Award ceremonies are, at their essence, a celebration of self by the participants. The Oscars, the Tonys, the Emmys, all are designed to draw the attention of the New York Times and the rest of the press, creating news meant to sway an increasingly distracted and fickle public audience.
So it's no surprise that the National Book Awards have re-imagined themselves in a way that will spread more attention to more authors. That means more shiny medallions on book covers drawing the attention of people like me who do still occasionally browse for books in brick and mortar stores.
I'm a little bothered when someone like Morgan Entrekin, vice president of the National Book Foundation boardand CEO of Grove/Atlantic, says
I think there are plenty of awards that recognize [a collection of stories by a university press]... If one of those books is truly the best book of the year, that's no problem. But it seemed like the judges had been recognizing lesser-known authors for the sake of choosing lesser-known authors.
It's a little like Karl Rove's election night meltdown on Fox News, when he called out the statisticians working to project the election results. These people were picked (I hope) because of their judgment, their integrity, and their expertise. Stand back and let them do their job.
Now, as a board member, Entrekin has the right to be dissatisfied with the results. And, since the outcome pretty much impacts only the book industry, the board has the right to organize the selection committee any way they like. But it seems like overkill to kick the old judges on their way out.
On the other hand, if Entrekin really wants the awards to go mainstream he can open it up to internet voting. Maybe James Patterson will finally take his place with Faulkner and Bellow and Updike.