• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies Sometimes I think a meteor could strike the earth and wipe out mankind with the exception of my mother’s Bridge club — Roz, Bea, Bette, Rhoda, and Jackie — five Jewish octogenarians who continue to gather for lunch and Bridge on Mondays as they have for over fifty years. When I set out to learn about the women behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, and most of all the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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And Sip The Cris’ And Get Pissy-Pissy

They say that children aren’t developmentally ready to accept losing until they are about seven or eight years old. I still remember when my daughter was around that age and she would quit a game before losing or start insanely cheating and fiercely deny it. I would tell her that she could carry on like that with me, at home, but I urged her to understand that out there in the big wide world, no one likes a sore loser. And that if she wanted to have any friends at all that she’d better learn how to be gracious, win or lose.

Tonight, the National Book Award for Fiction goes to Jesmyn WardSalvage the Bones (Bloomsbury USA). Congratulations. Your acceptance speech was beautiful and gracious. Shout to my pal, her editor, Kathy Belden. First rate editor and great person. It was a magical evening, and I’m not just saying that because a cab pulled up just as I was leaving my building in the pouring rain.

John Ashbery, a poet I’ve loved since I was sixteen, received a lifetime achievement award . He laughed at his own jokes, twice remarked how difficulty has gone out of fashion in favor of accessibility, and how you wouldn’t be caught dead telling someone you were a poet at a cocktail party for fear of looking too taken with yourself. My great friend Mitch Kaplan, owner of Book & Books and founder of the Miami Book Fair, received a big deal award, too. He is the soul of book selling. The other winners were also  magnificent. Inspiration in the form of Nikky Finney’s amazing acceptance speech, which John Lithgow called the greatest acceptance speech of all time. And John Lithgow himself (pronounced LITH-GO): witty and dapper and charmant. Wondered what it would be like if literary luminaries hosted award nights for the entertainment business: Philip Roth hosting the Oscars, for example, or Joan Didion hosting the Emmy’s.

I can’t tell you how proud I was to be there with Andrew Krivak. If you haven’t yet had a chance to read The Sojourn, treat yourself. LIke his book, he is economical, spare, smart and handsome. Beneath that facade is an intensity matched with purpose, desire with discipline. It is a pleasure and honor to be his agent. And a shout out, too, to his intrepid and passionate publisher, Erika Goldman at  Bellevue Press. Long may she wave.

Tiaras, ribbons, roses, rain-drenched red carpets. I could’t find a cab home. I missed the late train, and the train after that.

55 Responses

  1. Nice. You’re always a winner to us Madame.

  2. Congratulations all the same for being involved with a very fine work. Hope your tiara didn’t get wet.

  3. Very gracious post Betsy. Long may you wave, too.

  4. Sounds like the best night it could be, given the outcome.

    But I have a question, am I missing something? How else would ‘Lithgow’ be pronounced?

  5. I’m bummed I missed watching it but, in my defense, I was out making good on my passion. I went to my first photography group meeting. A lot of old people were there, which made me feel strangely comfortable. I met a photojournalist who was also scoping out the group. I hope she comes back. She’s the one I’m really interested in learning from.

  6. I’m glad you had a good evening. It sounds lovely, despite the horrid downpour.

    I’m adding the two titles you mentioned to my wannareadlist. I’ve been rather caught up in the Canadian and British awards (anyone checking out my blog would realized this) and neglected some of the reads south of the border.

    Too bad you tiara got soaked. How did you miss two trains?

  7. Lady Lerner,

    Keep your tiara on. First place is always yours from who learned so much in The Forest.

  8. It would have been nice to have won, of course, but do you see who your peers are? PEERS! You’re with the cream of the cream and you are the CREAM!

    • I thought exactly this as I watched, Bonnie, that this was one hell of a group. I loved the countdown (first there were 300+, then 100, then 50, then 25, etc…) to the top 5. The final 5. Wow.

      Congratulations to you, Betsy, for making this an annual event. I hope it doesn’t rain on you next year and that late cabs are aplenty.

      I ordered 4 books (paper ones from Amazon) during the webcast, including Head Off & Split. I can’t remember the last time I bought a book of poetry, but Nikky Finney’s acceptance speech had me in tears.

  9. It sounds like a wonderful evening.

    And scoring a perfectly-timed cab on the way to a venue is worth a little hassle on the way home . . . though missing two trains would have had me clinging to any residual graciousness with my teeth.

  10. Sounds like a fantastic evening, and you don’t seem to have a bitter bone in your body. Good on you.

    I loved Bruce Smith’s poetry book DEVOTIONS. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes their poetry to be both lovely and working class. He manages that combination in ways that I can only sit back and admire.

  11. Betsy thank you for this write up. It’s nice to be a fly on the wall at something so grand.

    I love John Ashbury’s comment, “how difficulty has gone out of style in favor of accessibility”. That rings so true to me.

