Thursday, November 20, 2003

Stephen King Gets Honorary National Book Award

Thursday, November 20, 2003

NEW YORK — Weakened by pneumonia and still limping from a 1999 road accident, Stephen King (search), accepting an honorary National Book Award (search), received a long standing ovation after making his case for popular writers.

But not everyone cheered his acceptance speech Wednesday night, including Shirley Hazzard (search), whose novel "The Great Fire," a sophisticated romantic novel set just after World War II, took the coveted fiction prize.

The 56-year-old King, whose many best sellers include "Carrie" and "The Shining," acknowledged that some thought him unworthy of a prize previously won by Philip Roth (search) and Arthur Miller (search) among others. He called for publishing people to spend more time reading writers like himself.

Hazzard, who writes in longhand on yellow legal pads and took more than a decade to complete her winning novel, rejected the notion.

"I don't think giving us a reading list of those who are most read at this moment is much of a satisfaction," said Hazzard.

Other winners Wednesday included Carlos Eire (search), who received the nonfiction prize for "Waiting for Snow in Havana"; Polly Horvath, winner in the young people's category for "The Canning Season," and C.K. Williams, the poetry winner for "The Singing."

Each received $10,000. Finalists got $1,000.

The National Book Awards are both dress-up time for the publishing industry, with a red carpet laid outside, and a fund-raiser for the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization that charged $1,000 a seat.

For the most part, it was King's kind of crowd. At $12,000 a table, the horror author had bought up five, and several of the night's nominees praised him as a gifted storyteller and a friend to fellow writers.

"He is one of the sweethearts of literature," fiction finalist T. Coraghessan Boyle told The Associated Press. "He has done so much for other writers."

King's speech was humorous, sentimental and defiant. He remembered his early years of writing, the typewriter sandwiched in the laundry room between the washer and dryer. He said he had been ready to give up on "Carrie," now a modern horror classic, only to be talked out of by his wife, Tabitha.

He also urged the book foundation not to make his award a case of "tokenism," an isolated tribute to commercially successfully writers. And he called on the industry as a whole to pay more attention, saying he had no "use for those who make a point of pride in saying they have never read anything by John Grisham, Tom Clancy, Mary Higgins Clark or any other popular writer."

"What do you think," he asked, "you get social academic brownie points for deliberately staying out of touch with your own culture?"

While King and Hazzard both celebrated the diversity of literature, you couldn't ask for two more different writers. King has written dozens of novels. Before "The Great Fire," Hazzard had not completed a work of fiction since the early 1980s. King was an early champion of the e-book. Hazzard does not own a television or even an answering machine.

And she has never read a Stephen King book.

"I just haven't had time to get around to one," she said, citing Shakespeare and Joseph Conrad as current priorities.

Just about everyone Wednesday seemed to have a point to make. Eire noted that he could have never published his book, a memoir about growing up in Cuba and his departure after the rise of Fidel Castro (news - web sites), back in his home country. The head judge for the young people's prize, Susan Campbell Bartoletti, said the boundaries between children's literature and books for grown-ups were breaking down. Mystery writer Walter Mosley, who hosted the ceremony, had special praise for the poetry finalists.

"Without our poets, we really don't have a heart," he said.

National Book Award Winners Announced

The winners of the 2003 National Book Awards were announced last night, November 19, at a ceremony at the New York Marriott Marquis Hotel in New York City. The annual awards are given by the National Book Foundation to recognize achievements in four categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People's Literature. The night's ceremonies included the presentation of the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters to Stephen King.

This year's winners by category were:


Shirley Hazzard, The Great Fire (FSG)

Carlos Eire, Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy (Free Press/S&S) -- a March/April 2003 Book Sense 76 Pick

C.K. Williams, The Singing (FSG)

Polly Horvath, The Canning Season (FSG)

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Take this McJob
By Jan Freeman, 11/16/2003

TO JIM CANTALUPO, chairman and CEO of McDonald's, finding McJob in the new Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary was like spotting a cockroach in the kitchen. Kill it, he ordered the lexicographers, calling the definition of McJob as "low-paying and dead-end work" (in his paraphrase) inaccurate and insulting to restaurant workers everywhere.

