone's perspective of the festival too. It was a lot of fun. I hope we can do it again next year.

    Yvonne - Ah, thanks, Yvonne!

    Kathy - It really was. I look forward to the festival every year.

    Trish - That is me exactly! I tend to be very quiet around people I am meeting for the first time. The great thing about this group was that there were talkers among us and so there was a good balance.

    I hope someday you are able to attend a book festival of some kind. Maybe even the LA Times Festival of Books. ;-)

    I think a break is in order. And like you said, I hope I come back refreshed.

  17. I am dripping with envy that you have a copy of Dark Horse by Craig Johnson!

    Let me know if you join Goodreads and I'll add you as a friend. I really like Goodreads and use it as a place to keep track of all of my reading (whether owned books or borrowed) as opposed to using it to keep track of what I own (LibraryThing).

    So glad you had a good time at the Book Festival and got the chance to meet some of the other bloggers!

  18. Carrie K - I know there were recordings of all of the sessions, but I don't know if they'll appear on BookTV. I wish my cable company aired BookTV. :-( They did film crews there.

    Ingrid - I really enjoy the LA Times Festival of Books. I am hoping to go to one in San Francisco a couple of years from now that focuses on crime fiction. That's much farther from home, but I would love to go.

    Staci - It was a weekend made in book lover's heaven. :-)

    Sandy - I hope we can meet someday too. Maybe you can plan a trip to Los Angeles next spring. ;-)

    Melody - It was a great experience. I would definitely do it again if given the chance. The LA festival is pretty big. I kind of wish I could attend a smaller one. The crowds can be daunting.

    Booklineandsinker - Oh, we did! It was a lot of fun. I hope you are able to go to BEA. I understand several of the bloggers I met this past weekend will be there as well.

    LisaMM - Thanks, Lisa! That was quite a coincidence, wasn't it? I couldn't believe that we all ended up sitting together like that.

    Teddy - It was! I can't wait 'til next year.

    Terri - One disadvantage of buying books at the book festival is having to pay full price for hardbacks--but it was definitely worth it to have Craig Johnson sign a copy. :-) He was so nice, Terri.

    I did go ahead and join Goodreads. It's funny that you mention how you're using it because that's it exactly what I plan to do with it (and your use of LibraryThing is the same as mine too). :-)

    You definitely have to come next year to the festival.

  19. I really enjoyed reading about your weekend. It sounds like you had a wonderful time and so nice to be able to meet up with some other bloggers there.

    I have Murder in the Marais by Cara Black and am looking forward to reading it, hopefully this year but you know how it goes. And The Space Between Us. Too many books! :P

    Enjoy your break. I think I need to take a break sometime soon as well just to catch up on things.

  20. Wendy - thanks for sharing your experience at Book Festival! I felt like I was there :) I had to chuckle a little about your first encounter with everyone. I know how scary it is but than at the end, all that matter is you had fun and great times spent with all the wonderful peeps :)

    Here wishing you have a relaxing rest up! :)

  21. This was such a lovely post Wendy. I enjoyed reading about your time at the festival. And you're so right, you were so lucky to find the bloggers sitting right next to you. I am sure it was fun.
    I found an autographed hardcover copy of Space between us for dirt cheap price. But I haven't read it yet.

  22. If I can't go (and it seems as if it will never happen for me), a nice alternative is to read bloggers' posts about the LA festival. Thank you.

  23. What a fabulous time!! I'm so happy you all were able to meet up. Now I can't wait until BEA. I'm getting so excited.

  24. Nat - Thank you. :-) It was fun.

    I do know exactly what you mean--I keep working my way through all these books I want to read and eventually I might actually get to all of them. Probably not though since I keep adding to them. LOL

    Julia - I was so nervous at first! It was definitely worth it though, meeting everyone. I even felt more confident this year approaching authors--not so starstruck. Well, maybe still a little. :-)

    Eliza - It was a very nice coincidence to say the least. :-) I am curious to read your thoughts on The Space Between Us. It's such a sad story, but well worth reading, I think.

    Deb - And I'm sure there are a lot of posts out there about the festival too. :-) If I get time, I should go searching for others.

    Beth - BEA should be fun. I wish I could go to that one. I'll have to live vicariously through all of you who do go, just as Nymeth and Deb are doing for this one.

  25. I'm so glad all of you had a good time, but I'm still green with envy. :)

  26. I'm glad you had fun at the Festival! Meeting all the other bloggers is great too. I would have been a little nervous about meeting them all too. :)

  27. Wonderful post, Wendy! Thank you for sharing your experience with us. The panels sound fascinating, especially the one on religion. And I'd so love to meet other bloggers! I bet I'd be a little (okay, a lot) nervous too at first, but it would pass after the first ten minutes. I'm glad you all had such a wonderful time.

    Enjoy your blogging break, and see you soon!

