It's a bookseller's dream — and a bookseller's nightmare. Suddenly, tens of thousands of book lovers descend, seemingly from out of nowhere. They clamor on the doorstep, jostle for entry, crowd into the aisles, hungry for one thing: to see, touch and buy books.
At least, that's how it feels to the staff of the UCLA BookZone, the book department of the UCLA Store, when the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books takes over the campus on the last weekend of April. During the festival, the BookZone sells books both inside the Ackerman Union store and at a large booth opposite Royce Hall.
Richard MacBriar, the BookZone's main buyer, has especially vivid memories of the first festival in 1996. "I remember thinking that we'd open our booth as scheduled at 10 a.m., and customers would trickle in about noon. But people started arriving at 9, and by 10 we felt like we were being swept over by a tidal wave. I had to send a steady stream of carts down to the store for more books."
Dorian Farrow, the BookZone's other buyer, was impressed by the kinds of books the visitors were interested in. He recalls how Stephen Yenser, poet and professor in the English department, simply led his audience en masse over to the store's booth. "To have crowds of people demanding books of poetry — well, it had never happened. We sold virtually every poetry book in stock."
Gregory Kuntz, the store's floor manager, has been amazed by how many people in this premier movie town will come out for an event devoted entirely to books and by how popular the festival is with families. "Contrary to perceptions, there seems to be no shortage of interest in reading or literature in Los Angeles."
Although attendance at the festival has increased every year, so has the number of booksellers — and the bigger the crowd spreads out over a wider portion of the campus. The growth has been gratifying, to be sure, but it's also led to a few gaffes. In 1997, for instance, a rival bookseller invited legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden to autograph his autobiography at their booth. Our staff was a little chagrined, but found consolation. Attuned to Wooden's immense appeal, we ordered an extra 100 copies. So when the rival bookseller ran out, their only option was to buy from UCLA. Coach Wooden now appears faithfully at our Ackerman Union store during the festival.
The event just gets better and better. Last year, we added a series of personal appearances by UCLA faculty authors. "Our authors had so much fun," says Sally Van Meter, the BookZone's academic coordinator, who handles the book signings. "Paul Bergman and Michael Asimow, who wrote 'Reel Justice,' were quick to strike up conversations about the way the legal profession is portrayed in films."
Jacques Freydont, director of academic support for the store, is particularly proud that the UCLA booth now combines the BookZone with UCLA's Fowler Museum, Hammer Museum and performing arts. The book selection includes exhibit catalogs and other publications from the museums, as well as titles from the BookZone. "It's a mixture only UCLA can offer."
"In some ways it's hard to believe this is only the fourth year of the festival," Van Meter says. "Just like June means commencement, April means the Festival of Books."
And for the UCLA BookZone, it's a bookseller's dream come true.