LA Times Festival of Books and Bloggers!


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Natasha, Amy, Tracy, Ti, Jill, Trish, Lisa

Natasha, Amy, Tracy, Ti, Jill, Trish, Lisa

This weekend I attended a super-fun two day event, the LA Times Festival of Books. That would have been exciting enough for a book geek like me, but what made it super-fun (as opposed to just regular fun) was getting to meet some of my blogger friends in real life.  What a treat!

The plan was to meet in front of the UCLA book store.  As I wandered up to the steps in front, I immediately recognized Jill from Fizzy Thoughts and Ti from Book Chatter from the pictures on their blogs. Hugs all around.  Then pretty soon Amy from My Friend Amy wandered over after passing by and glancing at us suspiciously two or three times, then Tracy from Shelf Life walked over with a big smile, and pretty soon we were all laughing and talking.  Jill and I went to get coffee (she was so nice and gave me a book I’ve been wanting to read- Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson- who I would see on a panel later in the day).  When we got back, we saw that Trish from Hey, Lady! (also my partner in TLC Book Tours) and Natasha from Maw Books had arrived.  I spilled my coffee while hugging Natasha (I was mortified and so glad it spilled on me rather than on her cute white jacket!). Trish was telling the story of why she was a little late, complete with colorful adjectives and funny anecdotes and facial expressions and hand gestures.  For those of you who might have been wondering- yes, Trish really is THAT cute and excitable and funny in person!   It was interesting to see how much everyone’s personalities really shine through on their blogs.

Jill and Florinda

Jill and Florinda

The first panel of the day for most of us was the Social Networking and New Media panel.  The very organized Ti had made a spreadsheet for us showing which bloggers were attending which panels.  We knew that Wendy from Musings of a Bookish Kitty and Florinda from 3R’s blog were supposed to be there, but we couldn’t find Florinda and we didn’t know what Wendy looked like.  We were in a big lecture hall and I was standing up looking around and joking that we should call out “Literary Feline!  Where are you?” when I felt a tap on my arm from the woman seated next to me.  “I’m Wendy” she said in this tiny kitten-y voice.  She’d been right beside us the whole time!  We found Florinda just a couple minutes later (she was easy to spot from her picture on her blog, and because we knew she was short height-challenged) and were able to all sit together.

tweet, tweet

tweet, tweet

That panel was a good one, with Otis Chandler (founder of Goodreads.com), Wil Wheaton (author, blogger, twitter-er, and actor from Star Trek: TNG), and Sara Wolf (dance critic-she was out of place).  Otis said he had a theory that reading was “broken” and that in starting Goodreads he had hoped to make reading more of a social experience and provide a place where people could talk to each other about books.  He said we’ve all experienced social pressure to watch tv (like when everyone is talking about who got kicked off American Idol, and if you don’t watch you feel out of it).  He wanted to try to make that true with books, and gave examples like “All the cool kids are reading Twilight”.  

Wendy and Anjin

Wendy and Anjin

The following question was posed to the panel: “What does social media (Twitter) do to readers attention spans?”  Will answered by saying he blames the dumbing down of society on TV, not technology.  Something Will said really resonated with me as a member of the blogging community- “You don’t have to be in the same room with someone anymore to share an experience.” He was referring to internet communities and conversations that go on in places like Twitter, Goodreads, and Facebook.  I think our group could all agree with that!  Another question came up about placing limits on and policing social media- having rules- filtering out spam.  Will and Otis discussed that, saying with social media, users “own” it, they make the rules and define how it will be.  Marketers want to tell us what to do on social media i.e. “Here’s how you can profit if you use it my way”, which is precisely why they fail and are seen as spammers. People will use Facebook and Twitter in a way that’s fun for them and ignore the rest.  Meanwhile, the third panelist didn’t seem to have much of a grasp on what Twitter actually is, and was busy talking about the “constellations” in her dance community on Facebook, and how constellating is so great.  Constellating???  Ok….  