  12. Good for you, Betsy! Long may you wave.

  13. Pace Mr. Ashberry, but among the vast coterie of yer average crazy monkey coating the inhabitable surface of Gaia like fleas on an age-old bluetick hound, difficulty was never in any sort of fashion to go out of, towering ivory rumors to the contrary notwithstanding.

    • I was under the impression that difficulty was assumed whether writing from your aformentionned Ivory Towers or the journalists on the front lines or the mass market potboilers, such as Dickens. Art was hard and expected to be hard. Can you honestly say that has not changed and qualify it by it being too highbrow a comment? Truly?

      • Ditto…….I’m with you, Lyra.

      • It is common among people to believe, particularly as they age, that at some point in the past–a point that may be no more distant than one’s own youth, or may be only a generation or two back of that–there was a golden age (for example, a time when difficulty was in fashion, whatever that may mean), and that that age has subsequently decayed into the present decadent age of iron or clay (for example, a time in favor of accessibility; again, whatever that may mean).

  14. What a classy post. So good to hear such pride and awe in your voice when talking about writers, publishing, John Lithgow. I’m verklempt.

  15. Hey Betsy, I saw you on the live comcast, sitting at your table. You looked great!

  16. In my thin rule book, inclusion as one of The Best of the Best counts as a Win. And next year, treat yourself to a limo – you’ve earned it!

  17. Thank you for taking us there; congratulations for the honor and praise for being gracious. It’s one of the most beautiful traits there is.

  18. This is an interesting and gracious post. And congratulations to you and Andrew Krivak for just being there — very cool.

  19. …so when did you know?

  20. Yes, I agree with Karen on the limo. And, wear the tiara in it. Don’t share the champagne with anyone.

  21. I went back and watched Patti Smith’s acceptance speech from last year. She really had the purity of a child, didn’t she? Between her and Nikki Finney, I am emotionally wiped out.

  22. Very classy post, and vivid, too. I hope Andrew took it well. Can’t be easy–though hopefully and event/week of that magnitude reminds him that he was chosen as top five (by one group of people, not all-knowing, so he may still be the best).

    I’ve spent the past 30 years being oddly reserved in one fantasy, telling friends I just want to be FINALIST for an NBA someday. But who am I kidding? Once I got to the table, I’d be gunning to win.

    How many people are really zen enough to walk out satisfied at being nominated?

    I spent Monday evening with a woman who went home empty-handed from the NBAs a few years ago, and was relieved to hear her crack about a friend nursing her through the loss. Did it hurt? Of course! Haha. And not in the past tense.

    I only got to one big-time awards thingie where I came home a “loser”–the LA Times Book Award–and I was outwardly graciuos, but couldn’t help feeling surly. They bussed us over from near UCLA, so I rode back with the 80%, several of whom I’d gotten to know on the ride in, and the pre-parties. They all confessed to crabbiness, at a minimum. Shew! Not only were they feeling it, most everybody was admitting it.

    Being recovering Catholic, my sourness was compounded by guilt over its existence. Less guilt once I confirmed we were all in it together.

    Oh, and WORST thing anyone said about any of these to make me feel better, particularly the ones not nominated: “Next book.”

    Oh yeah, just pop another one out. I didn’t even want to THINK about what the next book was going to exact from my soul. The prospect of writing it was scary enough, not that heaped on it? Thanks.

    Now, a couple years later, I am feeling that way. Next book I’m going to kill, and yes I know most or all of the awards are going to pass on it again, because come on–there are hundreds of thousands of books and all sorts of tastes, and it’s patently unrealistic to think you’re likely to grab the next one, even if you’re Denis Johnson. (Who got an NBA for the totally wrong book. Haha.) And yet, . . . I’m revving up to grab them all anyway.

    I can think about that now. Did not want to think that way then.

    (Hmmmmm. Did I just make this all about me? Haha. Well, I’m a writer, sue me. I did live the whole week vicariously, wondering what it would be like to be Andrew this week, wondering how he felt, and if he went through the same rollercoaster as me, even if I’ve only ridden the smaller coasters, still working up to that C ticket he landed. I hope he’s well.)

    And I hope he took your advice and wrote half his next book before this one even came out. Does anyone actually do that, though? Haha. Better people than me.

    • there are hundreds of thousands of books and all sorts of tastes, and it’s patently unrealistic to think you’re likely to grab the next one

      Exactly. I hope you do kill the next one, Dave.

