The literati were reeling last night from the glamour of the 59th National Book Awards. Instead of crawling out from under manuscripts to book it to the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, the ceremony was especially luxurious in the ballroom of the Wall Street Cipriani.
Although one agent told us she’d prefer it in Midtown, since she could just walk over, most seemed impressed by the stunning set up. Big-deal book biddy Lynn Nesbit held court during the cocktail hour, graciously accepting thanks for maneuvering the fuddy duddies to move. It was a night of luminary lit folk—Jonathan Franzen, John Irving, Joan Didion, Robert Pinsky and Maxine Hong Kingston (who was receiving the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters)—all mingled in their understated bling.
We asked Judith Curr, executive vice president and publisher of Atria, if she was excited that books trumped Wall Street—at least for a night. As the one responsible for publishing phenom The Secret and with six books currently on the New York Times Bestseller List, she was rightly confident. “It’s gorgeous. It makes me feel a year younger; as if this past year didn’t even happen.”
Writers House agent Amy Berkower stopped by to give her best wishes. She sold Twilight, which opens in theaters this week, so we pondered if teenagers were really going Goth again. “Oh vampires are just sexier. Don’t you think, Amy?” Curr asked. “Their skin is so great.” Berkower wasn’t agreeing so easily, but was perfectly content that girls seemed to be into the undead.
After we took our seats, MC Eric Bogosian began with a discursive intro that lauded President-elect Barack Obama. In fact, Bammers was the theme of the evening, with everyone seeing his impending inauguration as the beginning of great things. It was all wine and roses—until the press was instructed they were to forage for food (finger sandwiches and salad) behind a screen while the rest of the guests chowed down on plates of roast beef.
After Peter Matthiessen won his award for fiction, we headed to Socialista for the first-ever NBA afterparty. We stationed ourselves on the landing, just outside the entrance of the upstairs bar. As people passed us by, asking if it was any better up there—“Yes, it’s horrible, you should totally go downstairs where it’s more happening”—we were at the perfect vantage point to see the reporters curry favor, while their prey (Mamie Gummer, Colson Whitehead) slinked out the door.
As Mark Doty, that evening’s winner of the National Book Award for Poetry, passed by we congratulated him on his win and asked where he was off to. “I don’t know, someplace on Christopher Street? The Dugout!” he yelled back, referring to the gay bar down the street known for its hirsute clientele.
We also overheard one board member tell Harold Augenbraum, executive director of the National Book Foundation, that Daniel Handler, author of the popular Lemony Snicket series, should MC next year’s awards. Although it’s Young Adult fiction about vampires and wizards that seems to be propping up the sagging publishing industry, Augenbraum didn’t seem too thrilled by the idea despite the fact that Handler had been the most entertaining attraction at the ceremony (managing a zinger of a Knopf pun). But he was interrupted by one of the managers—someone had to pick up the tab.
“We don’t let people drink for free,” she explained with a smirk.
We were headed out but decided to ask Parker Posey (where isn’t she?) a question before leaving. She sat on a coach near the bathrooms with a sloppy grin on her face as bookish boys with liquid courage circled her.
“What was the last book you read?”
“I’m reading Sean Wilsey’s book right now,” she said. “But I was reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s book.”
“Those are impressive titles. Not that I’m judging.”
“Yes, you are,” she replied with a glint in her eye. “I can tell.”