"You can't get satisfaction from kicking a skunk."
Purportedly reported uttered by Cornelius Vanderbilt about Jay Gould, whom he hated. However, as best his biographer, T.J. Stiles, has been able to determine, this, like many things the corporate mogul supposedly said, is either entirely fiction, or a distinct re-work of something he did say.
Two titles have emerged this week as shoe-ins at least for Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award nomination: T.J. Stiles's The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt for biography(can you believe that the NY Times got it WRONG in their first review of the book, printing it as the title of the book by F.Scott Fitzgerald, The Last Tycoon? They had to print a correction.) The other is Colson Whitehead's Sag Harbor for fiction. How do we know? Because the NY Times reviews both of them more than once, plus articles-interviews, and because both works were backed by the 'right' people from the gitgo. For instance, at T.J.'s presentation-interview (his interviewer was Kevin Baker) so many 'right' people were present, who aren't there for the other presentations in the Cullman Center's series that features authors who have had worked on their books via fellowships at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers. So, as today is the running of the Kentucky Derby I'll announce now that I'm putting my money for the Pulitzer / National Book Award on these two titles.
There's another significant book award that is discussed at length this week - weekend. This year we have a very close friend who is part of the process that chooses the winner. What he had to say was, shall we say, illuminating? Or maybe not. It's not a surprise that if you don't travel with these people yourself, your book isn't going to even get on the long list, much less the short list, much less be the winner. I'm sure this is no surprise to anyone. It's a surprise to him though, which is probably why he talked about it (no, he wasn't under the influence either -- he doesn't drink alcohol). He's just that sweet, and also, since he's always been in those circles, it never occured to him before that there are writers who are not.
A long weekend of books and writers, Haitian music and musicians.
Also I / we are getting to hang a lot with someone who has long been high on my list of favorite bests, the author of Soldiers Joy. Soldiers Joy is one of my most vivid reading experiences: this discharged Vietnam vet protag in rural Tennessee decides to learn to play the banjo. The choice of protagonist's woodshedding piece is the classic contest piece, "Soldiers Joy." I can recall exactly where I was semi-reclined during those late spring days devoted to reading Soldier's Joy, the widening of my eyes as detail after detail of this rural life comes to life, details which I know intimately from living it myself, though on the plains, not in southern valley. While I'm reading this novel, Vaquero is learning the banjo because a composer-musician friend of his wrote a banjo part into a composition he would debut at a July 4th concert. The composer bought a banjo, handed it to Vaquero and told him to learn to play it. So Vaquero's been woodshedding for weeks in in our kitchen, day after day, b*tching about how HARD a banjo is to play, how heavy it is, etc., while I'm reading the same b*tches in the novel.
Turns out the author had heard Vaquero play and sing "Soldiers Joy" at a concert here back in the day, when Vaquero was working with this musical group from New Mexico composed of elderly musicians who played (and won) a lot of fiddle contests. Vaquero was taking them to Europe, to the international festival in Nice. One of them had never even been on a plane before, and here they were, playing fiddle for the hippest of downtown NY scenster audience. Didn't fae them a bit.
So much fun of the best kind, in the best of company.