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Did you go to the Festival of Books? What did you think?


The 16th annual L.A. Times Festival of Books took place April 30 and May 1 under sunny Southern California skies. For the first time, the festival was held on the campus of USC, across town from its former home at UCLA.

Our team that puts together the event has posted a survey about the Festival of Books. They'd love to get your thoughts about the event.

Did you come? What did you think?

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Visitors listen and lounge at the 2011 L.A. Times Festival of Books. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

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Please move it back to UCLA.

The internet site for getting tickets at 9 AM Sunday morning was not operational and when it did come up it seems to have come up for parts of the city but not all. The food situation was the worst thing about it. There were few to no food concessions except for those associated with USC and those were jam packed. They need to bring in the multitude of concessions that they had at UCLA. That really makes or breaks the event. Otherwise it was about the same.

I went and I loved it!!! The spirit of the festival was the same and if you are a true bibliophile then that's all that matters.

Honestly, you could host the festival in Death Valley or Central CA and I would still go. I didn't mind the location change, it was flatter, it's easier to maneuver and frankly, looking for my favorite booths in a new setting made it a super fun adventure.

Can't wait to ride the Expo Line next year! Thanks for hosting USC and thanks for organizing it LA Times.


A Book Worm

The only panel I could find on Saturday that seemed related to humor was Absurdist. Interesting (and humorous) but I do wonder at the lack of attention to humorous fiction. Or do we have a new definition of entertainment these days?

UCLA weather was hotter. Is USC in a more temperate latitude?

This was my first book festival. I bought a panel pass ahead of time and went to three panels each day. Very easy! The panels I attended were all fantastic. I also enjoyed the entertainment at the LA Times Stage--especially Sister Souljah. I still feel like I missed a lot--just too much good stuff to choose from! My friend and I both wished we had some food carts to select from--frozen lemonade was noticeably absent. How about enlisting some of those famous LA food trucks and carts? USC dining could not support a crowd like this.

For me, the lack of food was the only fault. It was refreshing and inspiring to take part in such a wonderful event.

Getting to the festival by car was a but troublesome. I agree that the food and concessions need to be improved. At UCLA I could go out to the many nearby restaurants in westwoood, but at USC, there were not many options. Also, although the location was flatter and easier to get around, it was hotter and felt more cramped even though I think there were less people there than I've seen in previous years. Overall, enjoyed the festival, but didn't have that same feel of tradition that it had before.

It was a lot of fun, but the traffic was horrible. I missed the first panel I wanted to see because traffic on the Exposition Boulevard exit was backed up for a mile. Also, the volunteers in yellow T-shirts? They knew nothing. I was trying to find a building, asked 3, yes 3 different volunteers - not one of them knew where it was. A fairgoer overheard my increasingly desperate queries and pointed me int eh right direction.

I loved it! It was our first time attending the Festival and my husband, daughter and son all enjoyed the various panels, interviews and cooking demos. That says quite a bit being that my kids are 27 and 24; and they want to join us again next year! I was also very pleased to see the number of children in attendance and the great Target Stage . Being familiar with the campus was a great asset, however, kudos to your staff and the USC staff for making it easy to find the various stages, signing booths and panel rooms ... Great Job!!

I loved it!

I'll confess, USC is closer than me than UCLA, but I made that trek for years, happily.

USC was better as, the ground was flatter, so things could be closer together. I am reasonably young and fit but MAN! Seemed like I was always walking down and up hills at UCLA. It made things have to be farther apart.

I really REALLY liked the Bullseye bus and metro working together. It made it so much easier and I did not have to worry about traffic or parking.

I really enjoyed my day and the easy availability of the stages. Two thumbs up : )

The Festival was a commendable effort, but it seemed poorly planned and executed. There was a lack of food and vendors from previous years. The event did not have the same energy and spirit. The attendance was way off. My concern is that the Festival is on it's last legs and is ready to bite the dust. Perhaps the festival is reflective of what is happening culturally. The closing of bookshops, a consolidation of outlets and fewer forums for thought and discussion at the community level. Interestingly Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and major outlets etc were missing. It would have been a good idea to invite these companies regardless of the politics involved. The planners of the Festival need to rethink the festival and realize that the demographic for the Festival of Books is not Downtown LA but the Westside. It would be a wise move to switch the festival back to it's original location for next year if it is to survive in the future.

i watched a lot of it on cspan saturday and sunday.it was great;both the interviews and the panels.
thank you!

I think USC is a GREAT decision coming from an accessibility standpoint. Sure, the traffic was bad, but by next year, the Expo Line will be open and thousands of people will be able to get to the Book Festival without having to drive. Angelenos are still so suburban minded, they can't think outside of the car!

