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Writers in Person

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The Festival of Books is a lot of fun and a set of curious paradoxes. The first is that it's an enormous social festival about books, an art form usually enjoyed, unlike, say, theater, film, or music, by oneself in silence. Another is that much of the point of the festival is to see writers in the flesh, even though the point of a writer, really, is that their thoughts and feelings reach their best expression in print. Otherwise they'd be actors or talk-show hosts. (Though some of the writers there, like Carl Reiner and Craig Ferguson, do write and perform).

A 4 pm Saturday panel about fiction provided few new insights about the writing process from what the panelists said (Writing is hard. You have to get to know your characters.), but several insights from the ways in which they said things. Susan Straight free-associated about her children, ex-husband, and the links between Riverside and everywhere else in the world, eventually arriving at some clear opinions on what motivates some writers (confronting their worst fears about loss of control) and how family and cultural history can affect individuals no matter where they live. Lisa See and Amy Wilentz, by contrast, laid out their ideas about the creative process, death, and loneliness in precise form as if according to outlines in their minds. Bruce Bauman tossed off grim aphorisms, some of the same ones he uttered on a similar panel last year. Moderator Zachary Karabell provided few specific questions to shape the discussion initially, but offered perspective on it throughout with witty asides on each panelist's statements. They all had the writer's personality, thinking over events and then providing a summary of experience, so that the panel discussion, with the opportunity to interact with them in person, felt in a way less revealing than reading any of their books. What it did was illuminate the different ways they process ideas en route to completing their books.

Ray Bradbury has a heavy, leonine head and a mane of white hair. He looked approachable, though, and conversed animatedly with the long line of people who came to pay tribute to him at his booth.

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Joan Didion looked every bit as intense and thin and observant as you'd expect. She also looked very sad, but we did see her just after she'd finished a discussion with hundreds of people of her book about mourning the deaths of her husband and daughter, so that's to be expected, too.

My friend Jeanne thinks that West editor Rick Wartzman resembles a younger Alan Rickman, which is true, at least a bit about the mouth and the shape of the eyes, plus, as she points out, "If you removed the 'Wartz' from his name, it would be 'Rickman.'" He did not swoop around like Professor Snape or banter any Noel Coward dialogue, though.

We also saw Chewbacca and his pet dog, though it was not clear whether either of them had written anything.