Don’t Underestimate The Quills

1. The three-year-old Quill Book Awards don’t get a lot of respect in the book biz. Among my favorite litblogs, only GalleyCat begrudged last week’s ceremony at New York City’s Lincoln Center any attention at all, and the only print or online news outlets I found providing any real coverage are two organizations directly involved with the awards organization, Publisher’s Weekly (owned by Quills co-sponsor Reed Elsevier) and NBC, which broadcast a one-hour highlights show this weekend that I only found out about because I happened to be flipping through the channels.

If so many news outlets are ignoring these awards, I figure there’s got to be something good about them, so I watched the entire NBC broadcast to find out.

As entertainment, the show was pretty rotten. Host Stephen Colbert was surprisingly uninspired; I think even Rich Little would have showed up with fresher jokes. However, the architects of the Quill Awards may be smarter than they look, and I’m guessing the show will improve in quality and visibility every year and will reach the prime-time television bracket soon. Once the show is broadcast on prime time, people will start to care about the Quill Awards. Here’s why I think this will happen: the Tony Awards (which celebrate Broadway plays and musicals) are broadcast on national prime-time television every year (even though far more people care about books than about Broadway plays) and largely manage to attract a viewing audience by inviting whatever popular celebrities and movie stars are currently starring in Broadway plays that year. It happens that the same trick will work fine for the Quill Awards, since a certain number of movie stars and celebrities will always have new books out in any given year, and will happily accept invitations to appear on this show to plug their books. It works for the Tonys, and it’s already starting to work for the Quills.

This year, the celebrities at the Quills included a few Sopranos cast members, Stephen Colbert, Al Roker and Brooke Shields, none of whom managed to make the event feel exciting. But the formula is right, and I’m betting the Quills will get better every year. Hell, I’ll even rent a tux and go to the 2008 show, if the Quill folks wants to invite me. By 2009, it’ll be the hottest ticket in town.

So, the awards themselves? Well, I’m happy that Al Gore won, not at all impressed that Cormac McCarthy won, pleased that my former co-worker Walter Isaacson won, and surprised, pleased and impressed that Matthew Sharpe (whose edgy Jamestown is the latest Litblog Coop selection) snagged a nomination (of course, he didn’t win).

Hardly a riveting hour of television, but let’s wait and see how it improves next year.

2. I agree with Scott Esposito about this. J. K. Rowling may say that Dumbledore was gay, but unless she put it between the covers of her book, that’s just one more opinion. Rowling seems to agree, since her exact quote was not “Dumbledore was gay” but rather “I always thought of Dumbledore as gay”.

3. Check out the Most Anticipated Books by Garth Risk Hallberg, whose own Field Guide to the North American Family is worth anticipating as well (unless you already have a copy, in which case you don’t need to anticipate one).

4. Via Kenyon Review, Rick Moody on Ubuweb.

5. Time Magazine couldn’t find the source of T. S. Eliot original title (“He Do the Police in Different Voices”) for The Waste Land in 1968, but John Holbo of The Valve found it, in Dickens of all places. As for the speculation as to Eliot’s intentions, well, I have always interpreted the original title as a nod to Eliot’s own habit of “doing different voices” in his poems. He was always a cut-up artist, decades before his fellow St. Louis experimentalist William S. Burroughs popularized the term.

6. Bad Women in Literary Fiction from Words Without Borders.

7. I say the blogosphere can stand a lot more etymology. Good clean fun.