The Book Pages: Independent Bookstore Day and a free literary festival

View Original Notice ? The Book Pages: Independent Bookstore Day and a free literary festival

This Saturday is one of my favorite secular holidays, Independent Bookstore Day. According to my family’s tradition, a jolly bearded man sneaks back home with a sackful of books for himself and his loved ones from local independent booksellers and nobody says, “Jolly, you? Really?” They just believe.

So what should you expect this year? I asked the CEO of the American Booksellers Association Allison K. Hill. You may remember she was a book columnist for these newspapers and former CEO of Vroman’s and Book Soup. Allison’s also one of my favorite book people and she filled me in.

“This year’s Independent Bookstore Day is the biggest in the event’s nine-year history— 872 stores across the country (a 14% increase over last year’s event) are participating this year along with independent bookstores from as far away as India,” Hill told me via email while on the way to the airport.

“The biggest difference this year is that all the stores are open; COVID-related shutdowns are a thing of the past. Everyone has been so excited that the celebration started early this year with a spirit week leading up to the big day.”

Bestselling author of “The Hate U Give” and “Concrete Rose” Angie Thomas is the day’s ambassador, and stores across Southern California will celebrate in different ways, so call ahead for details. (For example, Vroman’s and Book Soup will be raffling off goodies, but they are also closing early on Saturday.) There is also IBD exclusive swag from Don Winslow, Holly Black and more.

Looking for another way to enjoy the day? I’m also planning to attend LitFest Pasadena, a free multi-day event that kicks off Saturday and features an incredible array of Southern California authors including Natashia Deón, Steph Cha, Antoine Wilson and Joe Ide. The day concludes with a conversation between two bestselling heavy-hitters, Michael Connelly and Gregg Hurwitz.

Plus, the opening day of LitFest Pasadena is taking place at Mountain View Mausoleum, which is not your typical book festival space.

“If you like architecture, it’s amazing,” says LitFest Pasadena’s Kat Ward, who praised the beauty of the space.

Even better, this is a multi-day festival, so you can also attend events at other venues such as Altadena Public Library, Pasadena Presbyterian Church, Red Hen Press and Vroman’s on May 4, May 7, May 11 and May 14.

I’m looking forward to seeing a panel on May 4 called “To Change the World: Can Writing Truly Transform” with Reyna Grande, Rachel Harper, Naomi Hirahara, Attica Locke as well as a May 14 panel on memoir with Cassandra Lane, Tembi Locke, Maggie Rowe, Erika Schickel that will be moderated by my colleague Samantha Dunn.

“We don’t necessarily care about getting bigger,” said Ward. “We care about getting better. We care about engaging the audience and having authors enjoy themselves.”

That sounds like a plan to me.

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Finally, congratulations to Naomi Hirahara, Southern California author and occasional contributor to our pages, for winning of The Simon & Schuster Mary Higgins Clark Award for “Clark and Division” at the Edgars, the Mystery Writers of America Awards, on Thursday. Read the book if you haven’t already.

Got a question, a comment, a recommendation? Email me at [email protected] and I may use it in future newsletters.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

Shelley Wong shares a Southern California poem and book recommendations

“As She Appears” by Shelley Wong. (Photo by Margarita Corporan /Courtesy of the author)

Raised in Long Beach, Pushcart Prize-winning poet Shelley Wong is publishing her debut “As She Appears” on May 10. Described by her publisher as foregrounding “queer women of color in their being and becoming,” the collection explores life following a recently ended relationship. Wong’s poetry is steeped in its environment and place, especially that of California. The poet has also graciously allowed us to share a poem, “How to Live in Southern California,” which is not in the new collection but included in “The Best American Poetry 2021” (Scribner). She’ll be reading with UCI professor and poet Natalie Shapero, author of “Popular Longing,” at Bel Canto Books on May 15.  

Q. Is there a book or books that you always recommend to other readers?

Poetry sometimes seems intimidating and academic, but it is more vibrant than ever thanks to the Internet. You can find poems and poets on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and, since the pandemic, through virtual readings happening worldwide. For those who are curious about poetry, I recommend these poets who grew up in California or are living here now: “Magical Negro” by Morgan Parker, “Oculus” by Sally Wen Mao, “Kingdom Animalia” by Aracelis Girmay, “A Nail the Evening Hangs On” by Monica Sok, “I’m So Fine” by Khadijah Queen, and “Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry” by John Murillo.

Q. Do you have a favorite book or books?

I’ll share five favorite poetry books that were deep sources of inspiration and comfort in writing my debut book “As She Appears”: “Incarnadine” by Mary Szybist, “Slow Lightning” by Eduardo C. Corral, “There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé” by Morgan Parker, “Stag’s Leap” by Sharon Olds, and “Sycamore” by Kathy Fagan. All of these books spoke to me about wonder and vulnerability, along with the intimacies of being together and apart.

