Bookish LA

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed on KCRW.

I suspect that, by now, just about everyone has heard the claim that Los Angeles is the biggest and most vibrant book selling market in the country.

It's used whenever someone wants to defend LA's literary chops. And it makes sense, even with the struggles of independent bookstores like Dutton's, which will be closing its doors in Brentwood in a few days.

There are something like fifteen million people living within the sound of my voice. So there's really no competition for who buys the most books.

Places you might think of as bookish – the Bay Area, say, or Boston or Portland – just aren't big enough.

And New York -- well, even with all the publishers and agents squeezed into Manhattan, the boroughs aren't really filled with readers.

So that leaves Southern California. Even though we've recently lost Wilshire Books in Santa Monica. And the Book Soup outpost in Orange County. And the "other" Dutton's in North Hollywood.

It hasn’t been that long since the Midnight Special closed. And it looks now as if Acres of Books in Long Beach is going, and there's concern for Village Books in the Palisades.

Even with a pretty full slate of author readings and some good book blogs based here, the only time that LA really feels like the center of the reading universe is the week every April leading up to the LA Times Festival of Books at UCLA.

Authors are in town this week, filling up the talk-radio slots. There's literary salons on tap from Brentwood to downtown.

And this is the time that new books about Los Angeles are often scheduled for release.

latinos_in_lotusland.jpg Books like the new Latinos in Lotusland: An Anthology of Contemporary Southern California Literature. The writers include Salvador Plascencia, John Rechy, Sandra Ramos O'Briant and Luis J. Rodríguez. All giving voice to the mix of Latino cultures and experiences here.

The collection was edited by Daniel A. Olivas, an author who has a day job probably not shared by many other published writers. He's a deputy attorney general for the state of California, and wearing that hat was the lead counsel a few years ago when the state forced David Geffen to open his Malibu beach-front to the public.

devils_of_bakersfield.jpg John Shannon, a seasoned writer of mysteries that exude Los Angeles, has a new entry in his series based around the fictional life of detective Jack Liffey – this one set up in Bakersfield.

Joseph Wambaugh, the dean of the LAPD cops turned authors, is back on the Los Angeles beat.

age_of_dreaming.jpg Among the new L.A.-centric fiction Ive seen, Nina Revoyr's The Age of Dreaming has a cover blurb sure to draw me in…"rich in the social nuances of Los Angeles' silent film era," it says.

great_escapes.jpg A new book even landed on my desk this week that talks ABOUT the Times Book Festival. It's a new travel guide, Great Escapes Southern California, by Donna Wares of the website

She describes the annual weekend ritual of author D.J. Waldie, who doesn't drive and who takes the bus from Lakewood to Westwood on the Friday before the festival. Every year.

He checks in at the artsy W Hotel, enjoys a Bombay martini at the bar, then launches his literary weekend by walking across campus to the Book Prizes ceremony in Royce Hall.

After the prizes are handed out, he mingles with the visiting and local literati on the Royce Hall terrace. He'll spend tomorrow and Sunday roaming the festival, stopping in at panels and schmoozing some more in the author green room.

Waldie says he stays until they kick him out in the evening. For a book lover, it's the only place to be.

As it happens, I have my own date with Waldie. On Saturday at 3 p.m., we sit together on a panel about the great experiment called California. I'll be sure to ask him how that martini went down this year.

For KCRW this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.