    • Dave, I couldn’t help clicking reply here just because it was such a big deal of a night, and I appreciate the fact that you were, you know, thinking about how I felt. And I have to say that I’m so blown away to be among that group, and I had such a fucking blast last night, and I love Jesmyn Ward’s book so much, that I feel like I can’t wipe this smile off of my face. Seriously. For a few seconds before the announcement, I thought, with a kind of wild amazement: “What if I win this thing?” And it occured to me that that was the real question going through the minds of all the finalists. A question. Not, “I want to win this thing,” but “What if?” Then it’s announced, and it is what it is. And that’s a beautiful thing. More beautiful for some than others, sure, but now it’s time to get back to the desk, and to get on with the work of writing the next one. I said to Betsy, and I’ll say it right here. In this business, what the recognition has meant to me the most is that chance to get the next one out there. More than one editor is no doubt waiting for Betsy to drop it on his or her desk whenever I get it done, and he is she isn’t going to say this time, “Love the writing, but it’s just not for me.” Or, “Can’t find a character I like here.” (What are we, driving in Boston? Character I can’t like, for chrissakes!) No way. It means they’re going to read it. Because win or not-win last night, I still got lucky, and the game has changed. For that I am immensely grateful. And I’m grateful for this, too, because this is what keeps me on the ground: When I got home and picked my kids up at school, my 5 year old gave me a big hug and said, “You’re awesome Dad. Let’s see the finalist medal!” And then my 3 year old said, as he got his chance to heft it and place it around his neck: “Is this for the Fashionable Book Award?” And I said, “Yep, Blaise. It sure is, buddy. It sure is.” Hang in there folks. Write because you love it. I sure as hell do. Andrew

      • That’s a different kind of acceptance speech, from a different kind of winner. Congratulations, Mr. Krivak.

      • Write because you love it.

        You just sold another book.

      • What a gem you are. Thank you for this.

      • Apparently, I’m supposed to apologize. It has been pointed out to me, rather rudely, if you ask me, that.there might be a very practical explanation for your gushing. Perhaps, you have been huffing dirty diapers. I understand that, and so, I apologize. That is a TOtally reasonable explanation. Unless of course, I was right the first time. Which she never hears, but I also won’t bore you with that. You’re a reader, you get it.

      • Maybe you should try huffing dirty diapers, instead of whatever it is you’re on. Might make you more of a human being. And as far as “gushing” goes. I’d rather be sprayed by the fountain of someone else’s happiness than soaked the firehose of verbal diarrhea you’re spewing.

        Or more to the point: why do you come to this site? It’s not doing anybody any good.

      • The preceding comment was intended for Jeff, btw.

      • Oh, great editor in the sky, after all I know it is YOur blog, but if you cut out the first reply the second one doesn’t make any sense. Could you please do me the favor and just put this attempt to rest and cut both, or now three? It’ll come back up again in a better form, with more grown-up intentions. I hope. Huffing dirty diapers is funny, though. You gotta admit. Now I know why all those new mothers have that weird look on their face. But please, get rid of everything on this.

      • Good? Define good. I doubt you could muster the strength. But, again, please, define good. And why are you such a coward that you cannot state your name. You can even make up one. Let me guess, you were too carried away by your anger and the shitty words you read. In the mean-time, define good. You fucking sloth.

  23. Betsy is a grown-up, a professional, and a mensch: graciousness is not optional. I’m sorry for her sake that Mr. Krivak didn’t win, but I still plan to read his book(s), and to recommend them if I like them. Everything else is gravy (which I’ve been known to eat with a spoon from a large soup bowl, when I could get it).

  24. I found myself doing the iPhone prayer last night (head down, hands beneath the table so I could Google semi-unobtrusively) during a meeting, thinking about you and Andrew and searching for the results. Can’t say I’ve ever done that for the NBAs before. Thanks for broadening my horizon. And your post is the epitome of grace.

  25. Even though you say “fuck” a lot, you are one classy dame, Betsy. Congrats on Andrew Krivak’s Sojourn. It’s terrific.

  26. Man oh Man. I am so in love with myself right now. I hope everyone can repeat that, as they read that sentence, with a sense of peace. I hope all those books that were mentioned also conveyed a sense of reasoning. Last time I checked, last time I wanted to be an artist, which was earlier this morning, it wasn’t a competition in any sense of the word. Corrupt any word to your liking and art is still not a competition. I, of course, now must read all the books you mentioned so I can figure out what all the hubbub is about. Yet, still, why all the hubbub and masquerade? Who the hell started all that? The idiot that invented fire no doubt. Now, That, is a rough crowd. I would say congratulations, to whomever, but I really have no idea what that means. I’m going back to my Proust and The Thief’s Journal, just to ground myself after all that fluffing. You guys can suck it (and I don’t mean that sorely.)

    • Not to bring the houselights down too quickly, god-forbid, after thinking for a while about replying to posts and grammar, in my simple way, which can sometimes take hours if not days, I’m starting to appreciate your two capital letters, Betsy. I think I like it. I’m not gonna use it, except here, as I have a sense of integrity, most of the time, but that ain’t bad, babe. That ain’t bad.

  27. Can’t wait for you to get over this and get back to the writing that keeps us coming back.

  28. Congratulations, Betsy. I read excerpts from Sojourn and ordered it right away. Can’t wait to get to it. Marvelous beginning – how could anyone resist seeing what follows? You’ve been a winner to me ever since I read Trees and Food and Loathing.

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