Wednesday, April 16, 2014

SF and The LATFOB

Last week was Book Week for HSP, a week of testing myself to see if I could make it to as many events as possible.

Wednesday afternoon Dorothy and I got in my car and drove to San Francisco to see Gina Frangello and Kate Milliken in conversation with Michelle Richmond at Books, Inc. Gina is my editor at The Rumpus and is also a nonfiction professor in my MFA program. Her new book, A Life in Men, is out right now from Algonquin. I wanted to see and support Gina, and I was hoping I'd also get to meet the two other fabulous authors at the event, Kate Milliken, who wrote If I'd Known You Were Coming, and Michelle Richmond, who wrote Hum. Each of these ladies wrote fabulous short story collections (prize-winning, in fact) which I loved when I reviewed them for The Rumpus and The Coachella Review, respectively.

Books, Inc is a cozy bookstore on Chestnut in the Marina, and Dorothy and I had dinner nearby at The Tipsy Pig. We noshed on a bunch of delicious small plates, but of course I didn't snap any pictures... I was too busy cramming pork sliders into my face and washing them down with a Paloma.

The event was intimate and the readings were fabulous. I can't wait to read Gina's book.

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I did get to meet Kate and Michelle, too. I am humbled by the quality of writer whose work I get to review and meet. It was a pleasure to tell them in person how much I admired their books.

Somehow I made it through teaching on Thursday without much sleep. By Friday morning I was on Hwy 99 headed toward LA, listening to James McBride's The Good Lord Bird. I was staying again with my friend Eileen and MFA besties Maggie and Lizi and so we could attend the LA Times Festival of Books together. The view from Eileen's house does not disappoint, and Eileen is the most generous hostess.


I sleep pretty well there. The sound of the waves is magic.

Friday night we had dinner at Son of a Gun with our dear friend, Emile, and walked to Literary Death Match at Largo. The authors reading were: Geoff Dyer, Andres Du Bochet, Rachel McKibbens and Dana Goodyear, while Walter Kirn, Tymberlee Hill and BJ Novak judged. It was hands-down the most entertaining and hilarious reading I've ever been to. Most readings are stuffy and too long. Not this one. I laughed all night and it was over too quickly.

Saturday we headed to the Festival. LATFOB takes over USC for one weekend a year, and there are vendors, lit mags, signing tents and food trucks everywhere. There are panels with every kind of author imaginable. There's actually no way to make it to everything, but we put in a valiant effort.

I really wanted to meet my editor from LARB, Dinah Lenney, in person, and she happened to be speaking on a nonfiction panel with Leslie Jamison, Pico Iyer, and Leo Braudy. There's a nice write-up of it here from The Times. After it was over, we headed over to the signing tent so I could introduce myself and ask them to sign my books. I was humbled again. It still isn't lost on me, small town girl from Northern California, that I have access to people who write books. Really great books. Does it make me sound provincial to say how much this affects me? I don't care. Getting my MFA changed my world.

Anyway. We did not see John Green interviewed by David Ulin, although based on the line around the auditorium, it seems like he was seen by every teen and tween girl in California. We attended a panel with Jeff Jackson, Fiona McFarlane, and Kevin Moffet--moderated by my fiction professor, Tod Goldberg. We giggled as Tod dropped F bombs and parents with children went running out of the room. We also saw Gina Frangello again -- on a fiction panel along with Natalie Baszile and Michelle Huneven. It was only a moment into the panel before I realized I'd purchased Natalie Baszile's book, Queen Sugar, at City Lights when I was in San Francisco having lunch with Pia. Small world. We finished out the day by seeing Geoff Dyer and Ruth Ozeki in conversation with David Ulin. I didn't want it to end.

After the last panel we got to say hi to David and the inimitable Elizabeth Crane, who included us in her selfie photo series of the Festival.

Betsy Oscar selfie.

Eileen hosted a party Saturday night for folks in the program. We played that game where you stick a tag on your back and you have to ask questions until you get it right. We played with famous characters as our people. And I learned that I am terrible at that game, even when I am the one who writes all the tags beforehand.

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Lucio, having a hard time figuring out that he's Jane Eyre.

Still, fun to hang out and eat my weight in blue cheese dip and gummy bears.

Sunday we had wristbands for the green room, so we had access to tiny caprese sandwiches in between each event. You better believe we took advantage of that. On one of our sandwich runs, I ran into Paul Tremblay, who it is always nice to see. I did my share of gawking as I waited by the soup station, too. So many authors all in one place. Tod calls it the Living Barnes and Noble, and it was exactly that.

Sunday's panels: Adrian Todd Zuniga interviewing Lillibet Snellings, Annabelle Gurwich, Anna David and Pamela Ribon (hilarious, all), and Tod's second panel, a group of noir writers including Kem Nunn, Richard Lange, Mark Haskell Smith (another professor at UCR), and Adam Sternbergh. Our final panel of the day featured my fiction professor Betsy Crane, Jennifer Gilmore, Jenny Offill, and Mona Simpson. By the time the panel ended and I bought Jenny Offill's book, Dept. Of Speculation, so she could sign it, I was worn out. But happy worn out.

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Last year the Festival made me think for the first time about belonging to a community of people from my MFA program that still existed (magically!) beyond the walls of Rancho Las Palmas. It was the first time I'd spent any time with my peeps outside of the forced interaction at residency, and I think it was the first time I realized that this is for real. This year, while none of it had that same newness, it all had a lovely comfortable quality to it. I know who my people are, and they're my people whether we're all stuck posting on Blackboard together or not. And now the people who are a part of my book reviewing life are coming to be as much a part of my real life, too. I enjoy the FOB for its joy. All of the authors seem to be having such a great time, and everyone is so generous in their interaction with those of us who attend. Just like last year I came home with more books that I have time to read, but a fullness in my heart.

My one disappointment: I did not remember to pick up a Ray Bradbury face fan to go along with Joan Didion. C'est la vie.

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