Home > Uncategorized > A report on the 2011 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books

A report on the 2011 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books

The acquisitions.

The annual pilgrimage to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books featured a little twist this year. The usual routine has been for Steve, Scott and I to pile into a car in Las Vegas on Friday morning and drive to L.A., munching snacks and stopping at a Chili’s along the way. This year I was in Ames, Iowa, so I flew to L.A., and Steve and Scott picked me up at the airport.

From there, things got back to normal. We ate, scoured various bookstores and enjoyed the booths and panels at the festival. Another change this year: Instead of being held at UCLA, the festival was on the USC campus. All things considered, UCLA is a better venue for this event, but USC is all right.

I ended up acquiring quite a few books this year. Nothing unusual about that, but I’m particularly pleased with some of them. A few highlights:

The Speech: A Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of Our Middle Class by Sen. Bernie Sanders. Nation Books had a cool idea here. It’s amazing that on Dec. 10, 2010, the Vermont senator spoke continuously for eight and a half hours on the Senate floor, criticizing President Obama’s compromise with the Republicans on tax cuts as part of a wide-ranging discussion of how the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer.

Engineers of the Soul: The Grandiose Propaganda of Stalin’s Russia by Frank Westerman. Scott and I heard Westerman, a Dutchman, talk on a panel, and his thoughtful comments prompted both of us to buy this book. It’s brand new, and when Westerman signed my book, he said it was the first copy of the U.S. edition that he had signed. The book is about how the Soviets hired writers to basically rename everything to conform to the communist version of history and life, and to write eloquently about mundane things such as a dam on a river. It sounds really interesting.

The Professor: A Sentimental Education by Terry Castle. This is an essay collection by a Stanford professor that got rave reviews last year but was impossible to find in the chain bookstores. Didn’t have any problem finding it at Vroman’s in Pasadena, of course.

What?: Are These the 20 Most Important Questions in Human History — or Is This a Game of 20 Questions by Mark Kurlansky. This is a small tome that promises to be a very interesting essay about life’s big questions.

Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D.H. Lawrence by Geoff Dyer. Dyer, a Londoner, is one of my new favorite writers, and this is probably his most celebrated book. He set out to write a serious study of the great English writer D.H. Lawrence. But this book isn’t what he originally intended to write. Instead, it’s a memoir of sorts about his inability to write a serious study of Lawrence. Dyer was on the panel with Frank Westerman.

Pinochet and Me: A Chilean Anti-Memoir by Marc Cooper. Cooper, a well-known journalist, is a friend, and Scott, Steve and I spent several hours with him at dinner Saturday night. He’s a journalism professor at USC these days, so he gave us a tour of the Annenberg school, and then we hung out in a semi-secret bar and grill on the campus. Anyway, this is Cooper’s memoir of the period in the early ’70s when he worked as a translator for Chilean President Salvador Allende when he was overthrown by Augusto Pinochet.

A Heartbreak and a Guitar: Johnny Cash and the Making of Bitter Tears by Antonino D’Ambrosio. This is the story behind Cash’s protest album called “Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian,” which faced censorship and a backlash from country radio stations. This is an enticing piece of cultural history.

Zeroville by Steve Erickson. I picked this up in a great used bookstore, Book Alley, in Pasadena. Erickson is an interesting writer and this novel promises to be a good entry point to become more acquainted with his work.

Among the panels and talks, the highlight for me was Vincent Bugliosi. He’s a lawyer and best-selling writer whose most famous book is “Helter Skelter” about the Manson family. His new book, which I intend to get but haven’t yet, is called Divinity of Doubt, and it’s an investigative piece attacking both the Christian faith and atheism. Bugliosi is an agnostic, and he explains why in his usual careful, detailed way. He outlines all the inconsistencies in the Bible, and exposes the fact that some common Christian beliefs aren’t even in the good book at all. But Bugliosi is also critical of atheists, who, he says, fail just as badly as believers to make a persuasive case for their cause. “God should only be a question,” he said. Fascinating talk.

I had to leave the book festival a little early on Sunday to fly back to Ames. I caught at taxi about 2 p.m. and soon embarked on the long flight home, my new books in tow. It was late when we landed in Des Moines. As the wheels touched down, I of course turned on my BlackBerry to find out if I had missed anything. It just so happened that I had missed something big: the breaking news that Osama bin Laden had been killed. I had at least three e-mail alerts about it, which I shared with a few people sitting around me on the plane.

