A few weeks ago I rose early on a Saturday to take my first Metro Blue Line trip to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. I only had to change trains once, and landed right at the entrance to the USC campus, right across the street from Exposition Park. As the train took me through some of the neighborhoods I frequented as a child and teen, I bored my companion cross-eyed, as I pointed out the scenes of my youthful crimes.
Before this excursion I’d poured over the colorful Festival of Books supplement that had arrived earlier with my daily paper. So many choices, and so little time. I finally narrowed my “conversations” down to three: prolific novelist Joyce Carol Oates, interviewed by KCRW Bookworm, Michael Silverblatt, a panel that included Marisa Silver, the author of Mary Coin, based on the famous Depression-era photograph, “Migrant Mother,” and Thomas Coraghessan Boyle, a California fave of mine since I read Budding Prospects, back in the eighties.
|Joyce Carol Oates|
Silverblatt and Oates discussed her new autobiography, The Lost Landscape: A Writer’s Coming of Age, as well as The Doll Master and Other Tales of Terror, a collection of six haunting short stories.
When Silverblatt asked Joyce if, given that she so often writes of horror, she was happy, the audience laughed. But Oates replied seriously, “Terror is part of everyday life…I don’t think of happiness as a goal. I want meaning, and art puts meaning into chaos.” She went on to say that she believes the whole meaning of life is not to become extinct, and that motive is mostly unconscious, that her characters’ motives spring from tribal consciousness.”
I’ve been mulling over those comments ever since, and just put The Lost Landscape on my library hold list. I’m always interested in the early years of writers. And just couple of hours earlier I'd been chugging through my own personal lost landscape.
“Fiction: The Road Home,” had been designated as the theme of a panel, led by Tom Lutz, editor-in-chief of “Los Angeles Review of Books” Along with Marisa Silver, Monte Schulz, the son of “Peanuts” cartoonist Charles, and Cathleen Schine, author of The New Yorkers, also participated. I focused mainly on the comments of Silver, since one of my book discussion groups had chosen her book a month earlier.
Silver explained that although he wants to live in Los Angeles now, she still regards New York as home. But when she lived in New York she wrote about her childhood in Connecticut. Silver’s new book, Little Nothing, she wrote entirely out of her imagination. “After Mary Coin, I felt I was drowning in research,” she explained.
Schultz’s closing comment enchanted me, “People remember how writers write, not what they write.” Maybe, maybe not, I thought, but it inspired me enough to approach Silver at the conclusion of the panel to tell her how scintillatingly brilliant her closing paragraphs were in Mary Coin, which seemed to please her.
Boyle read his short story, “The Relive Box,” and fielded a few questions. Though he’s an atheist, he said he’d believe in God “if the Coen Brothers would make a movie of one of my books.”
|T. C. Boyle|
He concluded with this warning to his audience: “You see me happy and gregarious, but inside I’m black, as black as Samuel Beckett.”
I thought that was a fitting conclusion to a day of listening to literary icons, especially since a few hours earlier at a Center Theater Group booth I’d spun a fortune wheel. I'd won a pair of tickets to see Beckett’s absurdist drama Endgame in May at the Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City.