My social anxiety perks up at literary parties more so than at any other kind of event. I can make a fool of myself in front of indie rockers or movie stars and I’ll be embarrassed, but it’s not going to haunt my dreams. However, the thought of mispronouncing a word in front of a powerful literary agent or standing slackjawed while everyone else chuckles at an erudite joke is enough to send me to a padded cell.
Needless to say, I was sweating bullets before the Mobys, an awards show dedicated to nothing more than book trailers. What can be said about book trailers that hasn’t already been said? Indeed, has anything ever been said about book trailers? I went to powerHouse Arena and jammed in amongst a crowd of book people and their assorted hangers-on to find out.
The first person I approached was Tao Lin, Richard Yates author and the bard of Bushwick, standing casually before me in a black nylon zip-up. My anxiety showed prominently.
"Do you mind if I ask you about book trailers?" I asked Lin.
Standing less than a foot away from me with his jet black hair jutting in my direction, Linn stared directly into my eyes with both brows raised for about 40 seconds of silence before saying, "No."
"No I can’t ask you about book trailers, or no you don’t mind?" After another long pause, he gave me the go ahead.
"I made one for Shoplifting From American Apparel that was just me doing something weird for like five seconds and then it showed a blurb. I guess it helps. I think that the best ones are just the ones that are funny." I walked away feeling it had been a positive interaction.
Soon enough, everyone grabbed one more beer pumped directly from some keg-like apparatus and took his seat and the ceremony began. Standing in front of a large screen, Melville House publisher and Moby Awards founder Dennis Johnson presented a slew of awards representing the good, bad and ugly of this year’s book trailers, regaling the winners with a small gold statue of a whale.
In a highlight of the evening, the trailer for Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story featured Shteyngart’s editor admitting that the much-celebrated author was in fact illiterate. Shteyngart accepted the award—dubbed the "We’re Giving You This Award Because Otherwise You’d Win Too Many Awards"—and exclaimed, "Today is a special day for illiterate authors, from Snooki to Nicole Richie. The future of publishing lies in illiteracy."
And while James Franco’s cameo in Shteyngart’s trailer won him the "Best Cameo" award, Jonathan Franzen’s appearance in the book trailer for his Freedom, in which he rails against the very notion of the book trailer, won the Moby for "Worst Performance By An Author." Other awards included "Most Monkey Sex," which was won by Vanessa Woods’ Bonobo Handshake, and "What Are We Doing To Our Children" snagged by Lane Smith’s It’s a Book. "Best Big House," it seemed, was the evening’s most coveted prize—the Best Picture of the Mobys— and it was won by the trailer for Mary Roach’s Packing For Mars.
"It’s like any other art form," Johnson told me, "98 percent of it is dreck, but you slog through it to get to the 2 percent that’s magic."
When the ceremony wrapped up, people hung out inside the space drinking and schmoozing, but I was left confused about book trailers—from what I could tell, they were neither fish nor fowl.
Heading toward the train, I ran into writer Catherine Lacey, whose olive skin and high-beam eyes made me decide I needed another quote.
"I realized that book trailers are really just a good way to make fun of books without making fun of them directly," she said. "Like, I heard that Capitol is a really good book, but the trailer is heinous."
I thanked her and headed home, unscathed.