“We Will Need Writers Who Can Remember Freedom”: Ursula Le Guin and Last Night’s N.B.A.s

November 20, 2014 4:09 PM

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Daniel Handler, a.k.a. Lemony Snicket, leaned hard on gibes about the irrelevance of the book world and the tyranny of Amazon as the host of the sixty-fifth annual National Book Awards last night at Cipriani Wall Street. Delivering opening remarks to his fellow literati in the blue-tinted light of the banquet hall, he observed that the N.B.A.s are like the Oscars of the book world, “if nobody gave a shit about the Oscars,” and imagined a telegram from Jeff Bezos telling publishers, “I’m gonna slaughter you all.” At the end of the ceremony, after the awards in the young-people’s lit, poetry, nonfiction, and fiction categories had been presented—to Jacqueline Woodson, Louise Glück, Evan Osnos, and Phil Klay, respectively—Handler consoled the finalists who didn’t take home awards with a reminder that “outside of the book world, we’re all considered losers.”

But if Handler made one too many cracks (including a riff about Woodson, who is black, being “allergic to watermelon,” which has since caused outrage on Twitter), and Bezos got one too many shout-outs (guess which sponsor the National Book Foundation board chairman thanked first?), the spotlight was...

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