(An original essay published today, 11/17/16.)
And the winner in the Fiction category of the National Book Awards is … (drum roll, please.)
The National Book Awards ceremony may not draw as many viewers on its livestream as, say, the film community’s Academy Awards. But just this week, NPR Morning Edition commentator Lynn Neary introduced her piece on this week’s book awards by saying that the awards ceremony itself has been described as “The Oscars of the book world.”
The words “glamour” and “electric energy” were also used to describe the ceremony, which is attended by the glitterati of the publishing world, duly decked out in tuxedos and evening wear. In the case of the actual authors themselves, I would posit that their evening wear is most likely of the rental variety, authors rarely making enough money to buy their own fancy threads.
Also, like the film Oscars, the National Book Awards usually has a celebrity host. This year’s host is Larry Wilmore, of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show and The Nightly Show fame. (I’m sure he had to quickly revise his speech after the recent election shocker.)
The National Book Awards aren’t televised on a national network, but you since can livestream them, I am actually wondering what the audience is for this livestream. I won’t be watching them because the idea of watching an awards show for my fellow scribes brings out feelings of depression, anxiety, and envy – the writer’s trifecta. Think back to high school popularity contests, and you’ll get the idea.
Note to self for opening line for next year’s acceptance speech for as yet unfinished novel: You like me. You really, really like me.
I won’t say that this whole concept of glammed-up, televised awards ceremonies for the publishing industry cheapens the writing game, and makes us toilers in the literary trenches seem like groveling celebrity ass-kissers. And winning a National Book Award or a Pulitzer has certainly got to be the literary equivalent of winning the Powerball.
But could there come a day when Melissa Rivers might host the awards pre-show and ask Joyce Carol Oates what designer she is wearing? And here we have Margaret Atwood in Armani. You look fabulous, Margaret! And what have you written?
There also seems to be a proliferation of “lesser” awards that we writers are constantly groveling for. Awards for your work give you validation, and an agent and a paycheck, even if (or maybe, especially if) you are the Walmart or Target book pick-of-the-month.
I still believe that even though awards can be important to a writer’s career, most writers (even “bigly”-named ones) would prefer to labor in anonymity, without a thought as to the Today Show Book Club on their minds. A recluse like J. D. Salinger would never cut it in today’s world of the media-fueled celebrity author.
Which brings me to an obvious point. Photogenic authors. Would we root for them at an awards ceremony much as we would George Clooney and Julia Roberts? No room for the dowdy, droopy, or bad-haired no matter how brilliant their prose might be. Too much pressure for me.
If in some weird parallel universe, I ended up at the National Book Awards, I might wear what I usually wear when I am writing: yoga pants and an old college t-shirt and thick wool socks. No makeup, bifocals, and my roots haven’t been touched up for a while.
But my acceptance speech will be brilliant. The writing will blow everyone away, and I will triumph. My cell phone will chime merrily, and it will be… the guest booker from Extreme Makeover. They want me for their new feature – literary glamour gals – before and after.