Since my invitation to last week's National Book Awards ceremony was apparently "lost in the mail", I had to content myself by watching the proceedings on the BookTV cable network last night at midnight.
The event seemed to have been recorded with a single videocamera, and was edited down to an hour. I don't know what happened to the part at the beginning where Billy Crystal acts out scenes from each of the five nominated novels, because the broadcast began instead with a droll speech by Garrison Keillor, who wasn't too bad. Jessica Hagedorn then introduced Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who was impressive and dignified. Next, Toni Morrison introduced Norman Mailer, describing him (correctly) as maddeningly obtuse about women and racial issues. I fell asleep right around the time Mailer grabbed the mic. Yes, a thrilling show all around.
Two thoughts occurred to me as I watched this broadcast:
1) It was a quaint move to seat the audience at round dinner tables, as they used to do at the Academy Awards in the 1930's and 1940's. However, I have a feeling the people in this crowd have already sat down together at many other dinner tables, and if the ceremony had instead taken place in a theater like Radio City Music Hall or Avery Fisher Hall they could have invited more people and maybe my invitation wouldn't have to have been "lost in the mail".
2) Does it or does it not suck that most of the finalists for this year's book awards are still only available in overpriced hardcover editions at the time these awards are given out? Publishers of the world, please listen: normal people do not buy hardcover books. I certainly don't have $24.95 to spend checking out Rene Stienke's Holy Skirts or $40.00 (ridiculous) to spend on W. S. Merwin's Migrations (yeah, as one of those lit-blogger types I occasionally get free hardcover books in the mail, but that's besides the point).
Imagine if today's movie industry had two-tier pricing, so that a movie cost $25 to see in the first year and $10 afterwards. Who would care about the annual Academy Awards in that case? Well, maybe that's one reason why the Academy Awards play on prime time on a major network, and the National Book Awards play on BookTV at midnight.
Book industry ... please heal yourself of this elitist practice of two-tier pricing, and please do so fast.