I wonder if some big news event will break while I’m at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books next year?

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Michael Green
    May 3, 2011 at 7:06 PM

    Great account, and Vroman’s and Book Alley are within walking distance of the condo, so I’ve done some time and picked up some books there. Take another trip–maybe we’ll get Khadafi!

  2. Geoff Schumacher
    May 3, 2011 at 7:09 PM

    Mike: I figured your condo was near that area. Man, what a nice spot. I’m surprised you don’t go there every weekend!

  3. May 3, 2011 at 7:38 PM

    Thanks for the rundown, Geoff. I, too, am a life-long Vroman’s fan, which made it especially rewarding to do my first book launch there. I was in the store the day Oprah picked “White Oleander” for her book club, and also when Howard Stern… never mind. It all pales in comparison.

  4. Desert Smurff
    May 12, 2011 at 12:24 PM

    Hey, while you were at USC did you look up Doug Wellman? He’s the supervisior (boss teacher) of their movie production program and has co written the book, “Boxes” about the other life of Howard Hughes in Alabama. The military is deeply interested in verifiying that Howard was “really” the person they were dealing with in LV. (Thus the involvement of a major general (imho))

    Incidentally I have acquired a copy of the DNA from that guy in Alabama who claimed to be Hughes and can assure you it is a true copy. I have also acquired DNA reports on serveral others involved in the Hughes saga. Given half a chance by Paul Winn and I could get DNA from Howard’s remains that I’m sure he has.

    Doug has DNA profiles of quite a number of people associated with Hughes, you should be cultivating his friendship, as DNA doesn’t lie, but a lot of people do, including journalists and aides! rofl

    • May 24, 2012 at 3:22 AM

      Good Morning, I was just typing away and getntig ready to sign off, and the damn page dissapeared. When are you all coming home? We can not wait to see you two. Anxious to hear about all the exciting adventures. I check daily to see if there is a new blog. Miss you two!!!! e-mail or text me and let me know when you will be here.

  5. Geoff Schumacher
    May 12, 2011 at 8:07 PM

    Desert Smurff: As I think you know, I don’t believe the “Boxes” book has any credibility, and thus I think it damages Mr. Wellman’s reputation to be associated with it. I don’t for a minute believe the man described in that book was Howard Hughes. Frankly, the descriptions of the man presented in the book contradict the possibility that it could have been Hughes. I don’t understand why you would give this fanciful story any credence.

  6. Desert Smurff
    May 13, 2011 at 7:47 AM

    Honestly, I haven’t really formed any opinions on a lot of this but given the secrecy and refusal to give DNA by the Peters family and the Lummis/Gano clan, I do wonder just what they are hiding! (Yes they have been asked).

    All I do know for certain is that a valid copy of that DNA from “The Farm” was taken and it was the person know as “Nik Nicely”. The sample was from a bloody Veteran’s Administration labeled bedsheet for a hospital bed. Forensic analysis determined that the stains were consistent to ear bleeding and of the bed dweller pulling the sheet around his head 3 times, thus staining the sheet. A simple comparision to the Lummis/Gano DNA should settle this easily. That sample will be forthcoming because too many people carry the DNA to keep it secret for long.

    Now it’s easy to pooh pooh a claim but why doesn’t the Lummis clan just offer up a DNA sample or too and settle the brouhaha?

    I have also been informed from a confidental source that Mr. Musick has some experience in what might be termed “Black Ops”. Now just what might the CIA’s interest be in this I don’t know, but Mr. Musick stated that he thinks, “They are in it up to their ears.” Now is Mr. Musick working a “confuse and defuse” black op for the CIA or is he acting independently? I don’t know, but would love to find out! Will his bosses, yank his chain back or is he still their dog? Time will tell!

    On other thing that I do know for certain is that we have nowhere near the complete story of Howard’s last years and that is from one the few living people who were closest to him. Paraphrase: “I might tell the real story, but with all the rumors it would just get ignored.” The source didn’t say “What they knew”, but did admitt that NO ONE has so far “got it right”. Now ain’t that just intriquing?

    Enjoy the weather in AMES. I have just spent some time in KY and considering the weather there the last year or so, I’m beginning to think God has cursed the place. lol

  7. Desert Smurff
    May 19, 2011 at 12:20 PM

    You sure do travel a lot for a fixed location publisher! I travel for a living and you got me beat! lol

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