If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that even activities we think of as solitary—writing, reading, working—can be more rewarding with a community. The pandemic forced those of us who identify as readers to get creative with how books bring us closer together even when we are physically far apart. Alta Journal’s California Book Club was born out of this ethos, so it was kismet that our first-ever in-person event for the CBC happened at the 2022 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, a celebration of literature and standout of California book culture.
Back in person after two years of virtual programming during the pandemic, the 2022 book fest took place over two whirlwind days of sunshine on the University of Southern California’s campus, treating eager readers to a cross between a bookfair and a literary Disneyland. The event has been dubbed Bookchella after the music festival it shares a weekend with, and your odds of spotting a celebrity are almost as high: Josh Peck, Billy Porter, and Janelle Monáe were among 2022’s attendees. Literary luminaries were even more prevalent—over 500 authors and panelists were featured—and when they weren’t onstage discussing their latest releases or interviewing one another in candid, erudite panels, you could bet on finding them browsing the dozens of exhibitor tents across USC’s quad.
Commendable efforts have been made in the past few years to improve access to authors, breaking down the barriers to becoming one and meeting one, and the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books is part of that movement, offering free entrance to the festival grounds as well as to events featuring its biggest speakers. (This year, Danny Trejo fired up tacos on one stage while Ziggy Marley read from his children’s book on another.) For those looking for a more intimate setting, smaller panels and interviews in USC’s classrooms broke down the craft of writing, with guests like Maggie Nelson, Obi Kaufmann, Mai Der Vang, and Amor Towles. Between events, visitors browsed row upon row of vendors—whose tents created a veritable pop-up city of journals, publishers, literary ventures, and more—collecting all kinds of bookish memorabilia. One unexpected perk: a walk around the festival grounds allowed readers to peruse multiple Los Angeles bookstores in one day, without a minute of Los Angeles traffic.
Heads and book bags full, visitors to this year’s L.A. Times Festival of Books left happy and satisfied. Like having a day (or two) at the aforementioned theme park, you may run out of time to hit all the stops on your list, but it’s a great excuse to come back next year. We’ll see you there.
One more thing: A fantastic long goodbye
Since 1956, Oceanic Arts in Whittier, California, had been the country’s best-known purveyor of tiki decor. Because of its hallowed-ground status among aficionados, when the store announced its closing in the spring of 2022, folks went coconuts. What ensued was a sold-out, multiweekend, mai tai–fueled festival of live music and lectures, followed by a two-day, totally bonkers live auction of hand-carved statues, bamboo lamps, and ephemera. The store’s owners, Robert van Oosting and LeRoy Schmaltz, were surfing buddies who founded the place in their 20s and were still running it as octogenarians, until the day it closed its doors for good. Schmaltz passed away two months after the auction—but thankfully had the chance to hear so many fans say “mahalo.”•