Lunch

Lunch

After a quick lunch together, we went our separate ways to the various panels.  Trish, Natasha, Amy and I attended Problem Child, which was a panel with Laurie Halse Anderson (Speak, Winter Girls), Nate Powell (Swallow Me Whole-graphic novel), Jacquelyn Woodfin (Hush, Locomotion, Peace Locomotion) and Suzanne Phillips (Burn).  Laurie Halse Anderson said she “feels so lucky to be able to wake up, listen to the voices in her head, and write down what they say.”  The moderator said that one thing their books had in common was that they all have a really strong, immediate narrative voice.  One comment I jotted down from this panel was that most YA-middle grade novels have a “problem child” because they need a central conflict to make the book interesting, but the characters in these books go way beyond the norm.  We’re talking about eating disorders and cutting, mental illness, kids with real issues. This was a great panel but I had to leave early in order to get to my next panel on time, because there was no way I was going to miss seeing Lisa See!

Lisa meets Lisa

Lisa meets Lisa

Several of us went to Fiction: Window on the World with Lisa See (Shanghai Girls, Snow Flower, Peony in Love), Jonathon Rabb (Rosa, Shadow and Light), Vanina Marsot (Foreign Tongue), and Muriel Barbery (The Elegance of the Hedgehog)  and her translator.  

I’m a huge Lisa See fan.  She talked about Shanghai Girls, set in both Shanghai and Los Angeles, and said it asks the question “How do we define home?  Is it where you grew up, or in the place that you make?”  An excellent question for a midwestern transplant like me.  She spoke about China City in LA from 1937 until the mid-50s, how it was built to look like a real Chinese city with a mini-Great Wall of China surrounding it, but how much of it was created from Hollywood props and sets.  

Lisa meets Vanina

Lisa meets Vanina

I’m also a new fan of Vanina Marsot, having just finished her book Foreign Tongue a week ago (review coming soon!). I was completely enthralled by it!  Vanina said she wanted to show the non-Disneyland version of Paris, a real city where real people live, not vacation-land. Her protagonist Anna, living in Paris with dual French/American citizenship, is translating a book from French to English.  It’s an examination of both cultures, how things are expressed in both languages, and how some things don’t translate well.  She shared an expression that French mothers use with their children that translates literally into “Stop your cinema”.  Those of us with little drama queens immediately knew what she meant!

Muriel Barbery brought along a translator and was utterly charming.  Jill and Tracy had both read The Elegance of  the Hedgehog and were really excited to see her.  Tracy mentioned later that she had a “girl crush” on her, and I can totally relate.  She was elegant in that effortless French way, hair pulled straight back into a sleek chignon, minimal makeup and jewelry, yet still looked stunning.  She spoke in French and while I couldn’t understand a word, her smile and laugh and sweet tone spoke volumes.  I wanted to buy her book and get it signed but they’d sold out. I did, however, get to say hello at the signing.  She’s adorable.

img_2747I gushed and babbled all over Lisa See!  She signed my beat up ARC of Shanghai Girls (coming out in May) and said that she remembered me from our book club conversation last fall.  Then I gushed and babbled some more all over Vanina Marsot.  She was surprised that I’d already read her book.  I told her the publisher had sent it to me, and that I was a blogger.  She said, “Oh, do you know Jennifer?”  I said, “From Literate Housewife?”  She nodded, and said, “Yes, isn’t she wonderful?”  I, of course, agreed with her (Hi, Jen!) and told her I’d enjoyed her interview on Jen’s blog and loved the pictures. Whatever else I said is a blur.  Did I mention I gushed and babbled?

Amy, Tracy, and I blew off our 4th panel of the day in favor of walking around in the beautiful sunshine, picking up some freebies (mostly bookmarks), and talking. Amy did some shopping and bought gifts for her mom and sister (that’s her with Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark).  

Trish and me

Trish and me

We all met back at the UCLA bookstore, where Trish was once again a teensy bit late, but with good reason, and was oh so excited to tell everybody about the panel she’d attended (she is so darn cute.  I just love her!)  

Then we headed over to Jerry’s Deli in Westwood for dinner.  This is getting really lengthy, so let’s just say a good time was had by all.  Here are a couple pictures from our evening together.  Around the table, starting on the left, we have Trish, Ti, me, Amy, Florinda, Wendy’s husband Anjin, Wendy, Natasha and Jill.  In the last picture, taken outside, we have (left to right) Jill, Natasha, Ti, Florinda, me-Lisa, Wendy, Trish, Amy.  

