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LA Times Festival of Books day 1 broaches topics from womanhood to queer romance

A yellow display stands on the grass. The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books returned to the University of Southern California on Saturday. (Neha Krishnakumar/Daily Bruin)

By Sanjana Chadive

April 23, 2023 9:14 p.m.

Literature lovers were completely booked this weekend.

On Saturday, the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books returned to the University of Southern California. From 10 a.m. to 5:40 p.m., bibliophiles everywhere could engage with their passion through numerous activities. The two-day literary celebration featured a variety of events including poetry readings, author panels, early television screenings and celebrity speakers.

Read on for the Daily Bruin’s coverage of day one of the LA Times Festival of Books.

(Neha Krishnakumar/Daily Bruin)
Max Greenfield holds up his children’s book, “This Book is Not a Present.” The actor said he wrote the book for kids who are less than enthusiastic about reading. (Neha Krishnakumar/Daily Bruin)

Max Greenfield, “This Book is Not a Present”

Whether they love or loathe literature, young readers will find something to appreciate about Max Greenfield’s latest book.

Taking the Children’s Stage at 2:30 p.m., the Emmy-nominated actor, best known for his role in the comedy series “New Girl,” was welcomed with applause. After asking the audience how they were doing, Greenfield enthusiastically took out a copy of his new work, “This Book is Not a Present.” He said he wrote the book for kids who are less than enthusiastic about reading.

“I think the message we get so much from educators is that you have to love reading and you must love to read and you just fall in love with reading,” Greenfield said. “That’s just not every child’s journey. We want to figure out different ways to get kids to embrace reading and not necessarily falling in love with it, because that expectation is often not met.”

As Greenfield read “This Book is Not a Present” aloud, audience members listened attentively as he described the disappointment the young narrator experienced when they received a book and not something of their interest as a present. Through vivid imagery and fourth wall breaks, Greenfield was able to successfully retain listeners’ attention from start to finish.

When Greenfield finished “This Book Is Not a Present,” he answered questions from the audience. During this portion, Greenfield announced a sequel titled “I Don’t Want to Read This Book Aloud,” discussed his favorite part of the writing process and described his own reading journey.

After listening to Greenfield, reluctant readers will hopefully be more likely to pick up a book.

[Related: Book preview: Spring literature releases bloom with romance, adventure and social criticism]

LADYGANG, “Lady Secrets: Real, Raw, and Ridiculous Confessions of Womanhood”

With their latest release, the hosts of the podcast LADYGANG are urging readers to unapologetically embrace femininity.

As the clock struck 3:20 p.m., the blonde trio – composed of television host Keltie Knight, actress Becca Tobin and entrepreneur Jac Vanek – strutted onto the LA Times Main Stage to discuss their second book, “Lady Secrets: Real, Raw, and Ridiculous Confessions of Womanhood.” In a panel moderated by Jazmín Aguilera, the group discussed how the latest addition to their bibliography aims to destigmatize some of the so-called embarrassing situations women experience on a day-to-day basis.

“You feel very seen, especially if you’re a woman, and you just have an awkward moment,” Aguilera said.

Aguilera kicked off the panel by asking the authors how they received submissions. Knight said she and her co-authors began sharing some of their most shameful moments in their podcast “LADYGANG,” prompting fans all over the world to open up about their own stories. As a result, Vanek said they came up with a phone number women could call to share their deepest secrets and stuck them on little cards all over LA. Although Vanek couldn’t quantify the exact number of phone calls she and her co-authors received, she said they did receive a great number of them.

Aguilera then asked the authors about the significance of women sharing their shameful stories with each other. Vanek said women are expected to uphold the harmful image of the perfect wife and mother. By sharing these so-called awkward moments, she said she hopes other people like her find comfort in simply being human. Furthermore, Tobin pointed out how some of the experiences women endure are not frowned upon if men undergo them.

Ultimately, “Lady Secrets” aims to shatter patriarchal conceptions of womanhood.

[Related: Q&A: Bruin alumnus Diane Marie Brown discusses magic, family amid release of her novel]

(Neha Krishnakumar/Daily Bruin)
(From left to right) Emily Barth Isler, Gail Lerner, Andrew Donkin, Eoin Colfer, Christina (C.C.) Harrington and Brian Selznick sit on stage. They spoke on the “Middle Grade Fiction: Courageous Kids Protecting the Planet” panel. (Neha Krishnakumar/Daily Bruin)

Robbie Couch, Patrick Ness, Tess Sharpe and Adam Silvera – Young Adult Fiction: Sexuality, Fiction and Queer Romance

Popular authors of LGBTQ+ fiction are exploring what it means to be queer in 21st-century America.

Writers Robbie Couch, Patrick Ness, Tess Sharpe and Adam Silvera sat down with James Sie at the YA Stage to examine queer love stories in young adult fiction. During the panel, the authors discussed the ins and outs of romance writing, how their own experiences influenced their stories, and navigating difficult subject matters in their works.

“Sometimes, we think that teens aren’t capable of handling tough material, so we sanitize it to a point that it’s not actually a reflection of what they’re feeling or need to be hearing,” Silvera said.

Silvera shared his background growing up in the Bronx and how it wasn’t necessarily safe for him to come out. He said writing has served as a cathartic process and release of all the emotions he felt when he was closeted. Ness said he also delves into being closeted in his books and how it shapes an individual’s life before and after they come out.

Later on, the panelists recognized the importance of content warnings and having meaningful discussions about tough subject matters. Sharpe said she is a firm proponent of content warnings, as she has them for her entire back catalog. Additionally, Silvera said his next book includes suicidal ideation and that withholding conversations surrounding this topic would be a disservice to his readers.

When asked if the authors feel political when writing, Ness immediately answered that merely existing as a queer person is a political act. Couch said he agreed with Ness, since writing queer fiction is also political. He went on to describe how many novels on banned-book lists contain LGBTQ+ themes and added that there is still a long journey toward the goal of inclusive representation in young adult literature.

Such steps will hopefully be taken after hearing Couch, Ness, Sharpe and Silvera shine a light on these issues.

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Sanjana Chadive | Lifestyle editor
Chadive is the 2023-2024 lifestyle editor. She was previously an Arts staff writer from 2022-2023. She is a third-year comparative literature student from Garnet Valley, Pennsylvania.
Chadive is the 2023-2024 lifestyle editor. She was previously an Arts staff writer from 2022-2023. She is a third-year comparative literature student from Garnet Valley, Pennsylvania.
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