where the writers are
Highlights from L.A. Times Festival of Books

The largest book festival in the US, the recently concluded L.A. Times Festival of Books, on the UCLA campus, is one of the few times one can savor excessive traffic. The 130,000 plus attendees wandered the campus, attending panels and presentations among more than 400 authors.

It was this author's great pleasure to greet friend and two-time Edgar Award winner T. Jefferson Parker (Iron River) prior to his panel with fellow crime fiction writers Robert Crais and Michael Connelly. Parker spoke of his heralded book Silent Joe as posing an interesting dilemma with readers, namely "...what happens when a hero's best just isn't good enough." Crais had his own attitude about reader connection with protagonists: "You invest in them because of some assurance about their...purity."

Connelly drew a gasp of disapproval from the crowd when he informed them his publisher "wanted to take pictures of the places I write about and put them on the iPad. Whether this is a detriment to the imagination of the reader, we'll see."

Carol Burnett was a major draw at the Ackerman Grand Ballroom. Times TV critic Mary McNamara, herself a funny woman, was a bit too fawning in her interview and Burnett, a true great in TV history, was extremely low key. The audience however loved hearing old anecdotes, her bashing "one dollar ninety-eight cent" reality shows putting writers out of work and when she recounted that her show had 28 musicians, two guest stars, nine sketches and 50 costumes each week, one hankered for the era of TV variety shows again.

Bruce Bauman (And the Word Was) moderated a delightful panel on baseball. Michael D'Antonio, who wrote about the Dodger franchise, recalled why they were dubbed the Bums in Brooklyn: "These are guys who'd smoke a stogie between innings, put it in their back pocket and then catch fire."

Dan Fost, referring to his tome on the San Francisco Giants, recounted how exec Chub Feeney was nearly blown off his feet while visiting the site of Candlestick Park, under construction. When he asked an engineer if the gusts were usually that strong, the answer was no, "No, only in the afternoons between one and five."

Mark Frost, author of Game Six, about a legendary Reds-Red Sox World Series game, had a hilarious tale about Bernie Carbo, the former Reds-turned-Red-Sox player who hit a shocking home run in that game...after drinking numerous beers, smoking joints and even puffing on cigarettes in the dugout.

Peter Biskind, noted cinema nonfiction author, detailed the conundrum of covering someone like Warren Beatty in a book and mentioning his alleged liaisons with 13,000 women, something that both garnered book sales and critical derision simultaneously. Pity the nonfiction writer. Beatty gave Biskind full cooperation and yet after the book was published, it ended their 20-year friendship.

A terrific science panel, "Time, Memory and Reason," included Timothy Ferris (The Science of Liberty), who acknowledged that regardless of the messy process of democracy and its constrictions in giving funds for science, it is still incomparable: "The reason that free societies do so well with investigative science is that there is more pointless inquiry."

There is no reason to wish the sprawling Festival of Books to become more compact, because only in an event this size can one strike up conversations with an independently published author, like Hank Rosenfeld, who wrote about Marx Brothers writer Irv Brecher in his The Wicked Wit of the West, and then walk a few dozen yards and renew an acquaintance with New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth George (This Body of Death).