2009 National Book Awards: Updates on Winners Tonight on Omnivoracious

This evening I'll be reporting back from the National Book Awards here in New York City, technology permitting. Check back at this blog entry from about 9pm EST on, and I'll be posting results to the comments section as an easy low-tech way to get you the information. In the meantime, I'll try to comment on the preamble to the awards as time allows.

To refresh your memory, here are the nominees.

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Well, my first impression of the awards is of a tux-clad anthill of crazy--noise up to ten, lots of insane gray hair coifed like cotton candy. Glitz. Glamour. And glamor too. And then there's press row: a children's table of onlookers with laptops and cameras, eating sandwiches without the crust. In the bathroom of this regal place: "George Bush sux. Love, Fergie." Gore Vidal looking lionesque in a wheelchair. Dave Eggers keeping initially to himself. Sean Hannity talking to Harvey Weinstein or a good look-alike. Uncareful press guy breaks wine glass, necessitating cleanup in aisle two, press row. The stem might make a nice keepsake.

Posted by: Jeff VanderMeer | Wednesday November 18, 2009 at 3:54 PM

Attendance is down a little. About 640. Dave Eggers just inflated a blimp and is now hovering over the audience.

Posted by: Jeff VanderMeer | Wednesday November 18, 2009 at 4:07 PM

Fordlandia author Greg Grandin stopped by death row...i mean press row....A history prof at NYU who specializes in Latin American history. He's up for nonfiction. About Ford's attempt to create a rubber empire in Brazil, as one does. He spent three or four years researching and visited the places in the book. Asked him if it was his first time, he said he always does it, it's part of his life...joking of course.

Posted by: Jeff VanderMeer | Wednesday November 18, 2009 at 4:08 PM

Oh dear. Andy Borowitz, master of ceremonies, has called the ceremony a cluster-something. He says he received a letter from the Pulitzer Prize saying he wasn't eligible. And was asked to nominate someone else for a MacArthur Genius Grant...making him the biggest genius of all.

Posted by: Jeff VanderMeer | Wednesday November 18, 2009 at 4:23 PM

This master of ceremonies is hilarious. Compares novelists and blacksmiths as viable professions. Much of the rest is hilarious but unprintable.

Posted by: Jeff VanderMeer | Wednesday November 18, 2009 at 4:24 PM

Joann Woodword gets up and introduces Gore Vidal with a video review of his career. Not bad, but um yeah kinda powerpointish. No one ever said the book industry had made it all the way to CGI.

Posted by: Jeff VanderMeer | Wednesday November 18, 2009 at 4:34 PM

Gore Vidal is wheeled up to accept his medal of achievement. He's the fittest wheelchair-bound man in the universe. "To this day when I say the president I mean Roosevelt, and no one else. Very wise I think. He was always in a wheelchair. Poor man. He can't frolic and play like the rest of us. But over the years I have seen him as (robust)...First day in the White House he couldn't make the thing work. He called for help that didn't come. Someone finally came, and there he was locked in his chair. He said get me someone from the navy. And he was a terrifying man with a huge head. So someone from navy pushed his chair. But the kid didn't know where to go so the president is going to be lost. The chair gets away and the kid aims for a door which proves to be supplies. In those days carbon paper. The president parked there with the paper. Finally he said in that glorious voice, 'Most presidents fear assassination. But I may vanish from your view because I have been fired..." Vidal talks about his flight from LA. He seems to want to deal in narrative, in story, to spin a tale. It's magnificently appropriate. It's masterful and self-deprecating and oddly moving. Here's a man who knows he's near an end but also still at the height of his powers. "Now it seems you print the book and then you pulp it. Saves a lot of time. Fun for everyone."

Posted by: Jeff VanderMeer | Wednesday November 18, 2009 at 4:38 PM

The lovely almost Rennaissance opulence of this place can't be overstated. It is as amazing and full of space as most publishing houses are cluttered and tight. It shows the book industry memory palace not its work space.

Posted by: Jeff VanderMeer | Wednesday November 18, 2009 at 4:57 PM

Keep it weird says Dave Eggers as he accepts his service award, pointing out that he operates behind a pirate facade among others for 826 Valencia in San Fran, which I just visited last week. I saw firsthand the classes for teens, reading lit mags and making things, and the great spirit of the impetus behind it...and it's hard to be cynical for a moment. Eggers say the golden age of publishing is upon us, and at least for a moment I believe him, especially because I see teens every year at our own workshops who reject as Eggers says "the idea of staring at screens all day" and adds "one student says that if there were a perfume that smells like books I would buy a ****load of it."