USC = Expo Line = Great Location for Book Festival

Did not attend. Until a venue with great parking is utilized, I'm, sadly, done with the festival.

We had intended to attend, but things got in the way; Saturday was awards at Eaton Canyon, and an appointment on Sunday... Sorry would have loved to attend !

As one of the other posters noted, the festival was disorganized. The yellow-shirted volunteers were poorly trained and knew nothing about the layout of the booths. When I came in around noon on Saturday there was no one directing traffic to negotiate the flow of pedestrians across the intersection leading to parking. There was no one to direct traffic to the parking structure which was nearly two blocks away from the parking booth going toward Figueroa. Also, organizers of the panels and seminars should feature more innovative writers from independent publishers, self-publishers and bloggers who are pushing the envelope, not the same old over-exposed writers from big presses. UCLA was a much more pleasant, user friendly venue.

Unless you came for the children's books section, this year's book fest was sort of a washout, at least for me. It was poorly laid-out. Most vendors seemed to be do-it-yourself on-demand publishers looking for writers, PR people looking for self-published writers, and the self-published writers themselves hawking their too heavy, on-demand books. And bookstores selling books at reduced prices, which seemed to be the most popular. The most interesting were the writers' groups, like the lady mystery writers, but there appeared to be too many writers selling books that looked self-published (i.e., too heavy, badly designed covers). As someone else pointed out below, perhaps the festival is simply a reflection of all the downsizing, consolidation, and switching to digital that's going on in the industry.

The venue was much better. Not only shadier and easier to get around, but parking, I'm told, was much easier for handicapped.

But the main issues I had remained the same: the volunteers were subpar. The young ones literally didn't know where anything was. The elderly ones, god bless them, are ruder every year. They often act like they have been released from nursing homes and given free rein to yell and bark at people in lines and many take a generally imperious attitude towards the crowds they are supposed to be helping.

In not a single panel I attended (3-4) were mics used for audience participation--so no one could hear the questions, which were not as bad as usual from what I could here. The staff need better (any?) screening/training.

Sometimes the organization left something to be desired: I noticed that possible fire exits were blocked by string in THH. And why in heck aren't wheelchair people given help/priority in signing lines? I watched two people in chairs try to negotiate the narrow, slalom like signing line for Egers Smith and not a single yellow shirt helped them.

I think a lot of the criticisms on here are motivated by thinly veiled UCLA favoritism. Most of the problems had nothing to do with USC venue switch. But the food choices seemed GREATLY reduced and I think other posters are correct that this needs to be fixed. And trash cans overflowed in some USC eating spots on Sun where staff seemed overwhelmed. The wait at Coffee Bean for a cofffee drink was 30 mins and there were 2 staff working there!

Some of this might need to be negotiated with USC, but you can do better LA Times.

The fair was fun, but it was difficult to find what I was looking for. I map of specific booths would have been nice.
Fight On

Although I prefer the old location, I want the Festival of Books to remain successful for many years to come. I think if the Times had just said up front that the Festival moved for financial reasons, there would have been less resistance to the new location. Instead, the Times made it seem like the old location was inferior because it was not in a more diverse area. I feel this "diversity" argument was just a way to inoculate the Times against criticism over the move.

Regarding an earlier comment that the book buying demographic is in West LA, I disagree. The book buying demographic is all over Southern CA, and people from all over Southern CA attend the Festival. The oldest independent bookstore in Los Angeles County is Vroman's in Pasadena, not Dutton's and Midnight Special which went out of business.

I used to drive in from Orange County to attend the Festival when it was at UCLA, so I don't see why somebody from West LA can't drive to USC. In any case, I hope everyone can put aside their differences and support the Festival.

Practically no food (free Ben & Jerry's ice cream and school vendors don't count), poorly organized, and the serious lack of open space were major issues. Too many paths with one line of vendors back-to-back on each made it very to find what we were looking for or browse. The great thing about UCLA was that there were two large open areas and one long breezeway connecting them, so everything was together. USC just didn't have that. Far too confusing. We actually thought we'd gone from one end to the other a couple of times before we would round a corner and find more.
Also, the "Hero Complex" had no "heroes". Not one comic book vendor was located past the sign.
USC needs to get over whatever litter issues they have and let the food vendors come on site to sell real, good food so that people (like my husband) don't have to search for over an hour to find the cafeteria and, eventually, the indoor food court.

It was much better at UCLA--please move it back! The westside is much easier to navigate, safer, and provides more options for food. Didn't like it at USC.

one thing I want to add where this year's festival excelled was in the book signing list. There were fewer big literary names perhaps, but many many notable and newer authors, Pulitzer Prize winners, NBA finalists etc. So this was certainly a strength if you are mainly there to meet authors and get books signed as I was.

