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Books, authors and all things bookish

Category: Los Angeles

LéaLA celebrates Spanish-language books this weekend

Leala2Here’s a trick question (at least for non-Spanish speakers): What’s North America’s most book-loving city? New York? Los Angeles? Toronto?

A good case could be made for awarding the bibliophiles’ prize to Guadalajara, a metropolis that many U.S. tourists associate only with mariachis and tequila.

The beautiful baroque-colonial city, Mexico’s second-largest, annually hosts what is reputed to be the largest book fair in the northern half of the Western Hemisphere. Formally known as La Feria Internacional del Libro de Guadalajara, or FIL, the yearly convocation draws tens of thousands of visitors as well as hundreds of the world’s preeminent Spanish-language authors, from Barcelona to Buenos Aires.

This weekend, Angelenos will be flocking to the 2nd annual edition of  LéaLA, Feria del Libro en Español de Los Ángeles, a kind of scaled-down version of Guadalajara’s massive book festival, at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Backed by the University of Guadalajara, and free and open to public, LéaLA aims to promote Spanish-language and Spanish-translated literature through book publishers’ sales-displays and readings and talks by distinguished authors.

Simultaneously, the festival is intended to bolster a growing cultural connection between Southern California’s enormous Mexican American/Latino population and Guadalajara, capital of Jalisco, the ancestral home of more L.A. Latinos than any other Mexican state.

Finally, LéaLA attempts to help make amends for a bizarre L.A. cultural phenomenon: the city’s near-absence of Spanish-language bookstores. Apart from public libraries, university bookstores (which stock course-related titles) and a handful of small shops like Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore in Sylmar and the Libros Schmibros bookstore/lending library in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles -- with the United States’ largest Spanish-speaking population -- has virtually no place to find and buy Spanish-language books.

In only its second year, LéaLA already has become one of the largest Spanish-language book-related events in the United States. Last year it drew 36,000 people to its inaugural edition. This year, with 200 individual exhibition stalls, up from 84 last year, and four times as much total floor space, festival organizers expect an even larger turnout.

Among the boldface names at this year’s festival, which runs through Sunday, are the best-selling Mexican-Spanish writer and novelist Paco Ignacio Taibo II, crime writer James Ellroy, the Nicaraguan poet Ernesto Cardenal and Mexican political analyst and intellectual Enrique Krauze.

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L.A. literary salon remembers noir at Musso & Frank

Musso & Frank, the famous steakhouse that served up cocktails to William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald and other writers at loose ends in Hollywood, hosted its second literary salon Monday night. The guest speaker was John Buntin, author of "L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America's Most Seductive City"; he was there to illuminate the true-life models for the fiction of iconic detective novelist Raymond Chandler.

That was the end of the evening. First, there was dinner -- a three-course one, with a limited menu that, yes, included steak -- and before that, cocktails.


Musso's bartenders and waitstaff came in to work on their day off -- the restaurant is usually closed Mondays, and was open only to salon attendees. Ruben Rueda, above, has been at the restaurant for 45 years -- since Feb. 4, 1967, to be exact. Like the martinis, the gibson above came with an overflow carafe. I'd like to think that's how Chandler used to take his drinks -- with more drinks on the side.

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Festival of Books: On the Los Angeles riots, 20 years later

Click to view photos from the Festival of Books

In a lot of ways, Sunday's Festival of Books panel "Los Angeles, 20 Years After the Verdict," was a sequel to Saturday's interview by Patt Morrison with Rodney King, whose beating by L.A. police officers 21 years ago was the first in a series of steps that culminated in the 1992 riots.

And in another sense, the panel was a reunion for some of the players in that tragic moment in Los Angeles history.

Moderator Warren Olney, now a KCRW radio host, was a Los Angeles TV reporter at the time. He was joined by Jim Newton, L.A. Times columnist and editor at large, who was covering the Los Angeles Police Department for the L.A. Times when the riots began. 

