I survived. I wore a Giants cap and shirt to Los Angeles and lived to tell about it.
I was a panelist on Saturday at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, and can’t say enough good things about the great time I had in enemy territory. My panel was titled “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” and featured Michael D’Antonio, author of “Forever Blue,” about Walter O’Malley and the Dodgers’ move out of Brooklyn, and Mark Frost, author of “Game Six,” about the pivotal game of the 1975 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the Cincinnati Reds. Novelist Bruce Bauman, a knowledgeable and enthusiastic baseball fan, moderated.
I was clearly the novelty act. Bauman was surprised a Giant book was picked for the festival, but there are Giant fans in LA. And I think all five of them came to the panel. We have to stick together. I acknowledged being surprised myself that I was included, but noted my gratitude that festival staff was wearing orange and black t-shirts to make me feel comfortable. (That may not be the reason for the color choice, but I’m sticking with my story.)
The Times also did that one better: They sent a guy named Sandoval to write a post about the panel, and he did a great job capturing the laughter in the room. (Writer Joshua is no relation to Giant Pablo, but no matter to me!)
We had a lot of fun telling stories and talking baseball. D’Antonio told how he spent a year combing through O’Malley’s personal documents – 30,000 of them – that had been stored in musty boxes, and revealed an incredible, never-before-told story that completely upended the modern myth of the Dodgers’ departure from Brooklyn. O’Malley was not the diabolical villain who engineered Brooklyn’s misery, but instead worked tirelessly to build a new ballpark in the borough, only to be thwarted at every turn by Robert Moses, the unelected autocrat who ruled New York City politics for decades.
Frost also offered up great untold stories, including about the alcoholic, inept owner of the Red Sox, Tom Yawkey, and the boozing, drug-addled, nearly forgotten hero of the sixth game, Bernie Carbo. And he told how that Series – featuring a dozen Hall of Famers – marked the end of an era, as six weeks later, free agency began and baseball changed forever. It also remains the single most watched baseball game of all time, with an audience of 76 million people – the “high water mark” for the pastime, Frost said.
We had a lively discussion of steroids and cheating, and I reiterated my belief that Barry Bonds should be in the Hall of Fame when his time comes. When Bauman offered one last chance to pitch our books to the audience, the best I could come with was, “I think Dodger fans will love the stories of Giant heartbreak and frustration that populate my book.”
The festival itself is a marvelous celebration of the written word. I attended two other panels that inspired and encouraged, both featuring my friend, David Ulin, the book editor of the Los Angeles Times, as moderator. The first – featuring Nicholas Carr, David Shields, and Ander Monson – addressed how reading and writing will survive in an age of increasing fragmentation. Some conclusions were inspiring (the written word is constantly evolving, and there is more writing and reading now than ever) and some depressing (people are increasingly incapable of reading at any length). But by the afternoon, when Ulin engaged Dave Eggers in conversation, optimism ruled the day. Eggers was funny, witty, upbeat and inspiring on so many levels: as a writer, as a publishing business visionary, and as a pied piper of the written word, whose “826” centers in San Francisco and elsewhere teach so many young people the joy of writing.
I think it’s rather a sad statement that Eggers is such a publishing visionary, because the simplicity of his vision reveals how broken the industry is. His publishing house, McSweeney’s, looks merely to recoup its costs and make a little bit of money for its writers, and get great stories out to the public in the way that writers like to tell them. He is satisfied with little or no profits and an 8-person operation. He looks at publishing and sees that more people bought books last year than ever before. The sad part to me is that book publishers – like the newspaper publishers I know all too well – want to run a high volume, high profit business, and the disappearance of those big profits is what has the industry wringing its hands and declaring doom.
As if that wasn’t enough, the weekend was full of many other personal highlights:
- A visit to friends at the Los Angeles Times, a magnificent Art Deco building that stands as a monument to great journalism, but which sadly now has vast empty sections as the paper struggles in the new economy.
- My first game at the Big A – Anaheim Stadium – where the Angels beat the Yankees Friday night. (Yes, I wore pinstripes.)
- Two outstanding meals at some of Los Angeles’ legendary Jewish delis: pastrami at Junior’s in Westwood on Saturday night, and matzo brei at Nate n Al in Beverly Hills Sunday morning. (Thank you, David Sax, author of “Save the Deli,” for the inspiration.)
- Post-panel surprise encounters with two friends from my childhood in New Jersey. One of them came to my panel with a friend – the friend was there to see her friend, Mark Frost! The other, Carol Fitzgerald, was my babysitter; her mother, Sylvia Cicetti, had been my third grade teacher. Carol has run the site the Book Reporter for years now, and knows more about the publishing industry and the Internet than anybody I’ve ever met.