In honor of the Oscars, can writers on the red carpet really go glam?

The Academy Awards tonight could be a monumental evening for Oscar-nominated actresses Rooney Mara, Michelle Williams, and Jessica Chastain. Tomorrow, however, will be even better. Win or lose, Monday morning they all get to eat, probably for the first time since January. Make no mistake, a woman gives up a lot to win an Academy Award, of which flour in February and underwear on the big night are but two of the sacrifices.

Men have it much easier. I’ve never attended the Academy Awards, but once I gave a presentation about the movie, “Midwives,” to a group of TV executives and producers at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. I ate plenty beforehand and was indeed wearing underwear.

A female friend of mine, an aspiring actress, thinks Hollywood’s sexism – the reality that beauty goes a long way for women – is unbelievably unfair. “How is it that Steve Buscemi and Paul Giamatti keep getting parts? Yes, they’re talented. I get it! But if a woman looked like that? Unemployable!” she once railed around me.

In any case, I would love someday to set foot inside the Kodak Theater – or what was called the Kodak Theater before the film pioneer went into bankruptcy. Now, I believe, the theater is just called Blockbuster. Or, if you’re there for a screenplay adaptation, Borders.

The truth is, I love the Academy Awards and I really look forward to this evening – and not merely because there is always the chance that Dame Judi Dench will have a wardrobe malfunction or James Franco will wake up. Some years, I actually play the whole Oscar ballot game. To make it really challenging, I don’t waste my time on the actors and actresses and directors. I focus on the technical achievement awards, because the toughest races are always between the folks behind the NAC Servo Winch System and the women and men who invented the volumetric suspended cable camera technologies.

Year after year, however, what fascinates me most is this: The reality that people – including me – spend so much more energy fixating on the Academy Awards than we do on the equivalent celebration of literary accomplishment, the National Book Awards. There are a lot of pretty obvious reasons for this. The movies are a much bigger business. Many more people see movies than read novels and memoirs or even crack the spine of poetry collections. And – there is no polite way to say this – actors and actresses are way better eye candy than poets, historians, and novelists. I’ve been to the National Book Awards a couple of times, and, trust me, it could be a convention of cloggers (the poets) and software designers with bad haircuts (everyone else). Sure, in the novelist camp we have Andre Dubus III and Ann Patchett – who just this week left Stephen Colbert speechless and pulled off some pretty awesome shoes on national television – but we also have a lot of serious writers who look like a Nick Nolte mug shot.

And yet there are just enough writerly rock stars to make for great TV. Dubus and Patchett are only two. Others? J. K. Rowling and Stephen King, for starters. Maya Angelou. Jodi Picoult. Joyce Carol Oates. One of the years I was at the National Book Awards, Steve Martin hosted, and he was every bit as funny as when he hosted the Oscars.

In all honesty, the National Book Awards are probably not ready to migrate over from BookTV (C-Span 2) to ABC. To begin with, we need a lot more awards. And an orchestra. And a nipple slip.

But someday, I hope, we will celebrate books with the same glamour we do movies, and my female peers can have the privilege of not eating, too.

(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on February 26, 2012. Chris’s next novel, “The Sandcastle Girls,” arrives on July 17.)

Chris Bohjalian
Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of eighteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Guest Room. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, and The Double Bind.

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