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Festival offers more than just books

By Daniel Miller

April 24, 2005 9:00 p.m.

As the first day of the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books drew
to a close Saturday afternoon, not one UCLA student had signed up
for the Wine of the Month Club. Membership in this exclusive club
costs approximately $25 a month, so this was not news to me. I
inquired about student discounts at the club’s booth but was
quickly rebuffed. No big deal ““ most students I know
informally belong to the Franzia wine club, which sets back members
about 45 cents per glass. If you are surprised that a column about
the Festival of Books reads like a sommelier’s handbook, then
you and I are on the same page. When I trudged over to campus on
Saturday to write a think piece on the festival I thought it would
be about delightful poetry and intriguing authors. But the festival
offers much more than that. This was my first trip to the Festival
of Books, and certainly not my last.

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The first noteworthy thing I saw at the festival was the cooking
stage, which was the place to be around 2 p.m. on Saturday. A sea
of eager Tex-Mex aficionados watched with baited breath as chefs
Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken of the Food Network’s
“Too Hot Tamales” fame gave a cooking demonstration.
There was a lot of talk about blanching vegetables, and the affable
chefs kept the masses happy with tongue-in-cheek tales of dropping
acid in high school and tips on the best brands of canned peppers.
“That’s another thing about being a great cook: you
keep stuff in your pantry,” Milliken said. Trust me Mary Sue,
I know. But then one of them started talking about fire-roasted
poblano peppers and I had to get out of there before they started
making aioli.

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Adjacent to the cooking stage was the Canada Tourism
Commission’s booth. I was pretty surprised to learn that
Canada (the country) had a booth so I decided to check it out.
Inside, visitors were offered free samples of Clearly Canadian
(presumably the national drink) and the chance to watch a video
clip of actor Alec Baldwin extol the virtues of Canada. It was
there that I ran into my friend, UC Berkeley fourth-year student
Aaron Schmidt, who was born in Canada. “I’d say this
clearly represents my people,” Schmidt said. “We are
interested in celebrities and beverages.” I was completely
unaware that countries had booths at the Festival of Books, but it
certainly was a pleasant Canadian experience. And get this, inside
the booth, I bumped into a woman and she apologized to me. Those
Canadians are so polite. Not to be outdone by Canada, the South
African Consulate-General had a booth. “We have no Mounties
around us,” Consul Alan G. Moore said. “Our purpose is
to draw attention to South African literature.” (Yes, they
sent their consul to the Festival of Books.) I asked Moore for his
opinion of the Canada booth. “I served in the South African
consulate in Montreal, Canada, in 1991 and 1992 and I am not
familiar with Clearly Canadian,” Moore said.

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At the top of Janss Steps I found two UCLA graduates ““ Art
Shepherd (Class of 1957) and Jim Howard (Class of 1949). The two
come to the festival each year to see how the campus has changed.
“We came back to reminisce about the old campus,”
Shepherd said. “It looks fantastic ““ it looks so much
bigger. All these paved walkways used to be dirt.” “And
we used to tie up our horses over there,” Howard said.

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Of all the authors I met, Dianne Linderman incited the most
interest. She has written the book “How to Become an
Entrepreneurial Kid,” and makes over $1 million annually
““ something she told me several times. She also said that her
7-year-old daughter Alexandra makes around $25 a day selling flower
pens and her 9-year-old son Luke makes $150 a day. I told Linderman
I make the same in two weeks and she told me to buy her book. Luke
makes all that money selling pocketknives. “I had to let him
do it ““ that’s his passion,” Linderman said. When
I was 9, I thought knives were pretty cool but I was mostly into
kickball. After speaking with Linderman I checked out the
Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America, whose
representatives were appraising festivalgoers’ books on site.
Southern California chapter President Gordon Hollis said that
earlier on Saturday someone had brought in a suitcase of books
filled with many treasures. The suitcase contained first editions
of “Vanity Fair” and “Jane Eyre” and Hollis
said the books in the suitcase were worth a total of $200,000.

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Before leaving I stopped by the booth of author Alice Glasser,
who has written a book of humorous stories entitled, “Where
Can I Be Decaffeinated?” There, I spoke with her husband,
UCLA professor of surgery Jesse Thompson, who told me about a
festival exhibitor I had to see. “I saw a booth where all the
books were blank,” Thompson said. “It was the USC
booth.”

E-mail Miller at [email protected]

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