Monday, May 2, 2011

The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books

So there we are, myself...

... and my friend, the artist Mark Strickland, all set up to represent our respective books at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Mark has come out with a handsome new survey of his work, The Art of Mark Strickland--a beautifully illustrated book which includes an introduction I wrote especially for the publication and numerous quotations from my past writings about the work. Mark is one of those (rare) artists who dares to use his considerable skills to address such profound humanitarian issues as the Holocaust and war and peace in the Middle East. You'll remember that painting was declared dead just a few decades ago; and figurative painting, particularly, was beyond the pale. It took some courage to swim against those mainstream fads and prejudices, but thankfully Mark himself is a "survivor."

As for Persist... Well, I'm always more optimistic, when it comes to sales, than I have any right to be--and this weekend was no exception. Sales were, to put it politely, sluggish. But we did manage to sell a few copies and, perhaps more importantly, to distribute significant numbers of business cards, bookmarks and flyers which might result in some further orders and, I hope, a bump in readership on The Buddha Diaries, which remains my primary writing practice. Also, aside from sitting around at the booth...

... I did spend a good deal of time wandering around the USC campus, where the Festival was held, meeting many other exhibitors and talking about their work... and mine. I came home with a stack of cards and catalogues which will need follow-up contact in the coming days. Also, early morning, before the fair opened, I made the pilgrimage to the fourth floor of what used to be "Founder's Hall" to revisit my office space from more than forty years ago, when I was teaching Comparative Literature at this university. I found it much changed from 1968, with access blocked off by an imposing--and locked!--security door. Comp. Lit. had moved, too, to a suite of ground floor offices, where I found a graduate student busy with a book. Only one faculty member has survived since my day.

The Festival itself aroused my usual mix of inspiration and revulsion. It's wonderful to see so many writers and so many books, and to feel so much aspiration and devotion to the written word in all its forms of expression. And yet... with so many of us competing for the attention of (these days relatively few) readers, I'm left with the dreadful, empty feeling that all my efforts are somehow quaint, not to say quixotic in a world in which the cacophony of the mass media is so loud and insistent. If I were to listen only to that feeling, however, I guess I would have quit the writing game years ago; and yet here I am, still hammering away at the keys. At least it's not so much a matter of "hammering" as it was in the days of the portable typewriter, but rather a matter of tapping gently at the keyboard! It is, after all, that I am given to do, and I'd feel like a useless old chump without it. Better to feel like a useless old chump with it.

And what's truly wonderful, for this writer at least, has been the discovery of the blogosphere. With this blog, and The Buddha Diaries and, more recently, the budding Vote Obama 2012, I manage to reach readers world-wide every day. I ask myself, could I have envisioned this, even ten years ago? I could not. And, when it comes right down to it, what more could a writer wish for?

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