My trip to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books was pretty last-minute. My professor alerted me to its existence, and that it was the very weekend that was coming up. So I cobbled together a plan to go with my friend (who, luckily for me, knew the metro system of LA very well) and see what was to be seen at the festival. Once we had transferred over to the E Line to Expo Park at USC, we were surrounded by fellow public transporters who were very eager to get to the fair. My friend Sam and I were first-timers, so we were not sure what to expect other than there would be books, books, books.
Upon arriving, we overheard someone promise that this was the “Coachella of books,” and they were not lying. Everywhere we looked, there was an author signing, a local bookshop booth and various publishers putting themselves on display for the public to be made aware of them. There was a large stage in the approximate center of all the activity where a jazz band was playing as we came in, and a rotating cast of other acts throughout the day.
Although our last-minute decision to come meant that we did not get to see any of the author panels that the Festival is quite well known for, we still had plenty to do as average folks just walking in. There were booths upon booths upon booths, and in everyone that we stopped at, a friendly person told us about their literary magazine, publishing mission or books. My friend and I spent an hour at the Pathfinder press’ booth discussing unfair railroad conditions, and even being quoted for their socialist newspaper for working-class people, ‘The Militant.’
One thing that was most wonderful about the festival was the number of independent authors and presses that were there. PM Press, a publisher of punk rock literature and wonderful feminist nonfiction (which had me sold immediately — I bought three books), was another spot where we found ourselves spending time at. Numerous booths had independent authors signing their books there, and still other booths were collectives of independent authors sharing their work.
For those who might not want to spend a lot of money on new books, there was also a huge collection of shelves full of used books at the far corner of the festival, where my friend and I stocked up on many $4 paperbacks. In the distance was another stage where authors were doing readings, one of which was a book for children that led to much youthful laughter from the crowd. There was a section at the entrance we went through as well for children, and a handful of booths of children’s authors as well so the little ones had something to enjoy as well.
The fun did not end there; while waiting in line for an overpriced buffalo chicken wrap ($23, it was tiny, and the truck did not have prices posted anywhere), a golf cart taking authors to one of the panel events ended up getting stuck right next to our line, and that’s how I ended up sharing air with the incomparable Roxane Gay for about five minutes while the tram got unstuck. I was a star-struck mess throughout the whole ordeal. It was all but a religious experience, only rivaled in glory by the LA Public Library booth, where both my friend and I got the holy grail of all library cards.
In a country that is continuing to challenge the human right to literature, the LA Times Book Festival was a beautiful space for people of all ages and backgrounds to come together to celebrate literature, authors and reading. It was a real treat to speak with fellow book lovers, with independent and volunteer-run presses and support independent purveyors of books across the board and scoring some absolutely amazing literature in the process. Even if you’re not a book person, the festival really has something for everyone, whether it’s the sumptuously regal USC campus, the author panels, or the lively people publishing a variety of amazing books. Go next year, bring your family, bring your kids and support the thriving community of literature in a nation that needs it now more than ever.