When I went to the LA Times Festival of Books this year, it felt like the largest book festival in the country–which is exactly what it is.
It was giant. It took me two hours just to walk around the venue (which is the campus of the University of Southern California), and I’m still not convinced I saw it all. There were thousands of people, hundreds of booths (ranging from publishers and individual authors to vitamin waters and sun hat stands), at least 9 stages for speakers (including one stage devoted solely to travel, another to poetry, and one more for cooking), a sea of food trucks, and who knows how many books. If you are a book lover, it is something you really should experience–at least once in your life.
Now, I’ve been to the book fair before–but usually for my “other” job (as a television producer for national talk shows). As senior producer at Tavis Smiley for 10 years (on and off–I left for a brief stint in the middle to write full time), my bread and butter was booking authors as guests, so I often went to the book fair to meet my publishing contacts and find out what was coming soon to bookshelves.
But this was the first time I had attended the fair as an author… A year from now (or a little more), I will have my own book, so this time, I saw the event with a whole new set of eyes.
I won’t lie. At first, it was so overwhelming, I thought about running away from the festival and resigning myself to being a hermit author who either sells books through luck–or doesn’t sell them at all. There are SO MANY books. How would mine ever stand out?
But very quickly, I saw the beauty of the thing. In a world where pundits say people don’t care about books anymore, here was a giant, lively, energetic event dedicated solely to the practice of reading. How awesome–in the truest meaning of that word.
And by the way, it wasn’t just older people wandering around rambling about the good ole’ days of book-readin’. No, the festival was crowded with young couples carrying babies and hordes of kids lined up to get autographs from their favorite authors.
And my favorite? All of the teenagers. I ate lunch with a mom who had brought her 16 year old daughter and friends to the fair. The mom was worried: she had called her daughter, but hadn’t heard back. That was strange, she told me. “My daughter ALWAYS has her cell phone on and ready to answer.” Finally, the daughter arrived at our table. The mom scolded her for not picking up the phone. “Sorry,” the daughter chirped. “I was listening to the poetry reading and left my phone in my pocket!”
That’s what the whole day felt like: sunshine, books, and phones in pockets.
And as a brand new novelist, that made me smile. Because it doesn’t matter if people notice MY book. It matters that people–young and old–notice books. And keep reading.