| This Weeks Column:
THE 2001 MOBY AWARDS
by Dennis Loy Johnson
January 1, 2002 I've said it before and I'll say it again: the book business is the last bastion of intellectualism. Without further ado, the proof:
The Conflict What Conflict Award . . .
. . . goes to National Review editor Rich Lowry, who wrote a favorable review of "Bush v. Gore: The Court Cases and the Commentary," a collection of essays by pundits, in which he himself had an essay included. "It didn't seem worth mentioning," he explained later to The Washington Post. "The idea that it would have affected my judgment of the book just seems silly to me."
The Notre Dame Coaching Job Award . . .
. . . goes to Pulitzer Prizewinning historian Joseph Ellis, who was suspended for a year by Mt. Holyoke College when it was discovered that he had been lying in his Vietnam history classes for decades about having been a combat veteran of the Vietnamese war. Ellis was also discovered to have lied about many areas of his personal history, including claiming to have scored a heroic, lastminute touchdown in his final high school football game. In reality, Ellis never even made the team.
The Do What I Say Not What I Do Award . . .
. . . goes to Ellen Fein, author of "The Rules: TimeTested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right," which sold over 2 million copies. Just after releasing a sequel, "TimeTested Secrets for Making Your Marriage Work," Fein announced she was getting divorced from her husband of 15 years.
The Thank You So Much Oprah Award . . .
. . . goes to Jonathan Franzen who, after privately accepting Oprah Winfrey's offer to select his book "The Corrections" for her Oprah's Book Club, told a string of interviewers that the award made him "uncomfortable," because unlike most OBC writers, "I'm solidly in the high art literary tradition." He also said that he thought Winfrey's imprimatur would scare off male readers, that he didn't want the OBC "corporate logo" to appear on his book jacket, and that he thought her "coffee klatch" was "schmaltzy."
The And I Suppose No One Ever Said Anything About Your Nickname Either Award . . .
. . . goes to New York Times Sunday Book Review editor Charles "Chip" McGrath who, three weeks after the newspaper cut two pages from the Review, told the Los Angeles Times he "hadn't heard a peep" of complaint from readers.
The We're All Responsible for My Mistake Award . . .
. . . goes to Anne Soukhanov, editor of Microsoft's Encarta College Dictionary, which was found to have numerous odd biographical entries, such as one for F.B.I. founder and director J. Edgar Hoover that merely labeled him a "lawyer"; one for Zachary Taylor that failed to mention he was president; and one for Joseph Stalin, believed to have sent between 30 and 60 million people to their death, that referred to him as a "statesman." "Dictionary editors have always been taught to avoid attaching value judgments to words they define," Soukhanov told The Washington Post. "And yet when it comes to people, it seems we have slipped, all of us."
The High Art Literary Apology Award . . .
. . . goes to Jonathan Franzen who, two days after Oprah Winfrey disinvited him from her Oprah's Book Club, told USA Today that he felt "awful" because Winfrey is "a hero," although "not a hero of mine."
The Chicken Soup for the Soul, The Highway for the Rest of You Award . . .
. . . goes to Peter Vegso, president of HCI, a publishing house that specializes in "recovery" literature such as the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" series of books and a magazine called Counselor. After 13 HCI employees failed a surprise drug test, Vegso summarily fired them. Employees complained that they weren't given any counseling, treatment or recovery options. Vegso told Publishers Weekly, "We don't turn our backs on everyone. But these people had to be terminated. I don't feel badly one way or the other."
The Plus, Joseph Ellis Says He Eats There All the Time Award . . .
. . . goes to David Halberstam, who was turned away when he tried to get breakfast in the dining room of The White Elephant Hotel on Martha's Vineyard because he wasn't a guest there. Infuriated, Halberstam wrote a letter to the island's newspaper complaining of the restaurant's "outrageous" treatment of him. But the hotel manager said the dining room simply isn't big enough to handle outsiders in addition to guests, and that Halberstam had demanded special dispensation by saying, "I've won a Pulitzer Prize."
The Large Cash Prize Award . . . .
