17th Annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books

The 17th Annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books kicks off Saturday, April 21, at 10:00am on the campus of USC.

Founded by then-editor of the LA Times book section Steve Wasserman, the Festival has emerged as one of the best-attended in the country.

This year is a noir-lover's paradise: Robert Crais, T. Jefferson Parker, Michael Connelly, Miles Corwin, Gary Phillips, Paula L. Woods, Denise Hamilton, Nelson George, PG Sturges, Anne Perry, Gar Anthony Haywood, Stuart Woods, Seth Greenland, Joseph Wambaugh, Mark Haskell Smith, Philip Kerr, Lee Goldberg, and others will all be reading, sitting on panels, and signing books.

All but a few of these writers are based in Southern California. But they all have international reputations, and literature always is, or at least in almost all cases hopes to be, cosmopolitan, written from a place but not for a specific place. Take, for example, the case of Patt Morrison's panel called Echoes of Korea – her panelists, Leonard Chang, Krys Lee, and Samuel Park are all national, and indeed internationally known young writers who write to the world about the world.

Still, some of the panels, like one with Leo Braudy and DJ Waldie, are specifically about California culture, as is a panel with the great Topanga Canyon resident Steve Erickson, one of the country's great novelists and one its best film critics, along with Dana Spiotta, now in New York, and British Indian novelist Hari Kunzru– from around the globe, but all writing about our environs – the local and the global are always the two faces of literary life.

The Festival also has a constant stream of entertainment figures who happen to have books out – Betty White, Florence Henderson, Tori Spelling, John Cusack, Ricki Lake – and musical and other performances. Apparently people want such things at their book festivals. The one performance I would recommend is Culture Clash at 1:00 on Sunday, a venerable LA institution at this point, Culture Clash, which once billed itself as “The Only Chicano Comedy Troupe in the Universe” features great writing as well as great performances.

The poetry tent has a great line-up, and one great panel has Harryette Mullen, Doug Kearney, David St. John, Dawn Lundy Martin, and Matthew Zapruder, a kind of SoCal poetry summit, with a token East-Coaster in the young, award-winning Martin.

Great fiction panels abound with authors who, if you don't know already, you should: Laila Lalami, Dana Johnson, Mona Simpson, Hector Tobar, Nina Revoyr, Antoine Wilson, our own Matthew Specktor, Aimee Bender, Ben Ehrenreich, Mark Leyner, Sara Levine, Etgar Keret, David Vann, Judith Freeman, and too many others to mention.

An interesting panel with Jon Wiener has Tom Hayden, Abe Peck, and Robert Scheer talking about the Port Huron Statement 50 years later, is one of many great offerings: panels on sports writing, popular music, economics, food writing (with the inimitable Jonathan Gold), war (with Adam Hochschild and others), and a Young Adult stage with some of the best of the best.

And then finally, there are the big names: Anne Rice, T.C. Boyle, Judy Blume, Susan Orlean, and others.