Why we do it in New York
Last night, at a ceremony at the National Arts Club on Gramercy Park in Manhattan, the finalists for the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes were announced. Before I was hired on at The Times, I believed this event should be re-invented; why was a Los Angeles newspaper announcing its book prize finalists in New York? It seemed like a blatant case of provincialism. Over the last few years, though, I’ve come to see this as a matter not of provincialism but of necessity--or perhaps it’s just reflective of the provincialism of the publishing industry.
After all, despite significant growth in regional imprints, American publishing remains rooted in New York City, much as the movie business is in Hollywood. In fact, I’ve always found significant similarities between the two industries--their clubbiness, their small-town love of gossip--with the exception that in Hollywood, there’s real money to be made. Certainly, that was one of the hot topics at last night’s reception: the financial instability of the writing world, which seems to cut across the grain from publishing to journalism. Four experienced editors were recently laid off as a result of the Harcourt/Houghton Mifflin merger, and with Publishers Weekly up for sale and 120 job cuts announced yesterday at Newsday, the landscape seems very insecure indeed.
For The Times, then, throwing a book party in New York offers a way of connecting with the industry, of presenting ourselves to a roomful of editors, writers, publishers and journalists all in one place. It’s also a way of celebrating books and book culture--which is, by its nature, national or international in scope. The Times’ Book Prizes are not limited to authors in the U.S. but are open to everyone; this year’s finalists include Per Petterson and John Banville (oops, sorry ... Benjamin Black).
As to why this is important, well ... like any small, insular industry, publishing can have a very narrow vision; it can be difficult to see outside the fishbowl of New York. You can bemoan this, or you can deal with it, but either way, that’s how it is. If the mountain won’t come to you, in other words, you have to go tell it on the mountain, which is why we announce the Book Prize nominations in New York.
David L. Ulin