Q. What are you reading now?

As my book publication date of May 10 is imminent, I’m immersed in the abundance of books coming out—there is so much to celebrate! And I’m always catching up, as there are so many presses. I want to support other writers as much as possible by buying books or finding them at the library and spreading the word, as it’s tough to launch a book during a pandemic. Some current books on my nightstand are “Constellation Route” by Matthew Olzmann, “Time is A Mother” by Ocean Vuong, “All Heathens” by Marianne Chan, “Field Study” by Chet’la Sebree, and “Love Letter to Who Owns the Heavens” by Corey Van Landingham.

Q. How do you decide on what to read next?

It varies—sometimes I want to read similar books, especially if I’m interested in the poetic conversation around a certain theme like nature or art. Other times, I need a break from poetry and switching over to prose helps restore my attention for a longer work and allows me to read faster since I’m reading more for pleasure than dwelling on craft.

Q. Is there a person who made an impact on your reading life – a teacher, a parent, a librarian or someone else?

My parents (who just moved to OC!) read to me so often when I was a young child that people used to think I could read when I had simply memorized books. I grew up in Long Beach and spent many happy hours at the library and neighborhood bookstores (RIP, Crown Books), and participated in the Young Writers’ Camp at Cal State Long Beach. I’m thankful that my parents always supported my creative writing curiosity and made sure I had plenty of books to feed my imagination.

How to Live in Southern California 

By Shelley Wong


Stay in the car and move from one air-conditioned location

to another chill location, perhaps in a tour of movie theaters.

After a long winter back east, 76 percent of California’s population


is facing abnormal dryness or drought. My family went

to Palos Verdes to look for gray whales, where the water was rough

and edged with mansions. As of June 19, 2018, three percent


is effected by extreme or exceptional drought. The Pacific Ocean

is a stage for an altar or a talk show. On the boat, my mother said,

“Don’t turn your back on the ocean.” Drive down Pacific Coast Highway


in a long, curving line—past sandal palaces, neon seafood shacks,

and offshore oil rigs—while listening to Fleetwood Mac, Katy Perry,

and Frank Ocean. Since the 1800s, my family has lived


along the West Coast, from Seattle to San Francisco to Long Beach,

where the sun so often set without our watching. Come to Disneyland,

the Hollywood sign, to paradise-by-the-highway. At 3 a.m., there’s always


another milkshake, another strike to roll in the bowling alley

of an Art Deco hotel. After discussing polygamy in Utah in 1875,

President Ulysses S. Grant said, “I invite the attention of Congress


to another, though perhaps no less an evil—the importation

of Chinese women, but few of whom are brought to our shores to pursue

honorable or useful occupations.” The spectrum of drought conditions


is color-coded from yellow to dark red. In Los Angeles, people drive

for the experience of driving, to be at the beach and in the hills

within the same hour. The drought website is maintained


by the National Drought Mitigation Center. Walk out

to the end of the pier. The good life is when you don’t feel

the weather. With sunglasses, you own a particular glamour.

Published in The Best American Poetry 2021, guest editor Tracy K. Smith (Scribner)

A Mother’s Memoir

CNN’s Zain E. Asher, sister of actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, tells their mother’s story in new book, “Where the Children Take Us.” (Courtesy of HarperCollins)

CNN host Zain Asher discusses her family memoir, “Where the Children Take Us.” READ MORE

Watch it, Buster 

Actor-director Buster Keaton in “The General,” widely consider one of all-time great silent films. (Photo courtesy of James Curtis and Alfred A. Knopf)

Buster Keaton’s biographer, costar and granddaughter all recall the star. READ MORE

LitFest Line-up

Among the authors scheduled to appear at LitFest Pasadena 2022 are Michael Connelly, Gregg Hurwitz, Naomi Hirahara, Maggie Rowe, Joe Ide, Antoine Wilson, Natashia Deon, and U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff. The festival returns to in-person programming this year with panels and conversations scheduled for April 30, May 4, May 7, May 11, and May 14 in Pasadena and Altadena. (Images courtesy of the publishers)

Want to know more about LitFest Pasadena? Check out our story on the event. READ MORE

“The Candy House” by Jennifer Egan is among the top-selling fiction releases at Southern California’s independent bookstores. (Courtesy of Simon & Schuster)

The week’s bestsellers

The top-selling books at your local independent bookstores. READ MORE

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What’s next on ‘Bookish’

On the next free Bookish event May 20 at 5 p.m., host Sandra Tsing Loh talks with Don Winslow and Melissa Chadburn.