A literary exploration at Los Angeles Times Festival of Books

Thousands of bibliophiles attend the first day of the two-day Los Angeles Times Festival of Books

Author T.C. Boyle was talking about his development as a writer. He explained that his first book, 1982's "Water Music," explored human relationships with the Earth. But he said that after having published 25 books he's still trying to tackle a philosophical question that goes back to the beginning:

Why are we all here?

"I hope to continue writing books until I find out, and then I'll let you all know," he told the audience.

Boyle was one of dozens of novelists, historians, political writers, biographers and journalists who discussed and answered questions about their books to the delight of thousands of bibliophiles attending the first day of the two-day Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on the USC campus Saturday.

When not listening to a panel discussion, some attendees flipped through stacks of comic books and examined collections on display at outposts of favorite Los Angeles-area book stores.

"I think it's L.A. at its best," said Bruce Howard, manning his stall of rare books called Bookbid.

Nearby, small white lights were strung across the white tent ceiling where the Los Feliz shop Skylight Books had set up its wares. "The world of books is all here," said Steven Salardino, the store's manager.

Shelves displayed some of his bestsellers: "Catcher in the Rye," "Infinite Jest" and "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay."

It captivated customers such as Richard Terzian. "He just likes to wander," said his wife, Kathy, who had already cracked open her first purchase of the day, "Life at the Marmont," a history of the Chateau Marmont on Sunset Boulevard. Terzian agreed: "I never come here specifically looking for anything."

Others liked the joy of simply spending the day around other book lovers.

By 2:30 p.m, author John Sharer had sold at least 10 copies of his books, he said, and had a half-hour conversation with a biracial couple about the themes of his novel, "The Cockney Lad and Jim Crow."

"You meet a lot of people, and you talk to a lot of people you normally wouldn't run across," Sharer, 82, said at the start of the festival. "Even if you don't sell any books, it's usually a very satisfying day."

At a panel called "Speaking Out: Human Rights and Social Justice" moderated by radio journalist Karen Grigsby Bates, three writers discussed how the struggle for equality among minority groups, including blacks and gays, never seems to end.

"We're still at that point where we have to say we matter, and that's pretty remarkable if you think about it," said journalist Erin Aubry Kaplan, referencing the phrase, "Black lives matter," which became a rallying cry after a number of police shootings of unarmed black men across the country.

During Boyle's interview with David Ulin, a Los Angeles Times book critic, Boyle explained how the central issue in his newest book, "The Harder They Come," is gun violence, based loosely on the 2011 shooting in Fort Bragg in which the gunman killed a city councilman and another man. The gunman was later killed by authorities.

But as an author of fiction, Boyle said he doesn't feel the need to stick closely to the facts of the real-life drama. He reimagines the events through different characters that he invents with the purpose of better understanding their motivations.

"There are no rules except internal rules," he said of writing.

"It's your imaginative leaping off point," Ulin said, referring to the actual news story of the shooting.

"Right," Boyle affirmed.

The author explained that his daily schedule begins with reading the newspaper every morning.

"I sob for about half an hour, then I go to work," he said.

emily.foxhall@latimes.com

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