Is It Any Good?

One of the best, if not the best, Book Festivals in America.

The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books is one of the uniquely great things about Los Angeles. For one weekend in late April, usually the same weekend as the NFL Draft, the Los Angeles Times sponsors an event that brings most of your favorite Authors to L.A. for a weekend to give speeches, sign autographs and most of all, sell a lot of books.

Just for the causal book lover, it’s a treat because a bunch of small presses from L.A. and beyond are in town to sell you their wares. You’ll see books, titles and authors you’ve never seen before. Now, that can be both good and bad as there is some weird stuff out there.

In years past, on the UCLA Campus, above and below the Janss Steps, Tents and Tables would be set up as far as the eye can see (okay, all of a couple hundred feet), and every one of them had a bookseller or a craftsman, each representing a small business or an independent publisher. Target, Barnes and Noble and Borders have shown up in the past. Today, things have moved on to the campus of UCLA’s rival, USC.

Ye Olde Signpost, from the UCLA Campus Days

It goes without saying that every cause, every fringe group and every cuckoo imaginable is also drawn to the Festival. But you can tell who the real kooks are, since they don’t have tables. They’re just shoving stuff in your hand, expecting you to read it. I don’t like when this happens even when its coming from folks I agree with.

More serious people (only a few of whom are kooks) actually give lectures throughout the day. Name brand authors, chefs and the occasional political pundit all make appearances, and quite a number of them are worthwhile. These are also for free, but seating is limited, so you have to acquire a ticket. If you don’t want to shell out the massive dollar service charge to Ticketmaskter, you can always wait in the standby line.

Anyway, it’s a really good weekend. All who love books should attend at least once in their lifetimes.

UPDATE: February 23, 2012: Okay, I went to the 2012 Version, and I have a few notes.

One of the cool things about going to the Festival of Books was being able to shop at  lots and lots of Book Sellers and Book Publishers selling their wares, and being able to get stuff you would be able to on the Web, like special discounts, Author Autographs, etc. Places like Book Soup, Vromans, Penguin Publishing, etc.

Well, that’s kind of a problem now. First off, ain’t much in the way of discounts (at least on the first day). Second, since only a quarter of the Tents and Vendors are actual Publishers and Sellers, the good stuff is getting hard to find.

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Sad but true, but a lot of the stuff being sold at the L.A. Times Festival of Books now has very little to do with Books. I mean, I love me a Chevy Volt and all, and I’m even planning to get one, one of these days, but two separate stations talking about the Chevy Volt? At a Book Fair?? Seriously? On top of that, practically every theater in the area comes to the Festival now, all in an effort to schill tickets, not copies of plays or anything, but tickets. You will also find a plenty of tents dedicated to people who self-publish their own books, which is a noble effort and all, but a couple laps around the fair, and taking a good, hard look at the subject matter they’re hawking, and you’ll soon realize why these people couldn’t get published in the first place. And then there’s the host University, I counted at least five Tents dedicated to various programs at USC.

Long and the short of it is, I planned to stroll around in the Spring Heat for at least two hours, but wound up spending only one. Part of the problem is the economy, in that in the era of the eBook, a lot of publishers have gone under, or cannot afford to rent the tent at the Festival anymore. Thus, there are less books being published, thus leading to fewer actual publishers. Then there’s the problem of the web itself. What’s the point of the Festival when you can stroll through with an iPhone, searching Amazon as you stroll, and finding a better deal if you just wait to get home and order it there?

There still is value in the book fair, but you’ve got to be strategic about it. You should pick up tickets (in advance) for one of the many talks, and attend. Not only will you get in out of the heat, but you might learn something, and be able to out and hit the book vendors with an actual itch to scratch.

I was also trying to determine why exactly they moved the Book Festival from UCLA to USC, and about thirty minutes in, I figured it out. It’s the mass transit. You can take the Subway right to campus, hop off, and you’re at the festival. Makes it soooo much easier to get there, and even makes it easier on those of us who want to drive, freeing up $10 parking spaces.

Overall, still worth a look, even though the times are a changing, and I’m not seeing how the Book Festival can change with it.

 

IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP, PEOPLE: I have two. One, try, if at all possible, hold off buying anything until Sunday, especially late Sunday (the last day of the Book Fair), where the Vendors might be willing to sell stuff to you a more heavily discounted price. This, of course, carries some risks. The book you want might not be there Sunday, and the Vendor may not be willing to take a haircut on his or her stock.

Two, getting those advance Tickets at Ticketmaster may not be worth it. Rare has the day (at least when the Festival was at UCLA) when I could not get into the Lectures, even if from the Standby line. Now, again, that’s not a guarantee, because if a very famous or popular person has come to speak in one of the big Auditoriums, odds are you’re screwed. But in a smaller hall, with a less well-known Author or speaker, relax, be patient, odds are you’re getting in. You won’t get the best seats, but you’ll get in.

Frequently asked questions about the Festival can be found here.

 

PARKING: At ten bucks (as of the 2012 Festival), it’s a little expensive, but they’ll make the USC Campus Lots available, and there are plenty of spaces.

But now that I’ve been there and back, see if you can take the Metro.  There is a stop just outside one of the main entrances to the Festival.  I’m thinking that’s why they went with USC.

 

MAP DIRECTIONS:
Los Angeles Times Festival of Books
699 Exposition Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA
90089