I always watch the Oscars, never before went to any book awards. So attending the 33rd Annual LA Times Book Prizes tonight, I was interested in the differences. Most notable: the thank you acceptance speeches from the writers were infinitely more interesting, witty, surprising. Also, much less emoting. No tears at all. And no one was inspired to ask the winners or nominees who they were wearing.
I'm here to talk on a panel Sunday at the LA Times Book Fair. But I'm here from beginning to end.
Barely skidded into town in time for this evening's ceremony. Had under ten minutes to change clothes at the airbandb hostelry I'm staying in, after driving rental car through LA Friday rush hour traffic to find the place. (This ranks high on my boldness scale.) And it was during this drive that I was listening to coverage of the capture of the second Boston bombing suspect. Somehow the LA freeway and the news conflated to the vivid visual memory of the OJ Simpson chase, which I also happened onto on TV in real time.
But back to books and book events. The awards show and the two-day fair are both held on the Univ. of Southern California campus. Tonight, walking from parking deck to auditoriun, I got to see the setup of rows and rows of white-tent-booths that will be full of writers and publishers tomorrow. Over 500 writers will be on panels; about 100 different panels.
Arrived at the Gothic-sanctuary-style auditorium in time to pause in the powder room. The woman beside me at the mirror said: "They tell you cocktail dress and then they expect you to wear a name tag."
I'd been surprised outside that all attending registered and got name tags. An interesting twist. And then to find out that this was a dressup affair. I hadn't gotten the word; I'd thought this was California. But never mind. I wasn't going to be on stage anyway.
The show itself was a mini-education. And fascinating. All the books nominated wrere given an intriguing little intro. It was book reviewing at its best. I wound up wanting to read most of them — and there were so many I hadn't known about.
I also cataloged my personal connections to the speakers. Pretty slim.
Richard Reeves: always agree with his columns, got a nice note from him about previous novel Sister India, had one of his very talented offspring in a fiction writing class I taught at Duke
Ben Fountain: used to interview his father regularly when he was head of community colleges in North Carolina and I was writing about education (Fountain also spoke with a very familiar accent)
Margaret Atwood: once in a cab in Manhattan, I made a comment to my friend about a publisher whose offices we were passing. The cab driver said, "You a writer?" I said, "Yeah." In slightly condescending tone, he said, "I've had Margaret Atwood in my cab." Oh, well.
Atwood won an award for being an innovator: a prize not limited to writers, but this year given to one. She made some nice jokes about her innovations, said that she'd written the only home ec opera, and had played in it as well; she'd played the part of Orlon. (And I recalled that a laundry scene in one of her novels had gotten me slightly interested in the domestic arts for the first time. I was in my 50s when I read it.)
The winners lingered for picture-taking as the audience milled and eddied up the aisles. I could have easily walked up and told Atwood my cab driver story. Just somehow didn't feel the need.
Here are the blurry winners, with Atwood scrunched down in center.
And then the tents awaiting the morrow. That Hero Complex sign over the boulevard is an interesting note, isn't it?
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