Ah yes, it is that time of year again. The LA Times book festival is on, starting today, and it was kicked off with the swanky Book Awards festival last night, followed by a reception. This all takes place on the UCLA campus, in Westwood. You might recall that I went last year and reported on it. [(Update: A version of the post is here.] (If in town, go to the LA Times website for more information and find your way over there either today or tomorrow!)
So I went to the Awards show again because:
- I enjoyed it last year,
- I like “book people”,
- I like the idea that in the city where there’s a swanky Awards ceremony for everything else, they have one for books,
- I like the unashamed delight that everyone takes in the value of the word on the page… there were some very nice speeches from the master of ceremonies (Jim Lehrer this year) and the various presenters in each category (all authors themselves) about the various aspects of this (all the way from history to Children’s books, to Science…)
- I wanted to see if they would have chocolate fountains again. They did.
- I wanted to see if they had old typewriters embedded inside ice sculptures again. They did.
- I can never be mistaken for an actual author at the reception too many times,
- I like dressing up, from time to time. (Never let it be said that I am not honest with you on this blog.)
(Above: MC for the night, PBS Newshour host Jim Lehrer, and the LA Times’ Kenneth Turan, on the set/stage. I really like the work of both of these guys…)
Spent most of the evening after the ceremony at the reception talking with LA Times (or related) people and their spouses. This was not my intention, but it was a happy occurrence, as they were all really interesting people – two science writers (Rosie Mestel and Alan Zarembo, who I’d not met before and who were just great to talk to) and also some more general columnists, such as (novellist and essayist) Meghan Daum, and others whose names escape me now. K C Cole, my friend and USC colleague – and ex-LA Times science writer – was there for good conversation, as was Tom Siegfried. So it was just excellent to stand around and munch on the excellent food, drink the wine, and talk (and yes, sometimes gripe) a bit about science coverage and science writing. Briefly chatted with poet and author Michael Datcher (remember him from the point of view event?) and his wife as well, who told me about an upcoming event I’ll be mentioning later, I hope.
Rosie and I turned out to have some interesting points of commonality, which was a pleasant surprise, and so we talked about not just science and science-writing, but England, gardening, and the East/West divide in Los Angeles.
(Above: Available light (sorry) shot of Alan Zarembo dipping a bit of pineapple into the chocolate fountain. Meghan Daum and Rosie Mestel look on.)
Some friends and colleagues from USC were there in an official capacity as well, such as Leo Braudy from the English department. He was judging (I think) and will be charing a panel discussion during the festival today or tomorrow. I’m always pleased to see him since he’s an interesting guy – we’ve spent many hours together on a number of university committees, so we’ve always got a shared memory of suffering to bond over! K C Cole was also a judge and will be hosting a science writing panel today.
To my delight (as always) author and USC colleague Aimee Bender was there too. I had not seen her for a long time, and since we last spoke I’d read some of her really excellent and imaginative work (Check out “Girl in the Flammable Skirt” for example). I was especially surprised to find that she wanted to tell me that she’d been occasionally taking the bus to work, sparked by my (apparently) scolding her in a past conversation about believing the hype that you have to drive everywhere in LA. (Apparently it was a polite scolding. )
One sad note was running into one of the authors who had been shortlisted. He was standing alone for a while, looking crestfallen. He flew in all the way from Europe to come to Los Angeles for the first time and was clearly very put out that his book did not win. He did not seem to be cheered up much by any amount of my mumbling about how it’s all random once you’re a finalist, and how it’s really great to have been a finalist at all, with all the publicity and exposure it brings. I imagine he’ll recover, poor chap.
I was pleased to see that Eric Kandel’s book “In Search of Memory” won the science category. I don’t know why I was so pleased, since several of the others in the category looked good too, but it probably has something to do with my New York days of hanging out a lot with Columbia neurobiologists. I’m a softie for the sentimental sometimes, I’ll admit.
(Above: Eric R. Kandel during his excellent speech on why it is importnat to write about science for the public, both on the part of scientists, and of journalists. His word choices on the issue were so similar to mine, he could well have been reading out one of my blog posts!)
After my friends (old and new) left, I stayed on for a bit to find some coffee (and sample one more dessert), and found myself in a conversation with a male screenwriter and two (rather unusual, shall we say) women. One said she was a romance novelist, although it turned out upon further questioning that she was about to release her first book on the dating scene in LA, and her experiences of dating on some TV show or other. Huh. The other was all into making “connections” between people, professionally, from matchmaking to international relations (she said). I politely inquired more about this to find that she uses quantum physics in this work. “So do I”, I replied. The screenwriter guy and I exchanged amused glances about this. I decided it was too late in the evening to try the (mostly always futile and certainly thankless) task of engaging in a discussion (or provide actual factual information for her) about this belief of hers, and we tried to move the conversation elsewhere. At some point, it became clear that once we got on to politics, the screenwriter and I were just being cheerleaders for each other’s simple political points and the others in our group had glazed over completely. Evidently the quality conversation had left the building a while ago.
By 12:45am, I eventually managed to politely untangle myself from this little circus and drove back on one of my favourite night-time drives in the city: – along Sunset Boulevard all the way home to my neighbourhood (stopping at the Cat and Fiddle, of course, for a bit of a people-watch and a cozy sit-down with Eric Kandel’s book over a glass of Hoegaarten – yes, I’m sure they think I’m a nut there… that weird guy who comes by and sits and reads, instead of hitting on the local “talent”, which is what you’re supposed to do at the C&F, apparently…)
It all made for an interesting evening indeed.
Some Related Asymptotia Posts (not exhaustive):