  28. off topic, i'm hosting a community virtual book sale & giveaway on my site may 4 - 15! i'd love for you to join in!

    we both participated in the bookroom reviews giveaway!

    Here's the info. Please pass it on to other book lovers!


  29. Ok you are the second blogger I've seen mention Craig Johnson...I'm going to have to check out his writing now! do you have any recommendations??

  30. Thanks for the great post--I was able to relive our fabulous time! Wish I had been able to attend some of the other great panels you got to. Totally looking forward to next year!

  31. I enjoyed living vicariously through your post! I can't wait until BEA - looking for a hotel today.

    Enjoy your well deserved break!

  32. I have to check if there is such an event near me (Norfolk or Virginia Beach) i haven't been to one since Philadelphia, miss being to one.
    Hope you had loads of fun :)))))

  33. I wish we had events like that here! I envy you!

    BTW, everything distils into reading is my new blog. Please do visit it, subscribe to it or follow it! Do help me spread the word.

  34. Lisa - Maybe one year you will be able to join us. :-)

    Melissa - It was great--and it was the best part of the weekend, I think. :-)

    Nymeth - Thank you! It was so much fun and everyone was wonderful. I wish I didn't have to wait an entire year to do that again.

    Serena - He writes a crime fiction series and so it's probably best to start off at the beginning with The Cold Dish, although technically his books could be read as stand alones too.

    Tracy - It was great meeting you last weekend, Tracy! We definitely have to do this again next year.

    Lenore - I hope you have a great time at BEA. That's one I really wish I could go to.

    Sylvie - I think it should be a requirement that every state have at least one. :-)

    Gautami - I was so sorry to hear about the malware incident. I hope Google/Blogger will get back to you soon. Thanks for the link to your new blog!

  35. Hi Wendy! What fun! Thanks for sharing your experience at the Book Festival. It's great meeting other bloggers and I always enjoy doing that. I'm glad you did too. :D

  36. It sounds like your weekend at the Festival was a special time and one that you won't forget soon. Thanks for sharing. It sounds like so much fun. (I've only been to educational conferences which consisted of children's books and authors.)

  37. Wow, Wendy, it sounds like you had a great weekend. I would have loved to have met Craig Johnson. Love his books! Also, the other mystery panel sounds fun. I have Cara Black's first book and have read the first one that Lisa Lutz wrote for my mystery book group. We liked it. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  38. Alice - It was a good experience, Alice. I am glad I got the chance to do that.

    Joy - It was special and I'm so glad I got the opportunity to go and meet the other bloggers. :-)

    Kay - He was so nice! I am glad I got to meet him. I'm looking forward to reading something by Clara Black. My husband is sure I'll like her first book. I'd like to try something by Lisa Lutz, now that I have a better idea of what I'm in for when I do. It never fails that when I attend events like this, I end up wanting to try out more authors!

  39. Thanks for the detailed lowdown on the social media panel. I struggle a bit with which "bookshelf" network I recommend to my authors, but the word among the publishers I drink and dine with is Shelfari.

    I know they all like to use the LibraryThing Advanced Reader program to snag buzz and reviews, but it's Shelfari the publishers [say they] troll for new talent.

  40. Wow! What a fun post to read! It sounds like you had a great time and how fun is it that you got to meet all those bloggers! I enjoyed reading about the panels and discussions especially the guns and gams. I have to go next year!

  41. What fun! I'm completely envious and glad you had such a wonderful time. :D

  42. You got an award waiting :)


  43. Glad to hear you had a great time. I think it's cool that you got to meet and hang out with those awesome bloggers!

    Diary of an Eccentric

  44. This sounds like it was a lot of fun! Thanks for sharing with us :)

  45. Thanks for the recap and what fun to see pictures of all of you on various blogs! I'm envious that you got to meet so many other bloggers (although, like you, I think I would have felt a little shy at first!).

  46. Laff - There are definitely quite a few "bookshelf" social networks out there, enough so that people can find at least one to meet their individual needs and preferences.

    When I was first looking around for a service, I tried a number of them out, including Shelfari, but didn't care for it. LibraryThing was more of what I wanted. The Early Reviewer program is a nice perk, but not why I like it best. Of course, I'm not an author or publisher looking to sell books, so I wouldn't know which is best for marketing books.

    Jaimie - I hope you will be able to come next year. It would be great to meet you!

    Andi - I wish I could join those going to BEA. That sounds like it will be fun too!

    Desert Rose - Thank you!

    Anna - It worked out well and I hope we can do it again next year.

    Samantha - I'm so glad I was able to go this year.

    Avis - It was a lot of fun. I wish we'd thought to change the batteries in our camera then I might have gotten some photos of my own. :-(


Thank you for taking the time to visit Musings of a Bookish Kitty. Don't be shy! I would love to hear from you. Due to a recent increase in spam, I will be moderating all comments for the foreseeable future. Please be patient with me as it may take a few hours before I am able to approve your comment.