USC concessions for food and book buying were completely unprepared for an event of this scale. I can forgive the long lines at concessions but I can not forgive not being able to buy Maxine Hong Kingston's newest book "I love a wide margin" when she was right there waiting and willing to sign it. This is a book festival right?

Still a great event, but lots of new problems this year -- most of which I attribute not so much to the location as to the fact that the location was new. At USC it was hard to find places, even for volunteers and author escorts, the signs were written for people who already knew the location, there did not seem to be a logic to the layout of panels. The locations of author signing tents was mysterious, and not announced to festival goers ahead of time or even at the panels I attended. There were problems with microphones at some panels, and the rooms weren't set up with sufficient microphones for the audience to use. The lack of food vendors was ridiculous. And it certainly seemed to me to have been much less well attended this year than the last couple.

Admittedly it was a rough first year for USC - little direction to restrooms and limited food venues but save that - let's go back to UCLA? UCLA? Where the closest place to park is south of Santa Monica Blvd. 'cause aside from the Federal Bldg. lot there is no where in any other direction to park - add the 'ease' in accessing the westside by those smooth open east-west north-south arteries and wonder why this event was moved?

It were a gain for those who sponsored the event it would still be at UCLA - it wasn't.

Re: "It were a gain for those who sponsored the event it would still be at UCLA - it wasn't."

It was a gain for the event sponsors. It became the largest book festival in the nation while it was UCLA. But they expected UCLA, a public university, to subsidize it while they reaped the profits. That's why UCLA is no longer the host.

And I never had to park south of the federal building. I always arrived early and parked on campus.

I attended Sunday only, and it was not a good experience. I chose to park & ride using the DASH, which was advertised to run every 10 minutes during festival weekend. The wait was closer to 40 minutes, and the first DASH refused to let me on because it was too full. I nearly missed my ticketed event. Once arriving on campus, I could not find a single volunteer until stumbling upon an Information booth. The USC space felt cramped, and attendance was markedly lower than in years past. There was no buzz of excitement. My event was a little over half full, and on the bus back I heard that other panels had poor attendance as well. Even though USC is closer to me, I would rather travel to UCLA's larger, more beautiful campus.

I loved it. USC was a great venue...easy to get around and see everything. Please keep it there.

To the person who claimed that “the demographic for the Festival of Books is not Downtown LA but the Westside,” this statement could not be more incorrect or elitist, which is somewhat ironic since people from UCLA constantly accuse people from USC of being snobs. One of the benefits of holding the Festival at a location like USC is that it is more easily accessible to a more diverse group of people from all over Southern California. Let’s remember, this was never the “UCLA Festival of Books” or the “Westside Festival of Books” but rather the “Los Angeles Times Festival of Books”. It should be designed to appeal to a range of people throughout the region, not solely the demographic represented on the Westside. Children in the local community (who have probably never had an opportunity to attend such an event) were able to walk to the Festival this year with their classmates. In the end, isn’t that the goal of such a book festival?

Because of the large crowds expected, I arrived early on both days and had no trouble parking on campus in one of the parking structures. One cannot expect to arrive mid-day and find tons of available parking. Would you go to the mall at noon on the day after Christmas and expect there to be no traffic and great parking? Come on.

And finally, “The yellow-shirted volunteers were poorly trained and knew nothing about the layout of the booths.” First of all, take note of the fact that these people are VOLUNTEERS, not paid employees. They have generously given of their time to assist with this event and were “paid” with a free t-shirt and a box lunch. Secondly, the “training” consisted of a two-hour orientation session. Even the people who have volunteered at the Festival for the last 10 years were learning their way around this new venue and it will take some time to adjust. Finally, each volunteer was assigned to a specific job and should not be expected to know everything about everything. My only job was to be an “author escort” but since I happen to be familiar with campus, I gladly directed people who stopped me for assistance.

I believe the key to having an enjoyable experience at the Festival of Books (no matter where it is held) is simply to plan ahead. I made note of the panels and speakers I wanted to see and mapped out a schedule for each day so I did not miss anything I really wanted to attend. I got about a dozen books signed, attended a couple of great panels, and checked out some of the booths and outdoor stages. I had a great experience because I did my part by planning out my trip ahead of time. It’s as simple as that, folks.

I had a great time at the Festival of Books this year, with my wife and daughter. It was much easier to navigate than at UCLA.

