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Coming to the Festival of Books: Lisa Napoli

April 28, 2011 | 10:24 am

Lisanapoli Lisa Napoli started out as a TV producer for CNN, went on to cover technology for the NY Times and business for the public radio show Marketplace. In 2006, fed up with the journalism racket and eager to reset her life, she went to Bhutan, a country she knew little about, to help launch a radio station.

Napoli's story about her time in Bhutan, "Radio Shangri-La: What I Learned in Bhutan, the Happiest Place on Earth," spent three weeks on the L.A. Times extended bestseller list. She'll be at the Festival of Books on Sunday at 2 p.m. on the panel, "Memoir: Finding the Hook."

Jacket Copy: As an experienced journalist working in multimedia -- radio and television -- was there anything hard, or easy, about switching to writing a book?

Lisa Napoli: After years of reducing even the most complex subjects down to soundbites or quotes in print, on radio, TV and the Internet, I loved having a year-plus to languish in one project. It was a total and complete pleasure and thrill to get paid to write this book.

JC: Where did your curiosity about Bhutan come from?

LN: The handsome tea importer named Sebastian, whom I met at a party, who jokingly invited me to hop a plane with him -- impossible, since you need a pricey visa -- and then got me invited there to help start a youth-oriented radio station.

Honestly, all I knew about the place before I went was that it was supposedly the happiest on earth -- and that it didn't have TV until 1999. I was sure those two things must be connected.

JC: Why do the Bhutanese paint phalluses on their houses? (If you're not easily offended, see Lisa's video of Bhutantese phallus paintings).

LN: To ward off evil spirits. If you see the painted phallus, it's believed you'll turn away and thus not covet what you don't have. That and something to do with the legend of Drupka Kunley, a bawdy 15th century mystic who blessed women with his sexual powers.

JC: As you’ve gone on your first book tour, what have people responded to most about your book?

LN: Every day, I get mail and meet people who say they were just like me -- disillusioned with where they'd wound up in life and wondering what they could do to get off the treadmill so they could grow old gracefully and with meaning. As many men as women, in fact -- even though I think Crown thought this book would skew female.

I also get mail every day from people who've been to Bhutan. They're desperate to share their experiences with someone who's been there. One guy in Miami was really blunt: "No one I know understands so I had to come meet you."

JC: Are you looking forward to anything in particular at the Festival of Books this year?

LN: Taking the DASH bus from my apartment in beloved downtown Los Angeles to get to the beautiful USC campus.

Tickets to the L.A. Times Festival of Books are available now from Eventbrite.

RELATED:

Coming to the Festival of Books: Laura Lippman

Coming to the Festival of Books: Mark Kurlansky

Coming to the Festival of Books: Yunte Huang

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Lisa Napoli. Credit: Marty Katz

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