By: Daina Solomon
Issue date: 10/8/08
Why do we love book fairs? Is it the fun of meeting some of the best writers on the planet and hearing brilliant discussions of ideas and events shaping our world? Is it for the chance to pose burning questions to favorite literary figures? We love book fairs because they remind us that literature and knowledge are cherished in our city.
I spent Sunday, Sept. 29 at the West Hollywood Book Fair. Imagine the setting: a leafy park in the shadow of the Pacific Design Center, a gorgeous set of buildings clad in cobalt blue and emerald green glass. L.A. doesn’t get more interesting than West Hollywood with its colorful artistic, creative, gay and Russian communities.
Esteemed science fiction writer Ray Bradbury presided at the Golden Apple Comics booth. Bradbury’s fantastic worlds of The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451 did not seem quite so far removed from this setting. Wandering down the rows of exhibitor exhibits, there were displays of Japanese anime comics, mysteries by L.A. Women Crime Writers, dusty antique books and even a table promoting a book “written by a dog.”
There were other favorite authors on the program. Gustavo Arrellano, famed for his brilliant and hilarious nationally-syndicated OC Weekly column “¡Ask a Mexican!” chatted about his new book, Orange County: A Personal History. Francesca Lia Block, creator of the Weetzie Bat books, shared the imaginative fantasies that inspired her books and enlightened a generation of adolescents about Hollywood-alternative life-styles.
It was entertaining to observe authors paying rapt attention at other authors’ panels, including L.A. lawyer-Latino-author Daniel Olivas. He had been an early speaker and spent the remainder of the day at the other presentations and visiting with the exhibitors. Olivas had recently published an anthology called Latinos in Lotusland. I was intrigued by his use of “Lotusland” in the book’s title to represent L.A. He explained that the title is a playful reference to the mythical race of lotus eaters living in a state of dreamy forgetfulness and idleness. Olivas made the point that his Latino characters may have feasted on lotus blossoms but “do not live in blissful oblivion and certainly have not forgotten who they are.”
I was ecstatic at meeting Jonathan Gold, Pulitzer-Prize-winner and author of Counter Intelligence: Where to Eat in the Real L.A. He writes brilliantly; not just about food, but about cities, cultures, and, well, everything he experiences. Readers love his descriptions of street food and hole-in-the-wall eateries even more than his reviews of upscale restaurants. His famous essay on “The Porno Burrito” praises El Atacor, a taco and burrito spot right down the street in Cypress Park! Some of his other favorites are nearby too – El Hurache Azteca, Casa Bianca and La Abeja. “When you write about food, you can write about anything in the world,” Gold confided to me after the panel. “People only hear about certain parts of L.A. when I write about them or if there are riots.” He also told me that “it’s important to not be afraid of your neighbors.”
West Hollywood, sometimes referred to as WeHo, is known for its many artistic and creative residents, as well as a many elderly people and a large Russian immigrant population. At the book fair, the gay community was well represented with panels, talks and displays. Writer-performer Luis Alfaro spoke about his dual identity as both gay and Chicano and the conflicts that arise because of it. His panel on “Cross Cultural Collision and Connection” included Wanda Coleman, an award-winning American poet from Watts, often called the “unofficial poet laureate of Los Angeles.”
As college students, books are our lives and book fairs are an amazing way to learn more about them. Although the press and Internet count, books still rule! Book fairs set the stage for cultural collision and collection against the background of an appreciative community. Book fairs give us a great opportunity to immerse ourselves in the wonderful world of literature outside of academia.
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