However, the food concession was very bad. Most of the food choices were in the new student union, and the lines wrapped around forever. Fortunately, we were able to find the dorm cafeteria, which was reasonably priced. But alas, most people had no idea where it was.

I also agree that the event staff, while trying hard to be helpful, didn’t seem to know anything. And the “iPhone App” was virtually useless, I was better off viewing the pdf on my phone.

BTW, we found very easy parking in the neighborhood southwest of campus. Free. Our new car was not touched by anybody.

Seriously folks, the festival was held in the middle of the day. If you honestly think your car is going to get jacked in broad daylight, with all the police presence that was out there, then you’ve watched way too many movies or believe everything the TV news tells you. It’s just funny to see how scared otherwise reasonable people can be of people of color.

EH wrote: "The westside is much easier to navigate, safer, and provides more options for food."

Incorrect on all three counts. Parking at UCLA was very, very bad, and the winding streets of Westwood are fairly confusing compared to the simple grid at USC. In Westwood, Lord help you if you're a pedestrian (you're likely to get run over crossing Wilshire Boulevard). As for nearby food choices, I would recommend the many restaurants in Downtown L.A., just a mile away.

Next year the festival will be even easier to get to, because the Expo Line will be running. I love UCLA, but it's not going to be rail-adjacent for at least another decade.

We the readers came from Long Beach, Pasadena, Orange County, Culver City, the Valley - all over the region. Better to locate the festival in the center, rather than way off in the Westside.

It was very nice given that change is always hard on everybody.

I think a good food map available to everyone (not just people with expensive phones) would have been a big help. I think lots of folks never realized you could just walk a minute or two a find Denny's, Burger King, a food court, and tons of other food in University Village. That's where I ate all my meals, and there were no lines. Too bad no one else knew! The lines in the campus center would have been half as long as they were (and they were insane.)

It took me literally half an hour the first morning to go that last mile on the 110...at which point I resolved to take the Target shuttle on Sunday. That is, until I saw the long line of people Saturday afternoon standing in the sun, waiting for the Target shuttle... UCLA had parking problems, too, of course, and worse public transportation, so USC might be slightly ahead on this issue, but there are still problems.

Oh, and I really wish the audience for the YA Stage hadn't been in full sun all day! Very hard. Any way to shade it?

This was my first year going to the festival. We went because we live downtown so it was easy for us to get there. I agree with the commenters that the food situation was HORRIBLE. My husband and I tried eating at the student commons, but the lines were so incredibly long we had to settle for the concession booths with the boring sandwiches. We were really expecting some awesome FOOD TRUCKS to be there......:-( Next year, have better food!!! Food really makes a Festival :-)

We've attended the festival for years. Traveling from northern San Diego was a torture. Getting to USC was much easier, no LAX to get passed. The on-line computer ticketing was a mess on the previous Sunday. We almost gave up on going. Parking was easy, volunteers didn't give good directions, food/water places were not obvious, nor were places to purchase festival artifacts. We attended three panels (Sunday) and they were great. We will attend again.

I didn't get to go as I was out of town this year. Have spoken to many who did attend, though.
Their comments were that there was a lack of food, difficulty parking, much smaller school with no centralized areas, hard to find booths and panels.
I have been going to this festival since it began in '96. This was only the 2nd time I missed attending. Based on what I heard from both friends and authors, I am hoping that next year they return the festival to UCLA.

I have attended the Festival for many years and found that each year the layout at UCLA would get better and I could see the growth in the attendance.

The attendance this year seemed low to me. Due to lack of space (grassy areas), once you walked around for a bit, you were ready to leave. At UCLA you had the option to work the booths in the morning time, resting and eating (picnic style), then working the other booths in the afternoon. The layout was choppy and booths were difficult to find even though there were beautiful big maps all over. The volunteers this year, were rude and not knowledgeable. The volunteers in previous years were never rude.

If the location cannot be changed to an area that is more inviting and spacious then I hope to see an improvement, at least, on the layouts of the booths.

Having taken my children many times to the Museum of Science and Industry and the Natural History Museum, attending summer classes there, too, I just couldn't get my car to travel to that overcrowded downtown LA area (from here in Torrance ), then walk around the cramped USC Campus - which could NEVER compare with the beautiful parklike setting of UCLA, where you can always, even with the huge Festival crowds, find a tree to settle under for a while, (after all, if you buy a book, don't you want to browse through it for a minute while "resting"?) Also, I don't understand the UCLA parking complaints - I've always been able to find a parking spot in one of the MANY parking structures during the Festival, even on days I arrived in the early afternoon! I didn't go this year - no interest at all, even though I ususally look forward to the event - partially due to the beautiful UCLA setting. PLEASE go back to UCLA!!


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