. . . goes to Rick Moody, the millionaire author and scion of a banking family so rich he lives on a private island. He applied for, and was awarded, a $35,000 Guggenheim Award, intended to enable artists to finish writing projects without having to take on a day job.
The See, I Insult Everybody, It's Just the Way I Am Award . . . .
. . . goes to Jonathan Franzen who, two days after his last "apology" to Oprah Winfrey, tried again by telling the Chicago Tribune that he'd made his remarks out of "eager stupidity as a Midwesterner." He added, "To find myself identified with an arrogant New York literary contingent makes me feel very misunderstood."
The And Speaking of Reader Rights Award . . . .
. . . goes to former New York Times Washington bureau chief Bill Kovach, who, in a Times review of Renata Adler's book of media criticism "Canaries in the Mineshaft," severely castigated Adler for what he deemed factual errors in the book, particularly in comments she made about the history of bylines in the New York Times. He said it "raises troubling questions about the care exercised" by the author, and that "readers have a right to expect more verification," especially since Adler "worked [at the Times] in 1963." Adler actually worked at The Times in 196869.
The And I'd Like to Thank the Academy Award . . .
. . . goes to David Rakoff, who included an ackowlegements section in his book "Fraud" that thanked 119 people.
The PostLiterate Blurb of the Year Award . . .
. . . goes to Melissa Bank, who wrote a blurb for David Rakoff's "Fraud" that said in its entirety: "What he said."
The Words Are My Business Award . . .
. . . goes to Jonathan Franzen who, trying once again to soothe over the furor concerning his remarks about Oprah Winfrey, explained to The New York Observer that "saying things in the wrong place is what it amounted to." He said that, "The fact is . . . you can be married to someone and be out with your buddies and talk about the person you love in ways you really wouldn't want to be heard by the person you love."
The Harvard Spirit of Debate Award . . .
. . . goes to Alice Randall, author of the "Gone With the Wind" parody "The Wind Done Gone," who publicly berated an AfricanAmerican woman who rose from the audience to defend GWTW author Margaret Mitchell against charges of racism being made by Randall during an appearance at Mitchell's former hometurned museum in Atlanta. The Atlanta JournalConstitution reported that when Kelsey Aguirre, a museum employee, pointed out to Randall that Mitchell had "paid for numerous AfricanAmerican men to attend medical school," Randall grew angry, berated Aguirre, then told her to sit down, "because I'm not here to debate employees of this place. I'm not being paid to be here." Later, Aguirre said she wanted to give Randall "my copy of her book back, so I can be an ignorant black woman who didn't go to Harvard," an apparent reference to Randall's many mentions of her alma mater during her appearance.
The Well, He's Probably Ugly Too Award . . .
. . . goes to Judith Shulevitz, the New York Times Sunday Book Review columnist, who wrote that B.R. Myers, the author of a tract critical of several popular novelists, "A Reader's Manifesto," had no right to criticize those authors because Myers was an "outsider" and "foreign," and was not born in the U.S. Myers subsequently notified the newspaper that he was indeed born in the U.S.
The Thanks for Clearing That Up Award . . .
. . . goes to Jonathan Franzen, who told the Hartford Courant that regarding his remarks about Oprah Winfrey, and his several "apologies," "I feel that there's a really terrible misunderstanding here . . . people seem to think I have a problem with readers. People seem to think I have a problem with Oprah's Book Club readers. I never said that. I never felt that. I feel the opposite. I love readers . . . much of what I'm about as a writer is to produce readerfriendly novels."
The Too Late Award . . .
. . . goes to the management of L'Hotel, a Paris hotel where one of literary history's most famous last lines was supposedly uttered Oscar Wilde's deathbed statement that "Either the wallpaper goes or I do." To mark the centennial of Wilde's death in what was then a flophouse, management replaced the wallpaper as part of its redecoration of the room into a luxurious replication of a Victorian bedroom.
Last Weeks Column: HAIL AND FAREWELL A remembrance of the dear and departed from the literary scene in 2001.
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All material not otherwise attributed ©2001 Dennis Loy Johnson.