I first went to the LA Times Festival of Books when I was a high school student. I remember vividly the excitement at the thought of being in such close proximity to some of my favorite writers, hearing many of them read for the first time. I almost fainted when T.C. Boyle signed my copy of “When The Killing’s Done.”
This year felt different. As a recent graduate of the University of California, Riverside some of that excitement had cooled down, and the festival felt less like a pilgrimage than an assignment I had taken: After all, I was going to be starting my own piece on it shortly after I left. I thought that I would be too focused on taking notes and getting the details than on enjoying what was in front of me.
But I ended up taking no notes. As soon as I exited the 10 toward USC’s Exposition Park and rolled down the window, I felt that sunshine so particular to Southern California Spring. I dragged a friend along with me, and it was her first time attending. The invigorating sun, coupled with a cool seaward breeze, brought the excitement that I had been missing right back, almost as if it was my own first time attending.
I can’t describe you to the exact layout of the festival–it was a massive sprawl of canopies and tents, with three different sections for Children’s Lit, Young Adults, and Adults. We got lost through the labyrinthine maze of the festival looking for food trucks, which were located at the North and South entrances. To claim we were lost is perhaps an exaggeration: realistically, we would stop every few feet, distracted by a new set of books or a new reading or lecture that was happening.
I spent far more on books than I should have, but with such a massive selection on display and such interesting books it was almost futile to resist. Books from independent publishers, foreign publishers, arcane studies to rare and autographed books (a specific stall devoted to these had a volume signed by T.S. Eliot) one could possibly find anything. Poetry, which often gets short shrift in book stores, was in such abundance that I ended up spending way too long deciding what to purchase (I walked away with “Poetic Diaries 1971-1972” Eugenio Montale and “The Selected Poems” of the late Geoffrey Hill). Another gem I found hard to resist was a neglected manuscript by the Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez about the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile titled “Clandestine In Chile.”
Toward the end of the festival, we sat down to hear a brief reading by Bengali-American poet Tarfia Faizullah, who read from her recently published collection, “Registers From an Illuminated Village.” Her poems were powerful, political, and brilliant. Her voice as she read, echoing back the cadences of her poems, picked up registers of emotion that swept over the crowd like grief, fear, anger, but also hope. One poem in particular that stood out, “BEFORE THE ACCIDENT AND AFTER” , narrated the author’s grief after the death of her sister. Hearing her read made the reality of what the poem described vivid, enhancing my own understanding of the text after I went back and read it. After the reading, Faizullah devoted some time to signing copies of her new book, and by the time my we ran over to purchase one, they were all sold out!
No, I don’t apologize for not taking many notes, because getting lost within the labyrinth of the festival was worth it. If you haven’t gone, I urge you to do so some year. While Los Angeles may seem a million miles away from the I.E., the LA Festival of Books gives open access to independent bookstores, publishers, and authors that we otherwise might not get to see. In times of political crises, books are a refuge, an act of resistance and a source of strength. The LA Festival of Books is a celebration of all that, and yes more.
Faraz Rizvi is a writer and activist based out of the Inland Empire. He studied Political Science at the University of California, Riverside and currently blogs at https://farazriz.wordpress.com/