I went back to the Festival on Sunday for Day 2, but just attended one panel (a middle grade fiction one) with my daughter and did a little shopping.  I picked up some books for my kids and stopped at the Vroman’s booth for The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer (he was on a panel Saturday that I didn’t see, but other bloggers loved!) and The Elegance of the Hedgehog (I was so glad they had it!)  I’ll tell you about my kids’ “adventures in book signing” in another post.

Thanks to all my wonderful new friends for making this a really special weekend for me.  It was a thrill and a pleasure to meet you all and I hope we can do it again next year!

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The Sunday Salon: The Weekend in Books

We’re having another scorching hot weekend here in Southern California, but the heat (hovering around 90) wasn’t enough to keep me away from the 13th Annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at UCLA.  The festival is a huge special event that brings writers, publishers, book sellers and readers together.  We visited dozens of booths and it was all very exciting for me.  Authors are like Rock Stars in my world.  Not so much for my kids, though, who did a lot of complaining about the heat while spooning frozen lemonade into their mouths and soaking their feet in the big fountain on the quad.  I should have left the whiners at home!

We talked to Lori Nelson, author of a delightful book for girls called Hillary’s Big Business Adventure , about a 5th grader from Baltimore who has all kinds of entrepreneurial ideas.  This was right up my kids’ alley as they are Lemonade Stand Queens and are always dreaming up new ways to make cash.  My 5th grader actually has brochures and business cards made up for a business idea she has.  The book was written for kids a bit younger than mine, though, so I didn’t buy it, but 4-8 year olds would love it.  The illustrations are outstanding.

We also had a celebrity sighting.  Marilu Henner was at the Borders booth signing her new book Total Health Makeover.  She looked cute in a spring dress and sun hat and laughed when my husband called out, “We loved you on The Apprentice!”

Of the many panels and workshops at the festival there were three I’d hoped to attend, but we got there just in time for the first only to discover it was way on the other side of the sprawling campus.  The other 2 were happening at 2:30 and 4, but by 1pm we were melting in the heat and couldn’t take any more.  We all agreed it was time to leave.

I was excited to find a signed first edition of Matrimony by Joshua Henkin in my mailbox when I got home, sent to me by the author himself!  I look forward to starting it today.  Josh is going to do a guest post for me in the next few days about book clubs, and I’ll be giving away a copy of his book, so keep an eye out for that.  Matrimony is also the May selection for the online book club at Every Day I Write The Book Blog.  You might be able to score a copy of it over there if you hurry!  They are (were?) giving them away to those who want to participate in the discussion.

Last night we had a neighborhood BBQ to attend.  Our friends across the street recently hired an au pair from Brazil to care for their 3 year old twins for the next year. A new Brazilian au pair is a great excuse to party, I always say! 

By the time we came home at 8:30 I was so pooped from being out in the heat all day that I didn’t feel like reading (or maybe it was the massive amounts of bbq’d meat and the 3 beers I consumed that made me feel couch potato-ish).  Luckily Juno arrived in my mailbox from Netflix this weekend, so I popped it into the dvd player, not expecting too much, but I loved it! I laughed, I cried, I marveled at Ellen Page’s talent, her range of emotions, her character’s extensive and colorful vocabulary.  It is smart, funny, touching.  If you haven’t seen it, I insist you go check it out right now!  Or later.  Whatever works.  But do it!  You won’t regret it.

Ok, back to books.  I just gobbled up The Next Thing On My List by Jill Smolinski for my book club.  It’s a breezy whirlwind of a book, quick and light and fun, but also thought provoking.  June Parker gives an acquaintance, Marissa, a ride home one night after a Weight Watchers meeting.  They get in a crash on the freeway and Marissa dies.  Later June comes across a list in Marissa’s purse of 20 things she wanted to do before she turned 25.  There are large and small items on the list, ranging from “kiss a stranger” to “change someone’s life”.  The book is about June’s mission to finish the list for Marissa.  My book club is meeting on May 4th to discuss TNTOML, and the author has graciously agreed to join us by speaker phone.  I’ve asked everyone to bring their own list of 5 things they’d like to do before their next big birthday, but now I’m having trouble coming up with 5 things for my own list!   I keep reminding myself that they don’t need to be profound, just something new, but it’s not easy.  What would be on your list?    

Have a beautiful Sunday!