This Week’s Column:


by Dennis Loy Johnson

7 January 2001 — Well, to some it seemed the book business spent 2000 improving its imitation of the movie business — writers got younger and skinnier, novels included acceptance–speech acknowledgments, and all you heard about was multi–million dollar contracts. But the book business is still the business of intellectuals, if you ask me.

As proof, I offer the Moby Awards 2000 ...

The PLANET SONTAG Award ... goes to Susan Sontag, who admitted that numerous passages in her novel ''In America'' were taken word–for–word from books written by other people. This wasn't plagiarism, Sontag explained, because her writing was a ''work of art'' that didn't necessitate attribution. Also, because the ''not–plagiarized'' material amounted to only three full pages.

The DOES THIS MEAN WE DON'T HAVE TO READ HIS BOOKS TO REVIEW THEM? Award ... goes to Norman Mailer, who blurbed a book that he admitted he hadn't read — ''Passionate Sex,'' by his friend Leslie Westoff. ''I haven't had a moment to look into Passionate Sex, but how can others fail to buy it?'' Mailer wrote in a full–page New York Times ad. ''If the author delivers one–tenth of what is promised in the title, the book will be the bargain of the year.''

The WHY DIDN'T YOU JUST SAY NO Award ... goes to Nancy Reagan, who revealed in her book ''I Love You, Ronnie'' that while he was leader of the free world, her husband regularly addressed her as ''Little Mommie'' and ''Nancy Poo Pants.''

The SMARTER YOU GET, THE WORSE HE LOOKS Award ... goes to Frank McCourt, who complained that the New York Times' lead book critic, Michiko Kakutani, gave his book, ''Tis,'' a bad review because she was a Harvard graduate. She couldn't ''understand what it was like to have come to America,'' McCourt said of the Asian–American critic, who was one of the first to champion McCourt's first book, ''Angela's Ashes,'' which she said was ''stunning,'' and ''so good it deserves a sequel.''

The BUT THEY STILL OWN THE RIGHTS TO THE WORD ''MONOPOLY'' Award ... goes to Barnes & Noble, whose lawyers ordered a group of New England booksellers to ''cease and desist'' from using the word ''discover'' in their advertising. B & N said they owned exclusive rights to the word because they'd used it first. The company backed down after three weeks of intensive ridicule in the trade press.

The WE'RE NOT TOUCHY WE'RE JUST PARANOID Award ... goes to Canada, where the fact that Canadian Margaret Atwood's book ''The Blind Assassin'' got a bad review in the New York Times made headlines. The country's national newspaper, the National Post, ran an article that included photos of clippings of the review, and a headline that said, ''Newspaper takes sniper shots at Atwood's novel,'' and ''Review lists at least 20 criticisms.'' Referring to Atwood as ''Our Margaret,'' the article quoted reviewer Thomas Mallon's comment that the book was ''like a Nancy Drew story written by one of the Brontes.'' The Post also reported that, when reached on the telephone and told Canadian reviewers had loved the book, Mallon laughed.

The LANGUAGE OF LOVE Award ... goes to the writers contending for France's most prestigious literary prize, the Prix Goncourt. Ever since a book called ''Baise–Moi'' (''Have Sex With Me'') won three years ago, observers have noted increasingly erotic tendencies among contestants. Among this year's leading contenders was Marie Nimier, whose book ''La Nouvelle Pornographic'' was described as ''an epic bonkathon''; Yann Moix, whose novel ''Annissa Corto'' concerned the sex life of the man who plays Donald Duck at EuroDisney; and Rouja Lazarova, whose novel ''Coeurs Croises'' is told by a pair of breasts named Jules and Jean.

The THIS COULD EXPLAIN THE ELECTION, Part One Award ... goes to Al Gore. According to trade reports, in the week after Gore said his favorite book was Stendahl's ''The Red and the Black,'' it sold a grand total of 51 copies nationwide.

The THIS COULD EXPLAIN THE ELECTION, Part Two Award ... goes to George W. Bush. In the week after Bush said his favorite book from childhood was ''The Very Hungry Caterpillar,'' it sold 272 copies nationwide.

The AND THE WINNER IS Award ... goes to George W. Bush, for picking as his favorite childhood book ''The Very Hungry Caterpillar,'' which was first published the year after he graduated from Yale.


All material not otherwise attributed ©2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 Dennis Loy Johnson.