The Moby Awards: sobering up from our book trailer bender
The question is inevitable: why does Melville House go to such trouble every year to host an award show for something we make a lot of fun of?
Okay, fair question. It’s one Melville House publisher Dennis Johnson tried to unpack when asked something similar by Robert Siegel on NPR’s All Things Considered last Thursday when he said that “maybe book people should be worrying more about books than about movies.”
While on the one hand the Moby Awards are, as Electric Literature‘s The Outlet blog notes, “a welcome opportunity to laugh at this mad, mad literary world in which we live,” it’s also an opportunity for a reality check, a time to critique the impulse that drives us toward these promotional tangents in the first place.
Thankfully, a few smart people in the press get this, too. In his post “The Insane World of Book Trailers” for the Wall Street Journal’s Ideas Market blog, Christopher Shea observed:
Is there anything that more pungently demonstrates the desperation and confusion within the publishing industry than book trailers? These short video previews of books, often featuring a chat with the author or a dramatic depiction of the plot, and typically posted on YouTube, are truly strange cultural artifacts: They’re painfully obvious attempts to adapt to technological change, but they’re just as obviously off-key, not quite in step with whatever they’re chasing.
Salon‘s Drew Grant noted the awkwardness inherent in the whole business:
On the surface, book trailers seem like a fairly ridiculous concept: trying to market literature to people who would rather wait until the movie version comes out. Most of the time, publishing houses create trailers that are visually arresting or entertaining, but have nothing whatsoever to do with the book they’re trying to sell.
Of course, there is one thing about book trailers we’re totally sincere about: they’re a damn good excuse for a party. “The event was a solid mix of earnestness and jest,” Daniella Wexler pointed out on The Arty Semite. “It was a party for people who care about literature, but try not to take themselves too seriously.”
Indeed, after the trailer for Gary Shteyngart‘s Super Sad True Love Story won two Moby Awards–the Grand Jury/We’re Giving You This Award Because Otherwise You’d Win Too Many Other Awards award that went directly to Shteyngart and the other which went to James Franco for Most Celebtastic performance–Shteyngart bragged to the Wall Street Journal‘s Nick Anderson that ”I’m holding both Moby Dicks…I’m literally holding James Franco’s Moby Dick. Like any Moby Dick, you have to hold onto it very tight.”
Personally, my favorite moment of the night–and the video that gets to the heart of the absurdity of it all–was Ron Charles‘ acceptance speech video for his Lifetime Achievement Award in which he said, “we’re approaching that happy day when reading a book will be just like watching TV.”
Since I think it’s one of Charles’ best videos yet–and reportedly his last (we’ll see about that)–we’ll let him have the last word. Enjoy.