It was with a mix of anticipation and hesitation that we traveled to the 8th Annual Festival of Books on the UCLA campus.

Anticipation: We attended for the first time in 1998, and had a really fun time.

Back then, it was all spontaneous. We leisurely walked through the festival grounds along with a nice-sized, but manageable crowd. We stumbled upon LA Times political cartoonist Paul Conrad selling and signing copies of his new book. We bought a copy, chatted with him for a few minutes and were on our way.

Minutes later, we saw former news anchor Kelly Lange autographing copies of her new novel - which we bought for my Mom for Mother's Day.

We saw Angelina Ballerina, Bear in the Big Blue House, plus had the opportunity to make newspaper hats, and just enjoy the day. It was unscripted, unexpected, and fun.

Hesitation: We attended another time back in 2001, and felt packed in, shoved around, exhausted and irritated.

Unfortunately, this year, the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books has, for all intents and purposes, outgrown itself. It has moved from being a relaxing, easygoing weekend, to a big, corporate, overcrowded, mess.

We're not as picky as we might appear. We try to get out and experience all types of events and goings-on. A couple of Halloweens ago, we traveled north to the Faulkner Farm pumpkin patch in Santa Paula. Hayrides, farm animals, face painting, live music - all of it happening on an actual pumpkin patch. We walked up and down the rows of crops until we found just the right pumpkins.

Free admission, with extra charges for the pumpkins and various activities. Cute and charming and very memorable, we still talk about it.

From my perspective, the Festival of Books has gone corporate - with The Los Angeles Times, Target, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Ticketmaster and Starbucks all staking a claim. But with that type of big name sponsorship, they've sort of sucked all the charm out of it too.

We arrived at around 1:00. The festival was once again, situated on the UCLA campus. Admission is free, although parking is $7.00.

How to paint the picture here. The UCLA Campus. Sounds open and airy and wonderful. Not so. The festival planners have crammed too much into too little space.

Imagine yourself in a large plaza the size of a football field. Back to back, side to side, and facing outward, are 25 individual 12' x 12' booths. The type you see at any carnival or company picnic. Each booth has a large sign [ACME Book Sellers], and in each booth are books.

Books which you want to be able to browse through and ponder and contemplate their purchase. Add this same configuration to four different areas of the campus, plus a food court. Now add an insane number of people crowding around each booth, and throughout the walkways, and you sort of get the idea.

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