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A celebration of all things books at USC

Since background-check legislation was voted down in the Senate on Thursday, Adam Winkler, author of "Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America," expects a "lively" conversation at his panel on guns in America at the 18th annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

"This is a hot-button issue, and we have a collection of some of the leading scholars on guns and gun politics on this panel," he says. "Sometimes things can get heated. But I find that people are really hungering for a balanced, non-emotional discussion."

Whether the balance will carry over into the question-and-answer period of the Sunday morning panel is another matter.

Controversy occasionally emerges at the festival. It could happen during the Saturday appearance of Orson Scott Card, author of the beloved children's science-fiction series "Ender's Game." The book, originally published in 1985, is finally being made into a film, starring Abigail Breslin, Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld and Harrison Ford. But a Superman story by Card for DC Comics was recently postponed after the artist quit the project in protest of Card's public stance against gay marriage.

Current-event panels such as Saturday's "American Disunion" and Sunday's"Legalizing Mary Jane" may also be places to join lively discussions.

More than 500 authors will appear this weekend at the Festival of Books. Now in its third year at USC, the two-day event features readings, onstage interviews, panel discussions, book signings, cooking demonstrations and musical performances.

Some are boldface names for their nonbookish lives: Ludo Lefebvre is a chef, William Friedkin a film director, Debbie Reynolds a movie star and Carol Burnett a comic icon. They will be reading from memoirs, except for Lefebvre, who is scheduled to cook.

Others, like former attorney Marcia Clark and actress Molly Ringwald, have achieved bona-fide literary success. Clark writes bestselling thrillers; Ringwald's fiction debut, "When It Happens To You," was also a national bestseller.

Finding all these writers in one place with stacks of books for sale can't erase that the publishing business has been in a state of upheaval, largely because of the innovations in new media and e-reading. That topic will be addressed at the "Publishing: The Technological Frontier" panel on Sunday.

"The most interesting effect of new media is the shift to mobile reading," says panelist John Tayman, the co-founder and editor of Byliner, an electronic publisher of writers like Jon Krakauer and Chuck Pahlaniuk. "We're in a world where one in two Americans have a tablet or e-reader or iPhone — they're carrying around something that allows them to read at a moment's notice. That's an amazing opportunity."

Children's entertainment takes place all day on the green in front of the Target Stage, recognizable by the big red and white banners. There are readings and singalongs; this year's Saturday highlights include Jon Klassen, Lemony Snicket and Lucy Dahl, Roald Dahl's daughter, reading from "Matilda." On Sunday, look for José-Luis Orozco and Herman Paris reading from "Amelia Bedelia."

Phillipe Petit, the legendary French high-wire walker documented in the Oscar-winning "Man on Wire" will present his new book, "Why Knot," on Sunday. Petit's was the first event of the festival to sell out.

The long list of accomplished authors who will be appearing during the festival includes Joyce Carol Oates, Jonathan Lethem, Jamaica Kincaid, Marisa Silver, Mona Simpson, Robin Sloan, Francesca Lia Block, Pico Iyer, Rachel Kushner, Dana Gioia, Luis Rodriguez, Ben Ehrenreich, Ben Fountain, Hope Larsen, George Dyson, Atticka Locke, Lauren Groff and The Times' Steve Lopez.

A brand new addition to the festival this year is the Pop & Hiss stage. Taking its name from The Times' music blog, the stage features live music performances from acts including Dustbowl Revival and Max Lugavere.

This year marks the first that Metro's Expo Line, with two USC stops, will be open for the festival. That might make public transportation easier for those daunted by CicLAvia, the celebration of L.A.'s streets that runs from downtown to Venice Beach on Sunday. In addition, there are various parking locations provided by USC ($10 per day) as well as the free Bullseye shuttle service that runs between USC and Union Station in downtown L.A. For the hungry, there will be food trucks in addition to USC's on-campus dining options.

Tickets to the events are available online; they are free, plus a $1 processing fee. Advance tickets are recommended, but it is also possible to get into sold-out events by queuing up in the standby line, because seats often become available. A free app with information and a customizable schedule is available for download for iPhone and Android.

Festival of Books

When: Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m; Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
USC campus

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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