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Coming Sunday: To Live and Write in L.A.

April 20, 2012 |  6:42 pm

To Live and Write in L.A.This is the weekend of the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, when tens of thousands of book lovers converge on the USC campus for two days of panels, events, readings and just plain fun.

In the spirit of ideas, which the festival clearly brings to Southern California, we reached out to four people participating in the festival to get their views on the joys and challenges of being L.A. writers. Under the banner "To Live and Write in L.A." Tod Goldberg, Janet Fitch, Robert Crais and Leo Braudy didn't let us down.

Goldberg's piece opens our coverage in Sunday Arts & Books with his perspective of first seeing the city as a 9-year-old coming over the Grapevine with his older brother.

Fitch observes that the very act of writing about the city is, in fact, an act of creating the city and offering a chance to open people's eyes to a world they may not normally see.

Suspense writer Crais sees the city and its more than 114 separate neighborhoods as a veritable gold mine of story telling opportunities.

Braudy relates his personal history of growing up in Philadelphia and coming to the Southland under the misconception that the area has no real history to speak of and learning that L.A.'s fictional image often overshadows its real story. All excellent, glorious works on a weekend when we celebrate ideas and the written word.

David Ulin's contribution to the conversation is a finely observed critic's notebook on the literary legacy of the riots after the verdict in the Rodney King beating case 20 years ago. Ulin summons up a very short list of excellent works on the riots (including Lynell George's extraordinary essay "Waiting for the Rainbow Sign," which we print online with Ulin's piece) but observes that "the shelf of books addressing the disaster is threadbare, conditional even, as if we've never figured out how to write about these events." The why of that makes for a profound read.

Jesmyn Ward is no stranger to civic disaster. She was coming out of a subway in New York as the World Trade Center was crumbling on Sept. 11, 2001. DeLisle, her hometown on the Mississippi coast, was battered by Hurricane Katrina. And she struggled to keep herself together so she could write. And write she can, as the National Book Award jury noted last year when it gave Ward its fiction prize for "Salvage the Bones," a novel about a poor African American family in Mississippi who are right in the path of Katrina. Carolyn Kellogg talked to Ward, who is participating in the festival, and got the full story of what draws her back to DeLisle time and again.

Richard Rayner calls Seth Greenland's latest novel "The Angry Buddhist," from the quirky and interesting publishing house Europa Editions, "a wild  entertainment as well as a novel about the way we live now that dares to dance with the profound." Interesting thoughts, but can he back them up? And the answer is "yes" in a captivating review about the political season in a place a lot like Palm Springs. Greenland, who also wrote for HBO's "Big Love," is at the festival this weekend too.

So is David St. John, who is reading at the poetry stage on Sunday. We run the text of "The Lake," a poem from  his most recent collection "The Auroras: New Poems."

YA writer Paolo Bacigalupi was given the prestigious Michael L. Printz award last year and was also a nominee for the National Book Award -- so there is a certain sense of anticipation about his latest work. It's here now and called  "The Drowned Cities." It is living proof that dystopia never dies, or at least not in this bookselling cycle. Susan Carpenter's review notes that although the story is an interesting read, it has far more violence than, say, the conclusion to "The Hunger Games." It's recommended for children ages 14 and up. From the sound of the review, one wonders what's up with that guideline?

Deputy book editor Nick Owchar likes quirky books, and he found one this week with "How to Win an Election: An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians," which concerns the final political advice that Quintus Tullius Cicero was giving his older brother, the great Marcus Tullius Cicero. That advice, while centuries old, has resonance even with candidates on the stump today.

Calendar's Sunday Conversation feature this week offers a great interview with Robert Weil, a leading figure in publishing who is now leading the revival of Liveright, one of the legendary imprints in American letters. Tough economy, you say. Nobody reads quality books, you say. Not so, says Weil, and he explains why.

And finally we have our weekly bestsellers list, with Joseph Wambaugh's latest novel "Harbor Nocturne" making its first week on the fiction rolls. A Southern California favorite for decades, Wambaugh is at the festival Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in conversation with Lee Goldberg.

Lots of good pieces in the paper this week all with authors coming to the festival. Jessica Gelt reviews Cheryl Strayed's fascinating memoir "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail." I talked to Pulitzer Prize-winner Edward Humes about his new book "Garbology." Reed Johnson has a hilarous conversation with "Taco USA" author Gustavo Arellano and Carolyn Kellogg talks to everyone's favorite children's author, Judy Blume. And finally, Steve Zeitchik catches up with Chad Harbach on his year of living famously following the success of his novel "The Art of Fielding." 

 As always, thanks for reading,

-- Jon Thurber, book editor

Image credit: Paul Gonzales /Los Angeles Times