Readers' choice at the New Yorker

A Valentine's-themed bash honors the magazine's book-award winners, chosen by its readers -- well, sort of.

Topics: Books,

For the past 75 years, the New Yorker magazine has defined literary status for American readers, and publishing in its pages is the fondest dream of most writers. Monday night, however, the magazine’s readers turned the tables and told the New Yorker which writers had produced the best books of 1999. “There are all kinds of book prizes,” a ballot bound into the Dec. 13, 1999, issue of the magazine declared, “the Pulitzer, the National Book Awards, the PEN/Faulkner — and of course, Oprah. But this is the only prize we know of that lets the reader decide the winner.”

Well, sort of. New Yorker readers were still obliged to select their favorite books (in the categories of fiction, nonfiction and poetry) from short lists of five titles. Those short lists, “prepared with the help of some illustrious writers” (not to mention the magazine’s editorial staff, who were complaining for most of the fall about the added reading load), weren’t particularly adventurous or surprising. Making readers choose from the lists also headed off the possibility of a prize being commandeered by some completely inappropriate favorite of the lumpen literati, the way Ayn Rand’s “The Virtue of Selfishness” briefly topped the Modern Library’s online poll of the best books of the century. On the other hand, reader-chosen awards skirt the trickiest part of year-end 10-best lists for literary magazines: all those contributors who expect the editors to pick their books.

With the exception of Edward Said, whose “Out of Place: A Memoir”
snatched the nonfiction prize from Brian Greene’s “The Elegant Universe,” Nicholas Lemann’s “The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy,” Bob Shacochis’ “The Immaculate Invasion” and Jean Strouse’s “Morgan: American Financier,” the reader’s choices stuck to the comfortably familiar. Annie Proulx, well-known to the reading-group crowd for her Pulitzer and National Book Award-winning “The Shipping News,” took the prize for “Close Range,” beating out Chang-rae Lee’s “A Gesture Life,” veteran dark horse candidate Patricia Henley’s “Hummingbird House” (also nominated for the NBA), “A Star Called Henry” by Roddy Doyle and critic’s darling “Plainsong” by Kent Haruf. Poetry doyenne Louise Gl|ck edged out David Ferry, John Koethe, J.H. Prynne and Sherod Santos.



The New Yorker pulled out all the stops for its first book award ceremony, handing out the awards in the famous reading room of the New York Public Library. The setting gave the proceedings a donnish quality, like the handing out of prizes in a British public school. Among the literary luminaries in attendance were Richard Ford, Lorrie Moore, Walter Mosely, Junot Diaz, Wallace Shawn and Nobel laureates Toni Morrison and Saul Bellow (who received a lifetime achievement award from editor David Remnick, leaving some to ponder why John Updike — a New Yorker regular who is as yet un-Nobelled — hadn’t been picked). A glamorous Jumpa Lahiri accepted the “best debut” award for her story collection “Interpreter of Maladies.”

Later, the crowd was channeled down halls and stairs (“I feel like we’re lining up for the camp bus,” said one party-goer) to a reception in a Belle Epoque-style hall whose very existence in the New York Public Library seemed to surprise attendees more than any of the awards did. With Valentine’s Day as its unbookish theme, the party was illuminated with pink lights and amply supplied with vast couches bearing huge violet cushions. Waiters carried trays of pink champagne cocktails and elaborate pastry displays crowned with balls of angel food cake covered in whipped cream and coconut. “I love this!” another reveller enthused. “Barbara Cartland would be right at home at this shindig!”

Laura Miller

Laura Miller is a senior writer for Salon. She is the author of "The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia" and has a Web site, magiciansbook.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 22
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Talking Heads, 1977
    This was their first weekend as a foursome at CBGB’s, after adding Jerry Harrison, before they started recording the LP “Talking Heads: 77.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith, Bowery 1976
    Patti lit up by the Bowery streetlights. I tapped her on the shoulder, asked if I could do a picture, took two shots and everyone went back to what they were doing. 1/4 second at f/5.6 no tripod.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Blondie, 1977
    This was taken at the Punk Magazine Benefit show. According to Chris Stein (seated, on slide guitar), they were playing “Little Red Rooster.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    No Wave Punks, Bowery Summer 1978
    They were sitting just like this when I walked out of CBGB's. Me: “Don’t move” They didn’t. L to R: Harold Paris, Kristian Hoffman, Diego Cortez, Anya Phillips, Lydia Lunch, James Chance, Jim Sclavunos, Bradley Field, Liz Seidman.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell + Bob Quine, 1978
    Richard Hell and the Voidoids, playing CBGB's in 1978, with Richard’s peerless guitar player Robert Quine. Sorely missed, Quine died in 2004.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bathroom, 1977
    This photograph of mine was used to create the “replica” CBGB's bathroom in the Punk Couture show last summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So I got into the Met with a bathroom photo.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Stiv Bators + Divine, 1978
    Stiv Bators, Divine and the Dead Boys at the Blitz Benefit show for injured Dead Boys drummer Johnny Blitz.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977
    “The kids are all hopped up and ready to go…” View from the unique "side stage" at CBGB's that you had to walk past to get to the basement bathrooms.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Klaus Nomi, Christopher Parker, Jim Jarmusch – Bowery 1978
    Jarmusch was still in film school, Parker was starring in Jim’s first film "Permanent Vacation" and Klaus just appeared out of nowhere.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Hilly Kristal, Bowery 1977
    When I used to show people this picture of owner Hilly Kristal, they would ask me “Why did you photograph that guy? He’s not a punk!” Now they know why. None of these pictures would have existed without Hilly Kristal.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Dictators, Bowery 1976
    Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators with his girlfriend Jody. I took this shot as a thank you for him returning the wallet I’d lost the night before at CBGB's. He doesn’t like that I tell people he returned it with everything in it.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Alex Chilton, Bowery 1977
    We were on the median strip on the Bowery shooting what became a 45 single sleeve for Alex’s “Bangkok.” A drop of rain landed on the camera lens by accident. Definitely a lucky night!

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery view, 1977
    The view from across the Bowery in the summer of 1977.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977 – never before printed
    I loved shooting The Ramones. They would play two sets a night, four nights a week at CBGB's, and I’d be there for all of them. This shot is notable for Johnny playing a Strat, rather than his usual Mosrite. Maybe he’d just broken a string. Love that hair.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell, Bowery 1977 – never before printed
    Richard exiting CBGB's with his guitar at 4am, about to step into a Bowery rainstorm. I’ve always printed the shots of him in the rain, but this one is a real standout to me now.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith + Ronnie Spector, 1979
    May 24th – Bob Dylan Birthday show – Patti “invited” everyone at that night’s Palladium show on 14th Street down to CBGB's to celebrate Bob Dylan’s birthday. Here, Patti and Ronnie are doing “Be My Baby.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Legs McNeil, 1977
    Legs, ready for his close-up, near the front door of CBGB's.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Suicide, 1977
    Rev and Alan Vega – I thought Alan was going to hit me with that chain. This was the Punk Magazine Benefit show.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ian Hunter and Fans, outside bathroom
    I always think of “All the Young Dudes” when I look at this shot. These fans had caught Ian Hunter in the CBGB's basement outside the bathrooms, and I just stepped in to record the moment.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Tommy Ramone, 1977
    Only at CBGB's could I have gotten this shot of Tommy Ramone seen through Johnny Ramones legs.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery 4am, 1977
    End of the night garbage run. Time to go home.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>