Noting that "it’s been a tough year," James O’Shea, editor of the Los Angeles Times, got right to the point in his opening remarks at the annual LAT Book Prizes held Friday night at UCLA, and reaffirmed the paper’s commitment not only to the Prizes, and the annual weekend Festival of Books it kicks off, but also to its coverage of books.
Winners of the 2006 LAT Book Prizes included: mystery/thriller, Michael Connelly, Echo Park (Little, Brown); poetry, Frederick Seidel, Ooga-Booga (Farrar, Straus & Giroux); history, Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (Knopf); current interest, Ian Burma, Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance (Penguin Press); fiction, A.B. Yehoshua, A Woman in Jerusalem (Harcourt); and first fiction, Alice Greenway, White Ghost Girls (Black Cat/Grove/Atlantic). William Kittredge received the annual Robert Kirsch Award, named after the LAT editor who inspired the Book Prizes 27 years ago.
Talking about the LAT's coverage of books, O'Shea said, "That’s one commitment that won’t change," to great applause. He added that the turmoil in the newspaper industry was forcing the paper to be more creative. Earlier this month the paper cut pages in its Sunday Book Review and folded it into a new standalone section shared with Opinion. At the same time, the paper began building its book web-only content. "We’re just getting started," said O’Shea.
Jim Lehrer served as master of ceremonies at the Book Prizes and asked the attendees to perhaps see him—just for the night—as a "novelist who does some TV on the side."
But the best quotes of the night came from a few of the other winners.
"I tell people when I am finishing a book, that it’s two weeks of exhilaration followed by two years of humiliation," said Neal Gabler, winner of the biography prize for Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination (Knopf).
Eric R. Kandel, who has also won the Nobel Prize, joked about the difference between Stockholm verses Los Angeles, where he won the Science prize for In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind (W.W. Norton). "When you go to Stockholm, you know you’ve got the prize," he said. The LAT doesn’t tell the winners ahead of time.
Perhaps the greatest applause followed Coe Booth's acceptance of the young adult fiction prize for Tyrell (Push/Scholastic). "I received an email from a 15-year-old boy who told me Tyrell was the first book he’s ever read," she said.