8:05 p.m. Blogging live (more or less) from the Los Angeles Times Book Awards, a pleasantly cool Friday evening in Westwood. Walking up to Royce Hall, I happened to pass by as Joan Didion emerged from her town car. She is every bit the frail, petite wisp of legend. I also had the pleasure of bumping into my good pal Mr. Steve Wasserman, present in his famed seersucker. He received me graciously, as ever, and inquired after my cycling results, noting that I had been competing in the “Old Guys” category …
I’ve rendezvoused with Laila and her husband, and now we’ve settled in for the Book Awards ceremony. Presenters will include Dana Gioia, David Ulin and Adam Gopnik. We’ll be paying special attention when LBC nominee Garner comes up in the First Ficion category. In the fiction category, we think Veronica has a good chance, as L.A. loves its tales of drugs and prostitution. More anon.
8:11 p.m. We’re being treated to a multimedia presentation on the history of the Los Angeles Times. It’s predictably self-congratulatory but the audience does seem to enjoy it. The Book Awards are 26 years old as of this evening.
8:14 p.m. LAT editor Dean Baquet takes the microphone. Gives a nice, elegant speech and introduces Kenneth Turan.
8:16 p.m. So odd to watch Turan, knowing that voice I know so well from NPR. He’s introducing the judges reading down a fairly long category by category list. Too many names for a slow typist like me to catch. Now he introduces NEA chairman Dana Gioia, who has just called himself a “working class Latin kid from L.A.” Interestingly, his cultural references so far have been film – Quentin Tarrantino and Fritz Lang. But now he’s reminiscing quite pleasantly about his reading youth at Hawthorne Public Library. Although in the end, like too many others, he’s now marching down the path of Los Angeles Insecurity – truly, folks, when oh when oh when will this city stop feeling it necessary to excuse itself? Vaguely disappointing. Crowing about how Californians read more than New Yorkers. It’s unseemly stuff.
8:28 p.m. First up the science and technology awards, announced by Robert Lee Hoates. He’s just taken a nice firm whack at the anti-science stance of the religious right. Applause dots the room, led by yours truly. The winner is … Diana Preston for Before the Fallout.
So, they’ve got one of these women in a sexy black dress meeting the winners, and I just have to wonder why is there always a hot babe? You never see a handsome, tuxedoed square jawed type. Now, don’t misinterpret my thoughts here – it just seems an oddly retrograde and sexist choice for something as supposedly enlightened as a literary award, that’s all. Hey, Ulin, who's to blame for this?
8:35 p.m. Dana Goodyear takes the stage to give the poetry award. The winner is … Jack Gilbert for Refusing Heaven. They have an audiotape of Gilbert reading “A Brief for the Defense.” It’s a lovely, lovely poem. They got this one right … He isn’t here to accept the award.
8:45 p.m. Ronald Brownstein takes the stage to give the current interest award. Updike’s art book is among the nods … The winner is … Night Draws Near by Anthony Shadid. He’s on assignment in the Middle East with the Washington Post and accepts via taped statement.
8:51 p.m. Time for the Art Seidenbaum First Fiction Award. David Ulin is the presenter. Nice to see him taking the center stage, his first festival appearance since becoming editor of the LATBR. And the winner is … Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala. A brief speech in which he uses “hopefully” incorrectly … (Laila called this win out in the lobby before the show.)
8:57 p.m. Mary Higgins Clark takes the stage to award the Mystery/Thriller award. The winner is … Robert Littell for Legends. He’s not present but his surrogate is reading the thanks off of her hand, which is apparently where she jotted down the names. She’s talking way too long, telling a story about Littell from the 1960s … it’s a long rambling affair and I’m wishing for Oscar music to come up right now. I remember this woman, she was at David Kipen’s Duttons reading and spent a similar amount of time talking then, too …
9:06 p.m. OK, it’s the history category, announced by Leo Brody, and I’m pulling hard for Tony Judt’s magisterial Postwar … And the award goes to Adam Hocschild for Bury the Chains.
9:12 p.m. Luis J. Rodriguez takes the stage to give the fiction award. It’s a somewhat strange category this year, with the likes of Nick Hornby up against E.L. Doctorow. Mary Gaitskill is nominated as well, as are Gabriel Garcia Marquez (think he’ll show – c’mon guys, what’s this one all about?) and Haruki Murakami. Not much in the way of hometown fiction – why not nominate Updike and Roth while you’re at it. Just not that interesting, I think – the first fiction list is considerably more compelling. The award goes to Garcia Marquez. Surprise – he couldn’t make it. His son, though, is here and he’s giving a funny and charming talk, recounting his father’s request that he come and accept the award. “How long do you have to talk?” Father asks. “Oh, I don’t know they said be brief – a minute or two.” Silence and a sigh. “An eternity.”
9:21 p.m. Adam Gopnik is up now to give the Young Adult fiction award. Wow. He has a great photographer – he looks like a nervous little bird up there. And the winner is Per Nilsson for You and You and You. Translated from the Swedish – Mr. Orthofer would love this. He’s talking about the absence of titles being translated into Swedish, expressing frustration at the dearth of international titles available to him.
9:28 p.m. I’m fading and it’s Biography time. Let’s move it along, folks, we old types need our sleep. So the winner is Matisse the Master by Hilary Spurling, accepting by videotape. It’s a lovely speech describing Matisse’s love for American in general and California in particular.
9:38 p.m. Last award, the Robert Kirsch Award, their version of the Thalberg. We’re getting a video presentation on winner Joan Didion. She’s getting a well-deserved standing ovation. “I get a prize is from a paper I still read every morning … in New York.” It’s a brief but heartfelt speech, no more than three minutes and she’s gone. And that, my friends, is that. We’re logging out for the night and we’ll be back with Festival dispatches tomorrow.