Thursday, November 20, 2008

Winter Cometh

Central Park, the last of fall. 2:45 PM. Photo: JH.
11/20. Getting colder, more like winter winds blowing down the avenues. On the corner of 58th and Fifth Avenue Bergdorf’s are installing their holiday windows. These will be blockbusters as Bergdorf’s has arguably the most creative windows in town. Lavish, whimsical, witty, chic and intriguing. A tall order they pull off again and again. With Barneys running a very very close second. Tiffany’s decorations are up as are Gucci’s. Henri Bendel gives Barneys and Bergdorf’s a run for their money in the creative department. Bendel’s changes their windows more frequently too. It’s not even Thanksgiving but it’s not too early: that holiday cheer is useful Right Now.

The Grinch Who Stole Decency.
If there’s such a thing as “disgraceful” any more, Diane Sawyer’s highly publicized interview on 20/20 with the prostitute who entertained a now former governor and turned it into a very lucrative cottage industry fits the bill. What was to be gained from that ride down Prurient Alley? Ratings my dear. Ratings to pay those annual multi-millions to the Beautiful Ms. Sawyer with the lilting voice and a nose for the dirt.

Ashley Dupre and Diane Sawyer (Photo courtesy of ABC / November 13, 2008).
I wonder if viewers lapping it up ever seriously thought about how they’d feel if the whole world was getting a look-see and an earful about a straying spouse of theirs. The guy lost his career on that one. Does his family have to pay now too? Wasn’t stripping him of his professional life enough? We are complete and total hypocrites about this. The Beautiful Ms. Sawyer with the well publicized, well-educated intelligence couldn’t resist The Big Leer I guess. Every heel has its Achilles.

The larger question is what do we learn? Is the “lady” remorseful? She did “apologize” publicly to the wife, in People Magazine. I call that gall. Resourceful is not remorseful. Are there any other wives of well known men she’d like to apologize to while we’re on the subject? I’ll bet there are. I can think of a few. I’m surprised Ms. Sawyer didn’t lean in for a Bigger Leer and ask “who else??”

Soapbox bit over.

Traffic in midtown was horrendous.
Michael’s was Wednesday which is wall-to-wall. The rundown give or take five score or more: Lesley Stahl, Richard Holbrooke, Barry Diller Chrystia Freeland (FT editor), Harold Ford, vice-chairman of Merrill Lynch, former Tennessee Congressman; Peter Brown; the old-gang-a-mine-gang, Dr. Imber, Messrs Kramer, della Femina, Greenfield and Bergman, Glamour’s Cindi Leive with Scott Currie; Jonathan Burnham, Parker Ladd and Arnold Scaasi, Nick Verbitsky, Kathie Lee Gifford, Jann Wenner, Judy Price, Bettina Zilkha, Jeffrey Slonim, Steve Tyrell now headlining the Café Carlyle, with the Carlyle’s GM, James McBride, Frank and Jamie McCord (L.A. Dodgers), and CEO of the Tyrell Fan Club Worldwide, Amy Rosenblum. Also: Dave Zinczenko of Men’s Health, Kate White of Cosmo, Jeff Zucker, Philippe Dauman, Jane Friedman, Fernanda Kellogg, Elizabeth Harrison with More’s e-i-c Lesley Jane Seymour; Rita Jammet, Beverly Camhe, Jonathan Wald of CNBC.

Last night down at Cipriani at 55 Wall Street,
they held the 59th annual National Book Awards. This is the Academy Awards of the Book Business/Publishing. This is where the writers are the stars, where stars are only actors. The Cipriani is a monument to what used to be known as “thrift,” a veritable fortress to protect the saver’s pennies. It is now a massive banquet hall, and a rather nice one; a penny for your thoughts. It’s nice to be able to spend a little time in some hallowed halls in the City. They are the only real cathedrals left for us unannointed. There are so few left that aren’t museums or libraries.

