September 18, 2019

L.A. Times Festival of Books is back for its 20th year

The publishing landscape has changed in ways that would not have been dreamed of back in 1996, when the Los Angeles Times invited readers and writers to gather for its first Festival of Books. But one thing remains the same — the Festival of Books is still going strong, still attracting annual crowds of some 150,000 book lovers, and this year’s 20th annual edition of what we affectionately call “FOB” will take place April 18 and 19 on the USC campus.

As always, the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books will feature several hundred authors and scores of panels, readings, conversations, dance and drumming performances, photography exhibits, film screenings, food tastings and storytelling, among other public events, including a curtain raiser featuring the Trojan Marching Band! The best way — and, really, the only way — to find the most appealing attractions at FOB is to browse through the official website,, where you will find detailed information about programming, tickets (most of which are free), passes and parking. 

Celebrities can always be spotted at FOB, especially if they have a book to tout. On Saturday, for example, Lorraine Bracco will be talking about her new book, “To the Fullest,” with Times reporter Mary MacVean; Andy Griffiths will be presenting his new children’s book, “The 39-Story Treehouse”; Amber Tamblyn will be reading from her new book of poetry, “Dark Sparklers”; and former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan will discuss his new book, “The Mayor,” with veteran Times journalist and Journal columnist Bill Boyarsky.

Of course, “celebrity” means different things to different people, and every taste is accommodated at FOB. On Sunday, for example, best-selling author and New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell (“David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants”) will be featured in conversation with Times movie critic Kenneth Turan (“Not to Be Missed”); actor Jon Cryer will talk about “So That Happened: A Memoir”; Candice Bergen (actress and author of “A Fine Romance”) will be interviewed by Times TV critic Mary MacNamara; Gavin MacLeod will present his memoir, “This Is Your Captain Speaking”; Gary Snyder will read from his latest work, “This Present Moment: New Poems,” and, in a separate program, engage in conversation with L.A. Times book critic David Ulin; and Joyce Carol Oates will be interviewed by KCRW “Bookworm” host Michael Silverblatt.

To see as many accomplished writers as possible in a single place, the best event is the Los Angeles Book Prize awards ceremony, which takes place at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Bovard Auditorium on the USC campus. (Tickets are required and are available through the FOB website.) The tension will be palpable as awards are handed out for distinguished books in the categories of biography, current interest, fiction, the Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction, graphic novels/comics, history, mystery/thriller, poetry, science & technology, and young adult literature.

The winners of two other prizes have already been announced. Lavar Burton, actor, director and co-founder of “Reading Rainbow,” will be presented with the Innovator’s Award. And novelist and short-story writer T. C. Boyle, best-selling author of 24 works of fiction, will receive the Robert Kirsch Award, which honors a body of work by an author living in or writing about the West. (I will be presenting the award, which is named in memory of my late father, the longtime book critic of the Times.) 

The toughest decision, however, will be picking from among the rich offering of panels, which take place all day long and all over the USC campus (some will sell out quickly). Again, there are panels for every reader’s taste, and experienced festival-goers use the schedule like a racing form.  Here are a few of my own picks: 

Mystery and horror maestro Leslie Klinger (“The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft” and “In the Company of Sherlock Holmes,” co-edited by Laurie R. King) will moderate a panel on “New California Noir” featuring Richard Kadrey (“Kill the Dead: A Sandman Slim Novel”), Kem Nunn (“Chance”) and Greg Van Eekhout (“Pacific Fire”).

Led by Jim Newton (“Justice for All: Earl Warren and the World He Made”), authors A. Scott Berg (“Wilson”), Kristin Downey (“The Woman Behind the New Deal”) and Stephen Kotkin (“Stalin”) will discuss “World Leaders in History.”  

David Kipen, of Libros Schmibros fame, will lead Turan, Tara Ison (“Reeling Through Life”) and LA Weekly head film critic Amy Nicholson (“Tom Cruise”) in a conversation titled “Frame by Frame: The Lasting Impact of Movies.” 

Striking a different note on pop culture, M.G. Lord (“The Accidental Feminist”) will moderate a discussion with Cari Beauchamp (“Without Lying Down”), Barbara Isenberg (“Tradition!”) and Ben Yagoda (“The B Side”) on the topic of “All That Glitters: Arts in a Golden Age.”  

Sasha Anawalt (“The Joffrey Ballet”) will lead the conversation “From L.A. to the Middle East: Empowering Youth Through the Arts” with Elaine Bell Kaplan (“We Live in the Shadows”), Jervey Tervalon (“Monster’s Chef”) and Sandy Tolan (“Children of the Stone”).

“The Digital Footprint: Privacy, Cyberterrorism and How We Live Now” is the timely topic of a discussion moderated by Times Managing Editor Marc Duvoisin (“Has Israel Lost Its Way?”) featuring Barry Glassner (“The Culture of Fear”), Karen Paget (“Patriotic Betrayal”), Robert Scheer (“They Know Everything About You”) and Kim Zetter (“Countdown to Zero Day”).

Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of the Jewish Journal.