A novelist friend once told me that the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books is like Christmas for him, and that he looks forward to it all year with a kind of childlike glee. On the eve before the fest, for $65 you can dine buffet style with the authors nominated for a Times Book Prize — David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green is up for the fiction category, as is Susan Straight’s A Million Nightingales. The next two days will see panels on every conceivable topic: science, memoir, the immigrant experience, biography, lit-blogging, the 2008 election, the health of the planet. I’m looking forward to the ones on “Mystery: Southern California’s Mean Streets,” “Dracula’s Children: Books With Bite” (Elizabeth Kostova, whose novel The Historian got her a $2 million advance, movie forthcoming, will be at that one), “The Age of Spin: Controlling the Message” (moderated by John Powers) and the Weekly’s own Gustavo Arellano in “Crossing the Border: Immigrant Lives.”

For those harboring a secret desire to write their own novel, bright young things Joshua Ferris (Then We Came to the End) and Marisha Pessl (Secret Topics in Calamity Physics) will talk about how it was to write their debuts — and generally sit around looking cute and dashing. Or there’s the meaning-of-life showdown, otherwise known as the Dr. Phil and Mitch Albom panel (not to be confused with the Mitch Albom vs. Frank McCourt panel).

On Saturday, check out future talent at the PEN Emerging Voices reading, or ogle the celebrity authors at the open-air Barnes & Noble Stage: In the morning, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar reads from his book On the Shoulders of Giants, and in the afternoon Tim “Make It Work” Gunn (A Guide to Quality, Taste and Style) fields questions about Project Runway. And Ray Bradbury, who finally won a Pulitzer this year, will share the wisdom in a talk at Royce Hall. And it’s always fun to simply walk the huge exhibitor corridors situated throughout the campus. After their events, authors usually stick around for an hour to sign their books. Or they’ll sit at designated signing areas, or at the booths of their publishers or favorite bookstores to sign in groups. Mary Higgins Clark, James Ellroy, T.C. Boyle, Gore Vidal, Carolyn See, Jared Diamond, Sherman Alexie, Jane Smiley, Cornelia Funke, Michael Connelly, Chris Abani — they’ll all be there. Where will you be? Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, UCLA, Wstwd.; Sat.-Sun., April 28-29; (213) 237-3364. Buffet dinner at the UCLA Faculty Center; Fri., April 27, 6-7:45 p.m.; $65. Book Prizes awards ceremony, Royce Hall; Fri., April 27, 8 p.m., $18.

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