I’d never been to this particular event before. Lynn Nesbit the super literary agent, Mr. Janklow’s partner, invited me, I think because she knew I love literary events. I’ve written all this before so I won’t go into it except to say there is a brief “elevating of the spirit” (for me anyway) that occurs – a quick lift, almost like a fix -- when I’m in the thick of the book business personages. I’m a fan. You know you can always find relief in a book. Your mind can take flight.
POETRY WINNER: Mark Doty, Fire to Fire: New and Collected Poems
Grove Press Founder, Barney Rosset. NONFICTION WINNER: Annette Gordon-Reed, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family (W.W. Norton & Company).
This was a nice looking crowd, black tie, all ages, types and sizes, professorial, the culture peers, the prolific, the support group, the pals, the publishers. The women dressed quite a bit less than you might have seen the night before last at the Queen Sofia Spanish Institute do. Very often the women at these events, writers or spouses or editors (or all the above) glam it up more subtly, or more directly depending on their personality. Fashion’s just another word for nothing left to do. I’m exaggerating here but you get the picture.

I’ve been reading a book lately called “The Hemingses of Montecello: An American Family” by Annette Gordon-Reed. I haven’t written about it yet because I’m only a third the way through and it is long – more than 660 pages (and smallish print too). I do the majority of my reading in grabbing a few moments here, a few moments there. I picked it up because I’d read some interesting very good reviews. I’m not sure what it was that provoke by going out and buying it.
FICTION WINNER: Peter Matthiessen, Shadow Country (Modern Library). YOUNG PEOPLE'S LITERATURE WINNER: Judy Blundell, What I Saw and How I Lied (Scholastic).
I love this book. Everytime I have to put it down, I say that aloud to myself. From my admittedly limited experience of reading history (which I love to read), I think this may just be the best book on American history that I have ever read. It is fascinating. I learn. I think. I learn. I know something I never knew before. I know something more about myself.

Talk about aggrandizement. Well, it’s true. Ms. Gordon-Reed is a powerful teacher and storyteller.

All this effusiveness aside,
when I learned that she was at the dinner last night, I found out her table number and went over to introduce myself and take her picture. I’ll admit that one thing about this gig of mine is that the privilege of meeting really great people is often very possible. I think of it as getting a good look at wonder.

Ms. Gordon-Reed’s voice in her book is very strong. It has authority, not harsh but not mistaken. In person, she’s practically a marshmallow in her graciousness. She was sitting with her husband Robert Reed. They were having the pleasure of being there. Acknowledgement is a very big thing for a writer. It may be, when all is said and done, the only thing that really matters.
Richard Howard Jim Sheeler Salvatore Scibona
Ms. Gordon-Reed got acknowledgement big time last night at Cipriani Wall Street. She won the 2008 National Book Award for Nonfiction.

The Judge’s Citation says it all:

In the mesmerizing narrative of Annette Gordon-Reed’s American family saga, one feels the steady accretion of convincing argument. Her book is at once a painstaking history of slavery; an unflinching gaze at the ways it has defined us, and a humane exploration of lives – grand and humble – that “our peculiar institution” conjoined. This is more than the story of Thomas Jefferson and his house slave Sally Hemings; it is a deeply moral and keenly intelligent probe of the harsh yet all-too-human world they inhabited and the bloodline they share.

Oh, in her spare time, Ms. Gordon-Reed, mother and wife, is a professor of Law at NYU and a professor of History at Rutgers.

More pictures and more on the National Book Awards on tomorrow’s.
Kiran Desai Eric Bogosian David Mortimer
Michael and Sally Carlisle Mort Jankow, Lynn Nesbit, and Morgan Entrekin Annette Gordon-Reed and Robert Reed
Dane Nellor and Elizabeth Beier Alice Mayhew, Shirley Lord Rosenthal, and Sir Harry Evans
Charles Askegard, Morgan Entrekin, and Candace Bushnell Joan Didion with Gita and Sonny Mehta
Dr. Sarah Simms Rosenthal, Andre Aciman, and Kathy Lacey Kirby Kim, Quang Bao, Jessica Hagedorn, Maxine Hong Kingston, Ching Valdes, and Kimiko Hahn

Photographs by DPC & Ann Watt.
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