Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Scattered and Tattered at LA Times Festival of Books

This is my avenue. It's in Hollywood. Whenever I ache to see my name in print, I spend a few minutes feeling shame at the pernicious nature of my ego, and then I look at this picture, and it helps, somehow.

I went to the LA Times Festival of Books this weekend. I saw a lot of panels. Some of them were inspiring. Some of them were frustrating.

Here are Six Moments Worth Remembering:

On a panel called "Writing the Fantastic:"
1. Lev Grossman calling himself a "Recovering Realist" and saying that "we're recovering from a long and painful hangover from Modernism."

2. Aimee Bender explaining that the difference between Gregor Samsa waking up "feeling like" a cockroach and waking up as a cockroach, in other words the literalization of metaphor, is a way to get readers to engage the same questions of life, death, love through new lenses.

On a panel called "Writing the Outcast" (which I will affectionately also call "The Cock Show"):
3. Rob Roberge saying that all great fiction deals with the issue of desire, and what happens when it's met, or not met. Then, Rob's immediately reminding us that getting our desires met is actually not always that great for us.

On a panel called "Writing Sex:"
4. Stephen Elliott wondering if people become artists instead of becoming lovable.

5. Susie Bright stridently, articulately reminding the room that as a culture we are "nowhere near" the actual breaking of our taboos.

And the sixth moment: They all had coconut juice. Every single speaker on every panel had coconut juice hiding behind their name placards. This is Los Angeles, I kept thinking. This Book Fest is driven by star power (celebrity authors like Bret Easton Ellis filling a 400-seater auditorium) and coconut juice, the current health-food craze. Los Angeles can be so endearing.

Amy Tan couldn't fill a 200-seater at the Boston Public Library three years ago. Maybe she needed to get some coconut juice in there. Maybe the Boston Public Library just needs to hold all its readings during the spring and summer months, and give everyone coconut juice on the way in.

The point is: I went alone, all day, both days, and saw some wondrous and horrifying things. There's a lot of really bad books getting made. There are also some unbearably good ones--great ones, beautiful ones. I stood at the McSweeney's booth for ten minutes fingering all their wares, and when one of their hip dudes asked me if I was familiar with McSweeney's, I said, "Yes. I have a very strong love-hate relationship with you guys."
"What's the ratio of love to hate?" he asked me.
"About seven to three."
"Want to have that magazine for seven dollars, then?" he said.
The magazine, called The Believer, is usually $10, and this particular one had a DVD with a short film by Nabokov, who is one of my favorite writers, and a mention of the movie Tron on the cover, and so, I said yes.

I'd call this a moment of grace. Surprisingly, the McSweeney's guy never asked me what the 3 points of hatred might be for. I'll tell you now: one hatred point goes to McSweeney's for making exactly the kind of books I want to make, design-wise, and often concept-wise as well, and charging more money for them than I can afford. One hatred point goes to the overall sheen of hip-cool-dude-in-the-know-about-stuff that one must have to write for them. (They are more earnest than snarky, thank all goodness, but any snark at all gets at least one point from me.) And the last hatred point is irrational and rude of me: they haven't published Vanessa Carlisle. I'm like the Bloodhound Gang who once rapped the line: "I hate Spin Magazine 'cause they never, ever plug me." McSweeney's is like my older sister circa 1988.

Remember, they also deserve seven love points. It may even be more like eight or nine. Find out why here.

As I strolled the aisles eating my protein bars and wishing I had my own little coconut juice to sustain me, I met some brilliantly earnest people at the Pathfinder booth--we talked about socialism and student movements and I was heartened by their presence. Go to the site and get smarter.

Just across the road there squatted a self-published self-help author who wanted me to admit that I was desperately unhappy with my life so he could help me help myself fix it.
"But I have a great life," I said.
"Maybe you think so," he said.
"I just told you so," I said.
"Everyone has problems," he said. "That's where I come in."
"I don't think you come in, actually," I said. I wished him luck on his book.

Book Fest, oh Book Fest, you were an exhausting date. I'd really like to see you again, but, I need some time to think. I need some space. Let's get together in, like, a year.


  1. This Vanessa Street has little ghost children playing in the sprinkler:

  2. This is where I come in.
    No, you don't.

    The line of the month in blogworld.

  3. Oh, you've nailed it. LOL! Great review of the festival.

    You know, I forgot my coconut juice and left it behind... now I have a craving.


  4. I don't think it gets much better than Susie Bright, the expert on nailing, telling me I've "nailed it."

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  6. I so miss the wild and raucous LA Festival. It is where we discovered that our book girlfriends (Wildcat Canyon Press) would be a New York Times bestseller.

    Today I think this event would just confirm my perception that book publishing isn't changing; it HAS changed. More about that later.

    Your post is great fun. And Susie B's website is quite the fun ride.

  7. I now have to offer at least one more love-point to Mc Sweeney's, since The Believer just gave an award to my friend Percival Everett's novel I Am Not Sidney Poitier.