LA Book Fest keeps the joy of reading alive

Despite the overcast weather, thousands of bookworms young and old gathered at University Park Campus at the University of Southern California to attend the 17th annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. The festival spanned the majority of the campus, turning the quad into a sea of white tents and enthusiastic bibliophiles. The bustling crowds enjoyed live music, games, bounce houses, food trucks, signings with featured authors, photography galleries, poetry readings, and of course, lots of books.

The event featured every imaginable genre from literature to science fiction to teen dramas.

A stage was set up for live poetry readings, and an endless stream of poets entertained the crowd relaxing on the lawn. Just down the quad, sci-fi buffs were browsing new releases while comic book enthusiasts spoke to the graphic novel artists themselves who were hosting booths. No matter what direction one ventured, their was a hotbed of activity and people involved in passionate discussion.

Amid all the hustle and bustle, Santa Monica College's tent was handing out free copies of the "Santa Monica Review," a collection of fiction and nonfiction short stories and essays from writers around the nation. Passersby were urged to grab a copy for themselves, an offer most accepted gratefully.

"I had a huge stack of boxes filled with copies of the 'Review' yesterday," said Lisa Alvarez, a volunteer at the SMC tent, on Sunday morning. "Now they're almost completely gone."

This news is not surprising to Andrew Tonkovich, who ran the SMC tent at the festival over the weekend.

"This is a great issue filled with good, strong literary art," Tonkovich said. "It's our gift to the community."

The "Santa Monica Review" is released only twice a year and normally sells for seven dollars a copy. It is the only national review journal in the nation that is supported by a community college.

"I've had so many alumni come by the tent," said Alvarez. "They have a lot of pride in SMC. They'll say things like, 'I went to SMC and it was the best time of my life.'"

Tonkovich himself is the editor of the journal and has been hosting SMC's tent at the Festival of Books for the past 15 years.

"The only one I missed is when my wife's water broke on a Friday evening before the festival," said Tonkovich.

SMC has had a presence at the festival since its conception 17 years ago, thanks in part to current SMC creative writing professor Jim Krusoe. SMC was the first community college to attend the event and since then many others have followed in its footsteps.

"SMC is a place that believes in the literary arts and writing and the power of language," said Tonkovich.

The success of the festival, which had a reported attendance of over 150,000 people this year, is testament to the fact that in this cyber age people still do enjoy reading books.

"I just like the feel of an actual book in my hand," said Joan Newman, an attendee of the festival.

The goal that the "Santa Monica Review" hopes to achieve by handing out free copies of their latest issue is to ignite that passion.

"It's just a great way to promote. The works can speak for themselves," said Tonkovich.

Indeed, the same goal is ultimately true of the Festival of Books itself: To spread the beauty of written language and get people reading.