Bibliophiles unite at book fair

In the age of computer screens and two-minute YouTube videos, it might be easy for some people to assume that reading is on life support. With so much information and entertainment just a few clicks away, sitting down and taking the time to read a book often seems old-fashioned and even time-consuming.

But thanks to events such as the West Hollywood Book Fair, held Sunday near the Pacific Design Center, the print industry is not only continuing to thrive on its own but is also incorporating itself into the future of online literary interpretation.

Since 2002, the West Hollywood Book Fair has drawn huge crowds from across California thanks to its ever-expanding list of authors and celebrities,writing workshops for all ages and genres, poetry readings and dramatic performances.

What started as a small non-profit organization intended to serve as a holding ground for literary enthusiasts trapped in a film-dominated industry has grown into a yearly tradition for absolutely anything book-related.

This year, the fair had 14 venues and stages ranging from the comics and graphic novels pavilion to the current events pavilion to two separate kids and teen reading stages, and even a ghost storytelling Tent.

Roz Helfand, the event’s coordinator, claimed the fair started with a just a few small booths and venues in 2002. It expanded after the fair grew in popularity, adding appearances from special guests and showcasing a wider variety of literary genres.

This year, the guest list included Molly Ringwald, James Ellroy, Mark Doty and USC creative writing professor Aimee Bender.

“I’ve always considered the West Hollywood Book Fair a sister of the Los Angeles Times Book Festival,” said Bender who was promoting her book, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake.

But the West Hollywood Book Fair’s slightly smaller environment makes for a unique and personal atmosphere for each guest — no matter how old they are or how many books they have read.

Guests were greeted with a free pamphlet detailing the festival’s packed schedule of events, interviews and readings. Teenagers from public Los Angeles high schools gave poetry readings on the designated Teen Stage in front of a packed audience. Theater troupes performed monologues and recited slam poetry on the theater stage. Expert mythologist Maja D’Aoust read a spooky story to anxious kids huddling in a circle in the Ghost Storytelling Tent.

The highlight of the entire fair, however, was the SciFi, Fantasy and Horror Pavilion, which was made up of 30 booths dedicated to the genre. Events included H.P. Lovecraft live-action role playing, a discussion panel with vampire and werewolf writers, and a Star Wars reading with actor Shawn Crosby.

Walking through this section was a spectacle in itself, with performers dressed in elaborate costumes posing for pictures and handing out promotional fliers as if they had arrived directly from Comic-Con.

For those with more traditional tastes, the Fiction, Open Book and Good Reads pavilions hosted panel discussions and workshops on topics as the state of the publishing industry, memoir writing, screenwriting, blogging and gender.

The fair will be a decade old next fall, but the enthusiasm the crowd showed for literature ensures that it will be around a long time.