October 8, 2013

Just a hunch: Joe Scarborough might not save literature


Joe Scarborough: he’s no 1010WINS.

The National Book Foundation—administrators of the National Book Awards (AKA the Franzies)—declared in a press release on Monday that as with last year they will be announcing the finalists of that prize on MSNBC’s experimental Todd Solondz-directed talk show, ‘Morning Joe.’ In addition, the hosts of that show, Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough will be the hosts at this year’s awards ceremony in downtown New York.

The Foundation changed the format and the criteria of the prize slightly this year in a bid to make the prize both more lucrative and more reflective of general reading tastes. I wrote at the time that while the rule change is certainly meant well, and is not inaccurate to the NBA’s efforts to be, like the Emmys or Oscars, more of an industry prize than a prize based on integrity or merit, that it runs the risk of slighting small press books and ruling out some of the joys of discovery that the shortlist had brought in earlier years. The recently announced ten-book longlists of this year’s finalists certainly bear that out: these are great books, some of them overlooked, but nearly all of them (with the exception of the poetry list) books from big houses.

The planned double dose of ‘Morning Joe’ is a part of this lean toward greater public awareness and concomitant book sales. As Foundation Chairman David Steinberger put it in the press release:

“Last year’s Finalist announcement on ‘Morning Joe’ was a great success, … We more than doubled the Foundation’s website visits from the previous year. Making the announcement on television gave us a whole new audience for these great books, and expanding the literary audience is our main goal.”

I know what you’re thinking. The set of ‘Morning Joe’ is an interdimensional gateway to the elemental plane of vapidity and smirks. Its two hosts are patently unable to even convincingly pretend that they know how books are meant to be operated as objects, let alone that they’ve read the books under discussion. Not so fast. Take it away, press release:

“Both Joe and I are published authors,” said Brzezinski, “and our program focuses to a great extent on bringing the knowledge and expertise of authors to a wider public. We believe strongly in the written word.” Scarborough’s new book, The Right Path: From Ike to Reagan, How Republicans Once Mastered Politics–and Can Again, will be published on November 12. Brzezinski’s most recent book is Obsessed: America’s Food Addition[sic]—and My Own.

Great books. Great hosts. But for me the most galling part (other than every single part of Joe Scarborough) is that ‘Morning Joe’ isn’t even one of the good dentist waiting room white noise shows. It’s kind of an also-ran. And if we can’t have either less obnoxious hosts or a more popular television show to help “enhance the cultural value of good writing in America”, as the Foundation’s charter has it, then why bother?

Or if they won’t let it drop, here are some other venues for shortlist announcement that might serve the National Book Foundation better than ‘Morning Joe’.

—Cross promotion with that Cirque du Soleil knock off that had posters in the subway this summer. What was that called, Totem? Is that still running?

—Ad spots on daytime reruns of that improv show, the one your aunt likes, where they all wore the turtlenecks.

—Something with the naked cowboy from Times Square? He’s such a character!

—What’s the downmarket version of the Talk Stoop?

—That Univision telenovela I see in the laundromat—not the one with the ranchers and the controlling rich girl, the sillier one. I bet they could tie it in to the plot.


—The guy with the amp on his back who sings the Tracy Chapman songs on the F train. He’d be a good announcement vehicle and host.

—Those TV ads they ran at the checkout in the Associated grocery store in Clinton Hill they tore down this year. Those would have been a better place than ‘Morning Joe.’ In fact, unplugged, in a pile under a tarp in some unlit electronics resale warehouse, they are almost certainly still better.


Dustin Kurtz is former marketing manager of Melville House.