PHOTOS: Festival of Books

Connie Rice was a civil rights activist and lawyer, and later a co-founder of The Advancement Project, and the recent author of "Power Concedes Nothing: One Woman's Quest for Social Justice in America, From the Kill Zones to the Courts." The fourth panelist was Gil Garcetti, who at the time was mounting a campaign for Los Angeles County district attorney.

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Rodney King and the L.A. riots: When 20 years can seem like yesterday

Click to view photos from the Festival of BooksOne aspect of Los Angeles hasn't changed in the 20 years since the 1992 riots: Traffic tie-ups. Rodney King, whose March 1991 beating by L.A. police officers was the first link in the chain of events that culminated in the 1992 riots, was a half-hour late Saturday for his interview with Times columnist Patt Morrison.

So, in a sense, the session ran in reverse. With Morrison, who also anchors a radio show on KPCC, as the moderator, Angelenos spent a half-hour talking about their own experiences during and after the riots as they awaited King's arrival. The general consensus: The LAPD has changed for the better, but the socio-economic conditions that set the stage for the riots have worsened. And the racial divides are still chasms.

PHOTOS: Festival of Books

"I'm surprised at how white we are here," said one white woman, looking around at the crowd of more than 500 people in a basement auditorium at USC's Ronald Tutor Campus Center, about four miles north of where the riots began near South Central's Normandie and Florence Avenues. The woman said she lived in South Central, in a neighborhood in which she is the rare white resident. "The riots can certainly start again, until we have socio-economic changes, and in how we view other people."

King, for his part, arrived out of breath, and spoke of forgiveness for the officers involved in his videotaped beating after a high-speed chase. With his history of substance abuse, he said, he has been in need of some forgiveness. "I am a forgiving man," he said. "That's how I was raised, to be in a forgiving state of mind. I have been forgiven many times. I am only human. Who am I not to forgive someone?"

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L.A. Times' Book Prizes and Festival of Books: Coming right up!


The 2012 Festival of Books is almost upon us: Panel sessions get started Saturday at 10 a.m. Before that happens, though, the Los Angeles Times' Book Prizes will be presented Friday night at USC's Bovard Auditorium. There are a number of ways to get prepared.

Want to attend the Book Prizes event? For the first time in a while, you can. Prizes will be awarded in 10 categories: biography, current interest, fiction, poetry, first fiction, graphic novel, science and technology, mystery/thriller, and young adult literature, with special awards being given to Rudulfo Anaya and the collaborative teen-writing project Figment. Tickets are $10 and available until 5 p.m. via Evenbrite; the Book Prize ceremony begins at 7:30 p.m.

Can't come? Follow the official @LATimesbooksTwitter feed for news of the award winners as they are announced. I'll be working the feed's levers, so keep an eye out for behind-the-scenes photos and whatever insights I might be able to share -- if, say, for example, I find an ice-cream truck -- throughout the entire festival. (For the occasional aside -- if, say, I eat too much ice cream -- you can follow me @paperhaus.)

Have you gotten panel tickets yet? The Festival of Books is presenting more than 100 panels and with more than 400 authors. Entry is free, but you can reserve tickets online with a $1 (each) processing fee in advance. Getting in line at the day of the festival usually works just fine, but some panels have already sold out.

Of course, there are lots of events that do not require tickets, including hundreds of booths with books,  book-related activities and organizations, poetry readings, a food court, and celebrities at the L.A. Times Stage. You might want to arrive early to get a front-row seat to see John Cusack talk about "The Raven," the upcoming movie in which he plays Edgar Allan Poe, Saturday at 2:30 p.m., or for Sunday at 1:20 p.m., when Betty White talks about being Betty White -- her book is "Betty and Friends: My Life at the Zoo."

Of course, the festival has its own Twitter feed, @latimesfob, which is staffed by the event organizers who are helpful and knowledgeable. Follow to learn about sold-out panels, scheduling changes or any other need-to-know tidbits.

Among the most common questions festival-goers have are, "Where is this panel I'm trying to find?" and "Where is the food court?" No need to ask if you're carrying a smartphone. For the second year in a row, the Festival of Books has a free app, for both iPhone and Android. If you downloaded last year's, it will just update. This year's app has even more features than last year's, including a social media tool to share your photos in a Facebook album and includes a super-handy scheduling tool.