Posted by: Jeff VanderMeer | Wednesday November 18, 2009 at 5:04 PM

"Thanks so much for the food--it was amazing" says one reporter as she leaves during the break before the actual awards ceremony. It was sandwiches. Erm, mere sandwiches with the vital, healthy crust excised, flensed, made to disappear. Makes me wonder what it was like last year. The reporter next to me is from the New York Times. She covered the event last year and thus far prefers that one. It's somewhat fascinating to watch the other reporters. One says "I will crush you with my tweets. I will out-tweet you. " Yes, and then what, I think, as dozens of others tweet with you. I am entering comments into a blog post. What a luddite I must seem.

Posted by: Jeff VanderMeer | Wednesday November 18, 2009 at 5:34 PM

Interesting to sample the reaction to Eggers' inspirational speech. People scoffing at the naive quality--of Eggers reaffirming the value of physical books. Even though some models show that e-books will top out at 35 percent of the market.

My wife Ann reports that the women's bathroom is full of editors talking about their children...who are also editors, or writers. The next generation will be self-aware and self-referential.

Posted by: Jeff VanderMeer | Wednesday November 18, 2009 at 5:44 PM

The Stories of John Cheever, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, Collected Stories of William Faulkner, The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor, Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynthon, and Eudora Welty...for the best of the National Book Awards...and O'Connor wins.

Posted by: Jeff VanderMeer | Wednesday November 18, 2009 at 6:12 PM

The Young People's Award goes to Phillip Hoose for Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice.

Posted by: Jeff VanderMeer | Wednesday November 18, 2009 at 6:16 PM

2009 Minnesota Book Artist Paulette Meyers-Rich called Kindles "the in vitro fertilization of reading."

Posted by: Ann McKinnon | Wednesday November 18, 2009 at 6:19 PM

Here, the waiters walk around giving out books between awards announcements.

Phillip Hoose is quite overcome from winning. Thanking quite a few people but not quite giving a speech. Thanks Claudette Colvin standing next to him.

And...in the category of poetry the winner is...Keith Waldrop for Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy.

Posted by: Jeff VanderMeer | Wednesday November 18, 2009 at 6:23 PM

Keith Waldrop gives a short speech in contrast to his flowing white beard.

And the nonfiction award goes to...T.J. Stiles for The First Tycoon.

Posted by: Jeff VanderMeer | Wednesday November 18, 2009 at 6:35 PM

T.J. Stiles gives a thank you speech in which he talks about switching from a day job in editing to writing full time, which some feel is "like switching from one side of the Berlin Wall." The book lies at the heart of our culture he says. We yell at it, argue with it, and we love it. He thanks the copy editors, managing editors, the indexers, publicists, and...yeah, reviewers, etc. He loves them all right now. (Next year?)

And...the winner of the fiction award goes to....Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin.

Posted by: Jeff VanderMeer | Wednesday November 18, 2009 at 6:39 PM

Colum McCann now talking about the privilege of having a book and havinh readers. It's not an Olympics--they're all winners. Fiction is democracy. As an Irishman he's honored that American literature can embrace the Other. He believes in the power of the word and take an honor like this as a challenge. We need to take the anonymous corners of human experience and illuminate them.

McCann then thanked Random House and ended by thanking the judges and saying he felt embraced by the city of New York, and said goodbye to Frank McCourt. "I think he's dancing upstairs...and in the morning all will be forgiven."

It seems a popular win. And now I will leave you until the morning. Thanks for tuning in.

Posted by: Jeff VanderMeer | Wednesday November 18, 2009 at 6:51 PM

I read a ton of books every year, both fiction and non, many appear on the NYT best seller list or Powell's. I have not read one of the 2009 National Book Awards. I will investigate, but most look uninteresting!

Posted by: Mike Landfair | Thursday November 19, 2009 at 4:46 AM

What are these? The National Book Awards for liberals and the politically correct?

Posted by: James | Thursday November 19, 2009 at 6:33 AM

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