Cantalupo had no use for M-W's citations of McJob, either -- the people using the word, he said, were just "assorted academics, pundits and random news stories."

Besides, McJob (at least in the plural) is a trademark, said Cantalupo in his letter to M-W, which was also published in Nation's Restaurant News. McJobs, launched in 1984, is the company's own program for training people with disabilities. Trademark infringement, insulting the disabled, mocking happy restaurant workers -- how low can a dictionary go?

Cantalupo hasn't actually threatened to sue (maybe he remembers Fox vs. Franken), but he seems to think a dictionary can declare a word nonexistent, as if it were a slow-selling sandwich. And nobody seems to have warned him that a head-on attack might help revive the very usage he wants to stamp out.

It's only natural, granted, that McDonald's would like to control its eponymous offspring. Who wouldn't? The Disney Co. can't be pleased that "Mickey Mouse" means trivial or simple, as it has since the '30s (one of its early users, in fact, was that eminent eponym George Orwell). And the American Legion probably wishes someone else had come down with the bug now called Legionnaire's disease.

But eponyms have lives of their own. True, we've abandoned some eponymous national and ethnic slurs -- paddy wagons and welshing are frowned upon by editors -- but most of the time we don't ask permission to eponymize. Argyles, boycotts, and sandwiches belong to us now, not to the men they were named after.

And McDonald's was a particularly fat target for eponymy. Not only had it created dozens of its own McCoinages -- McScholar, McPollo, McWorld -- but the company prides itself on the kind of standardization such names suggest, prescribing routines and recipes practically down to the number of seeds on a bun. A slot in a copy shop or video store can be a McJob, but as the icon of replicability, McDonald's was the natural choice to epitomize (and eponymize) such work.

(I'm aware, keen-eyed readers, that eponym originally applied only to the person after whom something was named: "Emma is the eponymous heroine of Jane Austen's novel." I'm using it more loosely here, with reasons to come when space allows.)

If McDonald's couldn't accept satire as the price of fame, though, why didn't it protest the McJob coinage long ago? The first use in the Nexis database, it's true, wouldn't have raised hackles: It was an innocent play on words in a 1985 UPI story on the labor shortage. "Ronald McDonald has a mcjob for you," it began, with no scorn intended.

But McJob in the "robotic, dumb" sense popped up in the Washington Post just a year later, the work of an editor who headlined a 1986 opinion piece "McJobs Are Bad for Kids." The term was instantly adopted by economic commentators: They disagreed (as they still do) on whether such low-wage jobs are truly dead-end soul-killers or steppingstones to fulfilling careers, but both camps called them McJobs.

Though Doug Coupland often gets credit for coining McJob, he didn't join the chorus till 1991, when his best-selling novel "Generation X" made McJobs one element of the post-boomer cohort's disaffection. The term spread rapidly, and in 1993 the American Dialect Society, at its annual meeting, voted it "most imaginative" of the year's buzzwords.

McJob peaked in print, however, in 1994, with more than 100 US citations; in the years since, it has leveled off, never again topping 50 mentions. But it remained common enough to rate inclusion in the American Heritage Dictionary (2000) and the online edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.

So why the current McFlurry from corporate HQ? Perhaps because Merriam-Webster's publicists cleverly put McJob on its short list of new words in the 11th edition, ensuring that journalists would pick up on it. McJob citations are up sharply this year, on track to break the '94 record. And if the word does get its buzz back, McDonald's will have helped: Its complaint can only keep the debate sizzling and the McJobs tally rising. That's the kind of corporate strategy you'd expect from the clown, not the CEO. / News / Boston Globe / Ideas / Take this McJob">© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

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