If for some reason you can't make it to USC but want to keep up with the festival as it happens Saturday and Sunday, check in right here on Jacket Copy.


2011 Book Prize finalists announced

Pictures: 2011 festival's pre-opening

2011 Festival of Books panel coverage

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: The 2011 Festival of Books. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times


Portrait of a Bookstore to close after 26 years

Portraitofabookstore_1Another Southern California independent bookseller is calling it quits. Studio City's Portrait of a Bookstore will close its doors May 17 after 26 years in the business.

Owner Julie von Zerneck, a former actress, opened the store in 1986 with the help of her husband and co-owner, Frank, a television producer. At the time, he'd been making a string of slightly naughty Lifetime TV movies: "Portrait of an Escort," "Portrait of a Stripper," "Katie: Portrait of a Centerfold," "Sharon: Portrait of a Mistress." Hence, Portrait of a Bookstore: a little sassier than you thought.

Since 1998, the bookstore has been housed inside the sprawling Aroma Café, a warren of cozy rooms and outdoor patios. Portrait of a Bookstore occupies a 900-square-foot room that feels both completely its own and connected to the cafe around it. In its small space, it has packed a great range of independent bestsellers, classics, jewelry, children's books, greeting cards, unique glassware and other gifts. During its last month in business, Portrait of a Bookstore's stock is all marked down 50%.

But it wasn't the stuff in the store that its staff emphasized when I visited it in 2011. "There are people who've been coming here for 20 years," bookstore manager Aida Chaldranyan said. "People 16 or 18 now that we watched grow up -- from 'Green Eggs and Ham' to 'Life of Pi.' "

That sentiment was echoed in a goodbye letter that the bookstore wrote to its customers: "Over the years, we have watched local writers work in our garden on their manuscripts, get published and arrive on bestseller lists. We have watched babies come into the world, learn to read in our children’s nook and grow up to start families of their own. We have cherished every moment of our time in this community."

Julie von Zerneck insists that closing the store now is the right time. “A happy ending depends on when you stop your story,” she says, borrowing from Orson Welles, “and this is our happy ending.”


Downtown L.A.'s The Last Bookstore

Bookstore of the Week: Portrait of a Bookstore in Studio City

Ann Patchett talks local bookstores with Stephen Colbert [video]

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Portrait of a Bookstore in Studio City will close for good on May 17. Credit: Carolyn Kellogg / Los Angeles Times

Tickets to the L.A. Times Festival of Books now on sale

Passes to attend the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, taking place April 21 and 22, go on sale today at 10 a.m. While the event is free, enthusiasts who want to reserve tickets to see their favorite authors, purchase valet parking, and get a discount on tickets to the L.A. Times Book Prizes can do so by buying the $30 panel pass. Panel passes can be purchased through the Festival of Books website.

The Festival of Books is the nation's largest book fair, with more than 500 authors participating. Noted writers scheduled to appear include children's book author Judy Blume, bestselling novelist T.C. Boyle, mystery writer Robert Crais, and young adult author John Green. A complete list of authors who will be coming to the festival is now online.

Times columnist Patt Morrison will interview Rodney King about his forthcoming memoir, “The Riot Within: My Journey From Rebellion to Redemption,” written with Lawrence J. Spagnola. The acquittal of the four police officers charged in King's videotaped beating  sparked the L.A. riots 20 years ago. Talking about the civil unrest, and the change it brought to the city, will be radio host Warren Olney, civil rights attorney Connie Rice, former L.A. Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti, and Times' editor-at-large Jim Newton.

Those who purchase panel passes can select up to eight conversations and panels for which they'll be ensured entry. The ticketed events take place in various buildings across the campus of the University of Southern California, including the historic Bovard Hall. This is the second year that the Festival of Books will take place at USC.

Pass-holders will also get a free copy of the festival poster, designed by illustrator Bob Staake, and access to purchase tickets to the L.A. Times book prizes on April 20  for half the regular $10 ticket price. Valet parking tickets will be available to pass-holders for $30.

