Friday, November 18, 2005

The National Book Awards

The National Book Awards were announced and instead of fireworks we had the usual caviling about too many awards.  Too many?  How is a good book supposed to come to the attention of a reader?  You walk into a bookstore and are immediately on overload.  There are so many books.  And so little time to read them.  How do you find the one that will be worth your time, not to mention your money?  

Few newspapers have book review sections any more.  The ones that do can only review a small number of books.  The independents do their best hand selling to their customers.  The chains such as Barnes and Noble try with their Discover Great New Writers which helps introduce dynamic new literary writers to the reading public, selected by volunteer readers from around the country.  (Full disclosure: The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc was a Discover Great New Writers Selection, so I’m partial to the Program.  I believe a lot of readers would never have found Sissy if Barnes and Noble hadn’t promoted it.  So bless you Barnes and Noble and your Discover program.)

We live in a noisy world.  Concerts and clubs have become ear-splitting experiences.  Movies bombard us with noise.  But as E.L. Doctorow said at this year’s National Book Award, “Books are written in silence, and read in silence.  They are the finest and most uncertain form of communication that we have…”

Movie and TV studios spend millions in TV ads, print ads, and journalist junkets.  Publishers don’t.  One of the few ways to bring a worthy book to the attention of readers is through awards.  But even these are met in relative silence.  

On Wednesday November 9, PEN USA held their 15th Annual Literary Awards Gala in Los Angeles.  The silence on the part of the press was almost deafening.  The New York Times ignored it.  The L.A. Times gave it only a brief mention in a wrap-up column entitled: The Envelope: Styles and Scenes, which featured Charlie Kaufman who wrote the award winning screenplay of course, with the briefest of mention of  some of the other awardees.  If you want to learn about the wonderful writers who won the 2005 Pen USA awards go to      

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