The reporters and critics who cover the glam arts -- movies, TV and Broadway -- are treated ever year to the luxurious award shows. Book people, on the other hand, have learned to be content with modest, yet still self-congratulatory prize ceremonies like the PEN/Faulkner and the National Book Awards, until this year, apparently.
The New York Observer covered the book awards' black-tie affair Nov. 19, moved downtown to posh Cipriani's Wall Street after years at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square. For good measure, an after-party on the far West Side catapulted the NBA night from literati to glitterati. Upper-tier names like Anna Winocur and Candace Bushnell were brought in to tart things up among the usual stuffed shirts of the publishing biz.
Times have moved on for the award since my first ceremony in 1993. While the address was haute enough -- the Plaza Hotel -- the hotel ballroom then was rundown, with tattered drapes and a threadbare carpet. The $500 a plate dinner guests fed on lamb while the stinkin' media were assigned to shaky chairs jammed into a balcony overlooking the privileged. We were offered cold cuts, white bread and warm soft drinks.
After the ceremony, we were herded into the hotel kitchen -- I'm not making this up -- to interview the winners among the dirty pots and pans. Luckily, there were not too many of us in those days. One of my "colleagues" was a woman who said she dated a Pittsburgh Steeler in the 1960s. That name shall go unmentioned.
Later, the characterless Marriott was the venue, still a major upgrade for both the guests and the reporters. There was even ice for the drinks. I was fortunate to attend a handful of NBA ceremonies which include a free reading the night before by the nominees at the New School. This year, it was a full house.
I guess I'm not sorry to have skipped this year's festivities. I would have felt like a pair of brown shoes among all the tuxes. Sounded like a faster crowd than say, a Seen event.