Thursday, January 20, 2011

Ricky Gervais for Newbery/Caldecott Banquet?

Somehow I don't think so.

Ricky Gervais might have been the right host for the Golden Globes this year, but he'd never do at Newbery Caldecott or the National Book Awards or PEN or the Authors Guild. We've had celebrities -- Garrison Keillor (he counts!) and Steve Martin and others. I know the N/C banquet can seem awfully earnest, but honestly I'd take that over ungraceful mockery. People in Hollywood actually work very hard on movies. A lot of films are works of art that will last after we're all gone. Some of them are not, but I think our pals in Tinseltown deserve something better.

So before we in the book community bemoan the fact that the Today show doesn't pick up our authors, or that NBC doesn't cover Poets & Writers, let's remember that when events are not televised, they're allowed to have their own personality and style. Their own profile, warts and all. They're allowed to rejoice in themselves. Sometimes banquets are dull; sometimes speakers are unspeakable; but the banquets I've been lucky enough to attend and the speakers I've been lucky enough to hear are all trying to get at something: that art has a place; that artistic endeavor should be lauded; and that some things are worth taking seriously.

Last week, I was hunting around for photos for my daughter's yearbook page. I found some great old pics of her, and I also found this photo of Virginia Euwer Wolff at the National Book Awards in November, 2001. Below are Jinny's remarks from that evening. After hearing them, Steve Martin (never sufficiently to be praised) said "My God. She went from shock to eloquence in three seconds."

That's the kind of remark we're privileged to hear at a celebration of artistic endeavor that takes itself just seriously enough.

Here's what Jinny had to say:

Like most authors, I have wondered since September 11th what I would ever write again, if I would ever write anything, and if so, would it matter? Usually, the answer has been no, for two months, the answer has been no. You understand, don't you? Of course.

Today my son, Anthony, and I went to the World Trade Center site and we walked around. What I saw was living proof of Faulkner's six. Faulkner said in 1949 in the Nobel speech that if we are not writing about these six things we are not doing our job. They are love, honor, pity, pride, compassion and sacrifice. I think of them as Faulkner's six. I used to have them on my wall until I memorized them and now they're on this wall in here.

And I saw them today at Ground Zero, the work that is going on and the awe and the humility and the hush and the consideration. Love, honor, pity, pride, compassion and sacrifice. That's what you and I and all of us are supposed to be writing about; Faulkner said it and he was right. Thank you.


Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

Brenda, this was really moving - and your sentiment is so right on. There are moments of 'tribe' that you need to feel by being present. And those are hard to make into snarky TV. Thanks for reminding us that not being televised comes with a freedom!

brattcat said...

This post is a bit of eloquence wrapped in a fine shawl.

Rick Daley said...

There's a right time and a right place for everything.

There's also a difference between hosting an awards ceremony and being the emcee at a Friar's Club Roast.

Unknown said...

Indeed, these events are about reinforcing the bonds and goals of a community. Thanks for the post.
Kathy Ishizuka, SLJ

Ishta Mercurio said...

Thank you for this interesting and thoughtful perspective. I appreciate Jinny's words about writing of love, honor, sacrifice, pity, pride, and compassion. And I appreciate the reminder that events that are held quietly, away from the hot lights and intrusive cameras of national television, have the unique distinction of being able to do things on their own terms.

However, I must respectfully disagree with the general sentiment of your post. Matt Lauer is hardly Ricky Gervais, and I have no doubt that he would have treated the Newbery and Caldecott winners with respect and appreciation for their work. And this is a time in which literary, intelligent work truly does not get much attention, and in which people are inundated with messages to buy/read/watch/consume products that are neither literary nor intelligent, but are simply the flavor of the day. I think shows like TODAY could do more to re-educate our nation, instead of blithely helping us down the path of flighty consumerism.

Still, you do raise some good points, and I thank you for taking the time to post this.

Brenda Bowen said...

Thanks for all the comments!
Ishta -- You make some great points and I agree with you. I'm all for the Today show promoting children's books, but I think it may be a wasted opportunity for the authors of the N/C books to go on the show the day after the awards are announced. The producers haven't read the books; there's no "B roll," showing the authors in their studies or the artists in their studios; and there are **no books in the bookstores or libraries.** Matt Lauer is a sensitive and perceptive interviewer, so let's have him interview kids' book authors when he -- and they -- are prepared. The Today show can do much to influence popular opinion, and I agree: let's help lead them to children's books whenever we can.

Anonymous said...

The 'Faulkner Six' will be taking up residence on my office bulletin board.

I totally agree the TODAY appearance would be much better television if the segment producer had time to prepare. Someone on another blog suggested that the Prinz winner be invited as well -- as the YA titles tend to be more widely known.

Thanks for the lovely post. -- Denise

Carolyn said...

Brenda - once upon a time, in a previous life, I lived in LA and worked in the entertainment industry. Getting a movie off the ground is extremely difficult for anyone, creating a successful movie is a happy accident that should be celebrated. Which is another way of saying that I found Ricky Gervais' hosting appalling.

His subsequent self-defense, via his defintion of "comedy" is, imo, self-indulgent at best. In Ricky Gervais' math, Comedy = Mean. And thing is, you can take the mickey out of someone and do it with good humor. Billy Crystal was a master of that, back in his prime hosting the Oscars.

In any case, I've been a bit dismayed by how many of my peers applauded Ricky's performance (when did we come to view entertainers as the enemy, I wonder?), so it was a breath of fresh air to read your take. Thank you!

Unknown said...

I really enjoyed the post. I am making note of Faulkner's six, and I'm sure they will be residing on my inspiration board soon. I appreciate you sharing.

Julie Daines said...

Something wonderful to think about. Thank you.

Christine Tripp said...

I wouldn't be surprised if some day Gervais does host the NC Banquet. I'm betting that this very moment some publisher somewhere is thinking about how to make the comedian's popular animated show into mass market mid grade chapter books:)

All joking aside, I agree with what Ishta has said and it is a shame that NBC thinks "Snookie" is more important and news worthy then books for Children.
Perhaps The Today Show demographics have changed over the years (haven't kept up with daytime TV for years) from stay at home parents, interested in children's books, to Jersy Shore fanatics.

Brad Jaeger said...

While I agree with your general sentiment, every word that Ricky Gervais spoke at that award ceremony was completely true.

Beth said...

A lovely post. Thank you.

Ishta Mercurio said...

Brenda, thanks for taking the time to reply to my comment! I think you have some great ideas: showing the writers and artists at work, and making sure the interviewers have read the books, would be wonderful.

Do any readers have connections with the Television industry?

Unknown said...

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