Sunday, April 25, 2004

L.A. Times Festival of Books

I was originally going to post my two days at the Festival at the end of each evening. Unfortunately, before finishing last night the idea of watching TV won out. Ironically, I fell asleep with the C-Span coverage of the Festival on. Here's Day One - Day Two should be posted in a few hours...

L.A. Times Festival of Books - Day One

As stated before, i was most excited to see the Festival panel called "Down and Dirty: Breaking the Bad News", based on the title. Moderator/author Mark Bowden, who write Black Hawk Down opened by commenting that he had no idea what that meant, or what the panel was supposed to focus on. So, he just had everyone discuss their books. Fortunately, the other panelists/authors were interesting enough to make the hour more than worthwhile.

Donna Rosenthal was the only writer who didn't have a book about war - her's, The Israelis : Ordinary People in an Extraordinary Land, dispels many myths and stereotypes of your average Israeli, pointing out that the richest people in their country are Christian, and that the most popular Israeli name is Mohammad.

David Zucchino was an embedded reporter who accompanied the armored brigades that led the first, brutal assaults into Baghdad, that he recounts in Thunder Run: The Armored Strike to Capture Baghdad.

Finally, George Crile, also a producer for "60 Minutes", gave his analysis about how America created the monster that we now call terrorism as an active result of "winning" the Cold War. I believe he goes more into depth on this in his book Charlie Wilson's War : The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History, but it goes something like this: the unbeatable Russian army was finally defeated in their war with Afghanistan, due in no small part to our assistance, training, and arming of the many radical Afghan tribes. But after the war, we left, leaving the Afghans with not just the guns and the training, but the mentality that it was all about force and defeating the enemy, whereas we should have made an effort to leave behind a couple hospitals, rebuild some schools, maybe some factories.

The next panel I went to was a little more "whimsical". Called "Creative Non-Fiction: How I Got the Story", it featured authors with recent books on subjects as varied as the history of penicillin (Eric Lax's The Mold in Dr. Florey's Coat ) and another on American sub-cultures (Hampton Side's Americana : Dispatches from the New Frontier).

The two author's who's books I wanted to buy immediately after hearing them speak were Carlo Rotella and Martin J. Smith. Carlo is an English professor, and looks like one - skinny, glasses, a little geeky - but writes about boxing. He doesn't look like th kind of guy who spends a lot of time hanging out at gyms, talking to boxers and trainers across the country, about a sport that involves beating the crap out of one another. I've never been a big boxing fan, but his giddiness in describing some of the trainers and boxers made me put his newest book, Cut Time : An Education at the Fights on my Amazon wish list.

Martin's book Poplorica : A Popular History of the Fads, Mavericks, Inventions, and Lore that Shaped Modern America contains over twenty pieces on little thought of events, gadgets, or people who have a tremendous effect on the way we live our lives today. The story he shared was about the history of the lawn... yeah, the one you mow... and how it was a bestselling book from 1870 called The Art of Beautifying Suburban Home Grounds of Small Extent that made framing your house with a patch of grass a social necessity. Other topics include how the air conditioner was in no small way responsible for Ronald Reagan's presidency, and the history of the TV dinner. He said that his publicists were pitching the book as "Bathroom reading for the NPR crowd".

I had tickets to a third panel, the title of which already escapes me, but I decided to take a break to walk down to the flower shop to say hi, and to get a burger for lunch.

When I returned to the Festival, I was welcomely surprised to see that William Gibson was speaking just before Karen Hughes. I've never read Gibson, but know that he is credited as being the guy who coined the term "cyberpunk" and is considered a futurist, a claim he denied more than once during my short time listening to him speak. Hughes was fun to listen to, but read too much from her book, and as good of a speaker she is when it came to politics and the Bush adminsitration, it was hard to forget that she is still on the White House payroll.

Claire asked me if I was inspired by the day... which made me a little cranky, because the answer was no. Instead, it made me realize how much work writing really is. Blogging alone is hard - imagine having to keep to a single subject, having a particular goal, trying to make a point. Suddenly, there's so much more to think about and - well - I'm not very good past a first draft yet. Usually the moment I share a story idea with somebody I lose the passion to write it... and I rarely have the patience not to tell. Even this single blog was a challenge, to complete most of my thoughts. I've even skipped ahead of a number of key paragraphs to write this last paragraph first.