Just when one questions how many people read anything but TV listings for so-called “reality shows” or local “newscasts” (30% commercials, 65% trivia, gore, sports or weather reports, only about 5% hard news), along comes something to remind you that there are still pockets of human intelligence out there.
For me, that is the annual Los Angeles Festival of Books, held every spring on the beautiful University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). Some 150,000 book lovers swarmed over the sprawling UCLA campus on the last weekend of April this year in a powerful testimonial to the power of the printed page.
They ranged in age from toddlers and tots in prams and strollers to teens, twenty-somethings, plus middle-age boomers and gray-haired seniors, some obviously in their 70s or even 80s. There were scholarly types, but many more who didn’t fit the stereotype of “book people.” Some wore heavy metal T-shirts, others clung to styles reminiscent of the ’60s and 70s. Footwear ranged from cowboy boots and Doc Martens to sandals, sneakers and suede Hush Puppies.
In short, it was a diverse crowd, but with one over-riding thing in common: a genuine love of books and reading.
Saturday’s featured authors included Daniel Ellsberg, Mark Bowden, Po Bronson, Pete Hamill, Richard Rodriguez, Joyce Appleby, Philip Dray, Mary Norton, Samantha Power, Timothy Ferris, and others.
Many other distinguished names dotted the lists of panelists and authors who signed books for long lines of faithful readers. Among them were:
Mitch Albom, Dave Barry, Peter Bart, A. Scott Berg, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Ray Bradbury, Sandra Cisneros, Mary Higgins Clark, Frank Deford, Michael Eric Dyson, Stuart Eizenstat, Lillian Faderman, David Halberstam, Christopher Hitchens, Arianna Huffington, James Ivory, Brian Jacques, Maxine Hong Kingston, Elmore Leonard, Alice McDermott, Terry McMillan, Greg Palast, T. Jefferson Parker, George Plimpton, Carl Reiner, Jane Smiley, Aaron Sorkin, Scott Turow and Stuart Woods.
In short, there was something, or somebody, for every reader present. And that’s without even considering the winners and finalists for the L.A. Times Book Prizes, which are a centerpiece of the Festival of Books every year.
The Los Angeles Times honors the printed word in books with an extensive set of formal awards. Presented annually since 1980, the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes now have nine subject categories: biography, current interest, fiction, first fiction (the Art Seidenbaum Award), history, mystery/thriller, poetry, science and technology, and young adult fiction. In addition to these nine prizes for single titles, the Robert Kirsch Award recognizes the body of work by a meritorious writer living in and/or writing on the American West.
The 23rd Book Prize Awards Ceremony featured A. Scott Berg as Master of Ceremonies and a distinguished list of Book Prize Presenters: Gayle Anderson (Young Adult Fiction), Jonathan Kirsch (Robert Kirsch Award), Eric Lax (Biography), T. Jefferson Parker (Mystery/Thriller), George Plimpton (Current Interest), John Rechy (Fiction), Dava Sobel (Science and Technology), Ronald Steel (History), Susan Straight (Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction), and Quincy Troupe (Poetry).
Winner: Robert A. Caro, Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Vol. 3 (Alfred A. Knopf)
Finalists: Gioconda Belli, The Country under My Skin: A Memoir of Love and War (Alfred A. Knopf)
Daniel Ellsberg, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers (Viking)
T.J. Stiles, Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War (Alfred A. Knopf)
Claire Tomalin, Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self (Alfred A. Knopf) CURRENT INTEREST
Winner: Judith Levine, Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex (University of Minnesota Press)
Finalists: Timothy Ferris, Seeing in the Dark: How Backyard Stargazers Are Probing Deep Space and Guarding Earth from Interplanetary Peril (Simon & Schuster)
Nicolaus Mills and Kira Brunner (editors), The New Killing Fields: Massacre and the Politics of Intervention (Basic Books)
Kevin Phillips, Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich (Broadway Books)
Samantha Power, “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide (Basic Books)
Winner; Ian McEwan, Atonement: A Novel (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday)
Finalists: Peter Cameron, The City of Your Final Destination (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Aleksandar Hemon, Nowhere Man (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday)
Kate Jennings, Moral Hazard: A Novel (Fourth Estate/HarperCollins)
Joanna Scott, Tourmaline: A Novel (Little, Brown and Company)
Winner: Michael B. Oren, Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East (Oxford University Press)
Finalists: Philip Dray, At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America (Random House)
Robert Harms, The Diligent: A Voyage through the Worlds of the Slave Trade (Basic Books)
Gregg Herken, Brotherhood of the Bomb: The Tangled Lives and Loyalties of Robert Oppenheimer, Ernest Lawrence, and Edward Teller (A John Macrae Book/Henry Holt)
Mary Beth Norton, In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692 (Alfred A. Knopf)
Winner: George P. Pelecanos, Hell to Pay: A Novel (Little, Brown and Company)
Finalists: Stephen L. Carter, The Emperor of Ocean Park (Alfred A. Knopf)
Tod Goldberg, Living Dead Girl: A Novel (Soho Press)
Henning Mankell, One Step Behind [translated from the Swedish by Ebba Segerberg] (The New Press)
Scott Turow, Reversible Errors (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Winner: Cynthia Zarin, The Watercourse: Poems (Alfred A. Knopf)
Finalists: Terrance Hayes, Hip Logic (Penguin Books)
John Koethe, North Point North: New and Selected Poems (HarperCollins Publishers)
J.D. McClatchy, Hazmat: Poems (Alfred A. Knopf)
Harryette Mullen, Sleeping with the Dictionary (University of California Press)
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
Winner: Brenda Maddox, Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA (HarperCollins Publishers)
Finalists: Deborah Blum, Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection (Perseus Publishing)
Judith Hooper, Of Moths and Men: An Evolutionary Tale, the Untold Story of Science and the Peppered Moth (W.W. Norton)
Mark Kurlansky, Salt: A World History (Walker and Company)
Richard Preston, The Demon in the Freezer: A True Story (Random House)
YOUNG ADULT FICTION
Winner: M.T. Anderson, Feed (Candlewick Press)
Finalists: Kate Banks, Dillon Dillon (Frances Foster Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Sarah Dessen, This Lullaby: A Novel (Viking/Penguin Young Readers Group)
E.R. Frank, America: A Novel (A Richard Jackson Book/Atheneum Books for Young Readers)
Joyce Carol Oates, Big Mouth & Ugly Girl (HarperTempest/HarperCollins)
THE ART SEIDENBAUM AWARD FOR FIRST FICTION
Winner: Arthur Phillips, Prague: A Novel (Random House)
Jay Basu, The Stars Can Wait: A Novel (Henry Holt and Company)
Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated: A Novel (Houghton Mifflin Company)
Nicole Krauss, Man Walks into a Room (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday)
Hari Kunzru, The Impressionist (Dutton/Penguin Group (USA))