Celebrities appearing at the festival's stages, which don’t require tickets, include Julie Andrews, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Florence Henderson, Ricki Lake, Sugar Ray Leonard, Henry Winkler, Michael Ian Black, and John Cusack, who portrays Edgar Allan Poe in the upcoming film “The Raven.”


The 2012 L.A. Times Book Prizes

2011 Festival of Books panel coverage

Photos: the 2011 Festival of Books, pre-opening, at USC

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Authors in L.A.: Isabel Allende celebrates 'Zorro' and more

With his sword and black mask, the dashing outlaw known as Zorro has become a part of Southern California's fictionalized history ever since appearing in a pulp magazine story in 1919. He's a romantic Robin Hood-like figure who has inspired numerous movies and books, including Isabel Allende's novel "Zorro."

Allende visits Southern California this week to discuss her book as part of Long Beach Reads One Book, an annual event sponsored by the Long Beach Public Library Foundation. Allende's visit is a highlight of this year's focus on "Zorro," but the program offers many other events (see the foundation website and other events listed below) as well.

Other highlights of this week's author events in L.A. include appearances by U.S. ice skater Kristi Yamaguchi, poet Lewis MacAdams and novelist Mark Salzman. 

As always, check bookstores and organizations for any venue or time changes to the events listed below.

Mon. March 19: 11 a.m. Kristi Yamaguchi presents and signs “It’s a Big World, Little Pig!” at Vroman’s.

Mon. March 19: 5 p.m.  John Gertz, president and chief executive of Zorro Productions Inc., presents a viewing of his production “The Legend of Zorro” (starring Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones) and a discussion as part of the Long Beach Public Library Foundation’s Long Beach Reads One Book series celebrating Allende’s novel “Zorro.” The screening will be at CSULB, William Link Theatre (UT-108), 7th St. and East University Dr.

Mon. March 19: 7 p.m. Lüc Carl discusses and signs “The Drunk Diet: How I Lost 40 Pounds ... Wasted: A Memoir” at Book Soup.

Mon. March 19: 7:30 p.m. “Mothers (and a Dad) Who Write” features Gayle Brandeis, Samantha Dunn, Leslie Schwartz and Susan Straight with moderator Antoine Wilson at Skylight Books.

Tue. March 20: 7 p.m. James Scurlock discusses and signs “King Larry” at Vroman’s.

Tue. March 20: 7 p.m. Joshua Knelman discusses and signs “Hot Art: Chasing Thieves and Detectives Through the Secret World of Stolen Art” at Book Soup.

Tue. March 20: 7 p.m. The Times' editor at large Jim Newton discusses his book “Eisenhower: The White House Years” with A. Scott Berg as part of the Aloud Series at the Los Angeles Central Library.

Tue. March 20: 7:30 p.m. Jorja Leap discusses and signs her book “Jumped In: What Gangs Taught Me About Violence, Drugs, Love and Redemption” at Skylight Books.

Tue. March 20: 7:30 p.m. “Who Says L.A. Has No Culture?” Slate critics Dana Stevens and Stephen Metcalf, and Julia Turner talk with with "30 Rock" and "The Hunger Games" actress Elizabeth Banks as part of a Slate/Zocalo Public Square event.

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The second Zocalo Book Prize goes to Richard Sennett's 'Together'

Together_richardsennettZócalo Public Square has announced that its second annual book prize will go to Richard Sennett's "Together: The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Co-Operation." The prize comes with an award of $5,000.

Zócalo, which holds a series of public discussions throughout the year in Los Angeles and beyond, created the book prize to recognize a nonfiction book that deeps our understanding of community. Last year the inaugural prize went to Peter Lovenheim for "In the Neighborhood: The Search for Community on an American Street, One Sleepover at a Time."

"Together" was selected from a shortlist of three books that also included "Is That A Fish In Your Ear: Translation and the Meaning of Everything" by David Bellos and "Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other" by Sherry Turkle.

Sennett, who has been both a chamber musician and a professor at the London School of Economics, spoke to Zócalo about his book.

