This weekend, I'll be flying to California to attend the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.
I've been writing for The Times for three and a half years now, but this will be my first time at the festival — I have no good excuse for missing the previous ones, except for my fear of flying and my suspicion of any event with the word "festival" in its name. (I grew up in Texas, so I associate festivals with heatstroke, loud noises and foods that have been deep-fried for no godly reason.)
My social anxiety and aversion to crowds aside, I'm looking forward to the Festival of Books for several reasons. For one, the odds of having to watch people holding corn dogs while dancing the Cotton-Eye Joe are relatively low. Also, the fact that hundreds of authors and poets will be attending means that I might not be the most socially awkward person there.
But mostly, I'm looking forward to meeting writers I've admired for years, whom I will inevitably greet by saying something stupid like, "How's it doing?" or the like. The lineup at this year's festival is spectacular — here are just a few of the panels I can't wait to see.
Saturday, April 21, 10:30 a.m.: American Cultural Icons, Conversation 1011. Journalist Elizabeth Taylor will be talking to the authors of three fascinating books — newly minted Pulitzer Prize winner Caroline Fraser ("Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder"), Vanda Krefft ("The Man Who Made the Movies: The Meteoric Rise and Tragic Fall of William Fox") and Isaac Butler and Dan Kois ("The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of Angels in America").
Saturday, April 21, noon: Lawrence Wright in Conversation with Scott Kraft, Conversation 1032. My fellow Austinite Lawrence Wright will be discussing his latest book, "God Save Texas: A Journey Into the Soul of the Lone Star State," with Times deputy managing editor Scott Kraft. I talked to Wright about his book, and our shared love of our home state, for The Times last week.
Saturday, April 21, 1:30 p.m.: Fiction: Damage Done: Conversation 1053. Author and USC professor Dana Johnson moderates a panel of four of the most exciting authors working today: Lisa Ko ("The Leavers"), Edan Lepucki ("Woman No. 17"), Claire Messud ("The Burning Girl") and Gabriel Tallent ("My Absolute Darling").
Sunday, April 22, noon: Badass Women Changing Culture, Conversation 2052. Times television critic Lorraine Ali talks to three writers who I've admired for a long time: Michelle Dean ("Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion"), Carina Chocano ("You Play the Girl: On Playboy Bunnies, Stepford Wives, Train Wrecks, & Other Mixed Messages") and Joy Press ("Stealing the Show: How Women Are Revolutionizing Television"). (Joy, a former Times books editor, originally hired me to write for The Times, so you have her to blame.)
Sunday, April 22, 2 p.m.: Victoria Chang, Reading from "Barbie Chang." Chang's poetry collection "Barbie Chang" was one of my favorite books last year — she's one of the most innovative and exciting poets working today.
I'd be remiss if I didn't plug my own panel. On Sunday at 10:30 a.m., I'll be talking to three authors whose books I absolutely love: Leni Zumas ("Red Clocks"), Paul La Farge ("The Night Ocean") and Héctor Abad ("The Farm"). I'd love for everyone to get the chance to hear these amazing writers discuss their works and answer my questions, which — fair warning — I will probably be stammering my way through. (In the words of Homer Simpson, "If I could just say a few words, I'd be a better public speaker.")