4.29.2006

Like a Kid in a Candy Store

Oh, my. Oh, oh, my. Ever since moving to la la land, I've wanted to attend the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. There was always this little thorn in my side called finals week that prevented us from taking in the massive event. I was bound and determined to go this year, though sadly it doesn't look like tomorrow will work out. (I'm plotting to take vacation this time next year.)

Like a kid in a candy store, yes. Also something like trick-or-treat for geeks. We are now the proud owners of an abebooks highlighter, a Poets and Writers button, and about 30 lbs. of mostly-free books, literary reviews, and magazines.

There were so many people there. I had a similar feeling as when I was at General Assembly for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) last summer: these are my people.

It was like a rock concert. Oh, wait, it was a rock concert. We caught a bit of the Rockbottom Remainders, a band comprised of famous writers. Amy Tan looked so cool in her blonde wig and rock star earrings.

The best part, of course, were the panels. The one on poetry was just as I expected - earnest, hopeful, slightly obsessed with the marginalization of poetry in American culture.

The real treat was The Devil in the Details: Quirky Nonfiction, which was moderated by my favorite LA Times columnist, Meghan Daum. Though the packed audience was offered condolences for not getting into the Joan Didion reading, this one was actually my first choice for the whole festival (well, other than Sarah Vowell, who hits the stage just as the Prelude will kick in tomorrow morning). The conversation was all over the place, but in a good, surprisingly focused way. The writers in the panel - including June Casagrande and Veronica Chambers - are all professional writers whose grocery funds depend upon meeting deadlines. I found myself relating to them more than I expected, and not just because they were all really funny (despite what Ben may say about my humor, I believe I am funny...). While writing an op-ed column and preaching the gospel are clearly not the same thing, the hard deadline, the defined subject (for June, grammar; for me, God), and the imperative to remember one's audience somehow makes the genres not so different. With some notable exceptions, much of my writing workshop experience emphasized personal expression - you know, the Julia Cameron school of creativity. But there's also the other realm of writing evoked by Sol Stein in the first chapter of Stein on Writing:
The historian Shelby Foote reminds us, "Lincoln was highly intelligent. Almost everything he did was calculated for effect." That statement is one no writer should ever forget. "Almost everything he did was calculated for effect."... When a writer or speaker understands the electricity of fresh simile and metaphor, his [sic] choice of words empowers our feelings, his language compels our attention, acceptance, and action.

Columns and sermons alike are unapologetically meant to be shared with a community. They are not writing for the sake of the writer. That seems like an obvious, unneccessary observation, but it's a distinction I really needed to recognize. A couple years ago, I took a creative writing class that was super keen on the notion of theraputic, journal-centric writing. Which is dandy, but not my thing. I ended up writing snarky protest pieces during our incessant free-writing sessions, because what I wanted was not to soul search, but to learn to write excellent prose that could stand up to the strain of a reader.

I think I've rambled off the topic (oops, that's not very excellent prose). The moral of the story is that the Festival of Books is, in my book, better than Disneyland, Halloween, and See's Candy Stores combined. I'm on a literary high right now, and happily, it seems just as relevant to my writer-self as my pastor-self. I guess all this writing stuff makes me soul search after all.

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