Monday, October 29, 2007

Not Ready for Prime Time

Sometimes when I’m watching the Oscars, I stop and ask myself, “Why?” Not why am I watching—I know it’s for the dresses—but why do movie stars deserve all this attention. More to the point, if we’re going to honor a group of employees or an industry for their outstanding annual efforts, why not throw a bone in the direction of people who aren’t pampered and fawned over daily and don’t get invited to spend the weekend at George Clooney’s Italian villa. People like, say, teachers or social workers or long-haul truckers.

I got my answer on Saturday, when I happened upon the Quill Book Awards.

The Quills are sort of the publishing world’s equivalent of the People’s Choice Awards: the general public gets to vote for the Book of the Year and everyday people—booksellers and librarians—decide the winners in all the other categories. The Quills are unlike the People’s Choice in that they have no entertainment value. (Hence the 6:30pm-on-a-Saturday graveyard timeslot.)

Granted, I tuned in near the end of program, just in time for the Mystery/Suspense award. (*If you’re dying to know who took home the Quill in this category, act like this is a book and scroll to the end of this posting.) By then, I’d missed honorees Al Gore, Amy Sedaris and Cormac McCarthy, assuming they were in attendance. Who knows, Business winner Robert I. Sutton, PhD, might have brought down the house with his hilarious acceptance speech. Or not.

All you need to know about the Quills is that they were hosted by the “Today” show’s Al Roker and Hoda Kotb (subbing for Ann Curry, who opted to ship off to Antarctica rather than endure these proceedings). The Quills web site ( claims the awards “pair a populist sensibility with Hollywood-style glitz.” Yes, nothing says Hollywood glitz like a semi-rotund weatherman and his fourth-string sidekick.

If I had to put my finger on why this show was so dull, I guess I would say that while writing is actually considered a fairly glamorous profession (mistakenly, I might add), writers in general are not particularly glamorous or gregarious people. (If you think I’m being harsh, answer me why the producers opted to show nominated book jackets rather than nominated authors’ faces during the Quills telecast.) The same could be said of a lot of people in the movie industry—cinematographers, costumer designers, F/X wizards, etc.—which is why we all hit the snack bar or take a bathroom break when these awards are handed out during the Oscars.

The answer to my original question is that actors, even the lesser ones, know how to shine in front of the camera. That’s not a more notable or deserving accomplishment than teaching a child how to read, transporting a load of artichokes from California to Minnesota, or penning the book of the year. But I can attest that it does make for better TV. The rest of us are not ready for our close-up.

*Laura Lippman


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