I find the biggest misreading of what I’m trying to say is that cooperation is something that’s a moral choice, something you do because you’re such a nice person. That, it seems to me, is really to misunderstand how human societies get constituted, how people develop as children, and so on. If you moralize cooperation, if you say, “I’m a good person, so I cooperate,” you lose the richness of the thing — everything from cooperating on a sports team, in which you’re competing against other people, to warfare, in which people cooperate in order to survive. It loses the complexity of the subject.

Sennett will speak at an April 13 Zócalo event at the Museum of Contemporary Art on the topic "Can Diverse Societies Cohere?" Tickets to the event, which is sponsored by the Southern California Gas Co., are free.


Video lit: Ted Conover at Zocalo Public Square

Zocalo announces finalists for its first book prize

In our pages: Zócalo's 'hip-but-serious, civic-minded intellectualism'

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Francesca Lia Block takes her mortgage woes public

Francesca Lia Block and her children
She called me back after talking to the public radio show "Marketplace." That's the kind of person children's book author Francesca Lia Block is: She writes kids books about fairies. She doesn't like to cause conflicts. And she calls people back.

But Bank of America has not, according to Block, always shown her the same courtesy.

For close to a year, Block, author of the Weetzie Bat books for kids, has been calling and talking to various representatives at Bank of America. Some call her back, some disappear, some give one answer, some another. She says she's underwater on the mortgage but has never missed a payment -- all she wants to do is renegotiate terms and save her house. On Friday afternoon, she posted a record of her travails on Facebook and a new blog, Save Francesca's Faerie Cottage.

"The bank did call me today," she said Monday, "and said we saw your stuff online and we want to follow up." Whether anything will come from that is still uncertain -- she was speaking to the media relations department, which told her something different from she'd heard from the president's office on Friday.

Block could have predicted none of this in 2007, when she and her mother bought a Culver City home together. At that time, the Los Angeles housing market had been going up, up, up; buyers were wild to get in before being priced out. Block, who has two children, was eager to buy a home that was convenient to schools; she realizes now that the mortgage she'd gotten was ill-advised.

"I trusted them," she says of her broker, who was with a large firm that she declines to name. She got an interest-only mortgage; its payments will balloon a year from now. There has been a precipitous drop in home prices -- her home's value has dropped by $150,000. Together, that would be enough reason to seek new terms with the bank. Yet Block has had two personal calamities that make the issue more critical -- and more complex.

The first is her own health. The author of the Weetzie Bat series, Block is a successful author by any measure. "I've done quite well over time," she admits, "but it was a bad year." That was the year her eye "just split" -- technically, it was a spontaneous perforated retina. She has a cataract in her other eye. Working -- looking at a computer screen -- was difficult.

In addition, her mother fell ill. Diagnosed with cancer in 2008, her mother died a year later. Not only was Block negotiating that loss emotionally -- her mother's name was on the loan.

"We talked to an attorney about what to do, and it was clear that the house would be in my name, so we didn’t think it was a problem," she says. "She and I were very open about what was going on; she, more than anything, wanted me and the kids to stay here. But it didn't help."

Block was unable to switch the loan to her name, the bank told her, because the house was underwater. Her mother left her the house, but Block -- who was the one making the payments all along -- needs a loan to be in her name. At one point, the bank told her that she'd need $150,000 cash to secure it. She began trying to figure out how to come up with that enormous sum, and waited, and waited. The bank never called her back.

2011 was a better year -- better, perhaps, save for the ongoing efforts to keep her house. She applied for the Making Home Affordable program in April 2011. And called, and faxed, and called again. And she wrote.

"I worked every day last year, seven days a week, to make the payments," she says. "I physically can’t do it anymore. If this doesn’t work, I think I’ll have to give up."

Last week, she reached the president's office and was told her case was under consideration -- and that they would call her back.


Last gasp of the Gatsby house

Ernest Hemingway's childhood home is for sale

John Corey Whaley, 28, discusses his Printz Award and what's next

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Francesca Lia Block and her children. Credit: Nicolas Sage


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