Books for a Better Life

By Carmen Comment

wolf-stout.jpgEven though your humble Galleycats arrived at the Millenium Broadway Hotel not long after cocktails (and an incredible food spread) began yesterday evening, the hotel bar was already jammed up with some of publishing’s biggest names. What were Jane Friedman, Larry Kirshbaum, David Young, Jane Dystel, Lynn Goldberg & Camille MacDuffie, Naomi Wolf, Martha Stout (both of whom appear on the left) and so many more doing there at the stiff sum of $175 a head? Taking part in the 10th Anniversary of Books for a Better Life, the awards ceremony hosted by the New York Chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society. One of the lines repeated throughout the night was how $1.1 million had been raised thus far in charitable efforts, and that the publishing industry has done its part to spread awareness for a debilitating disease.

More details about the awards — given in various self-help, memoir and other non-fiction categories — and the night itself, after the jump.

For the first hour, the trick was not getting caught up in human traffic jams not seen since getting stuck at the Time Warner booth at BEA. There was Dystel with her father Oscar, a previous award recipient…Kirshbaum (one of the night’s honorees) surrounded by members of his family as well as his literary agency family, Susanna Einstein and Jud Laghi…supermodel Emme made the rounds with her husband Phillip Aronson…Naomi Wolf and her father, Leonard, getting separated by the throng of people…Julie Powell and her husband Eric being gently shooed into the awards theater…Jeanette Walls, much taller than I realized…and saying hello to AOL Bookmaven Bethanne Patrick, one of the evening’s co-chairs.

Ron and I took our seats in the balcony (unofficially dubbed the press section) and the ceremony began. After an introduction by MS Society executive committee chairman Scott Manning, Meredith Vieira hosted the show, making jokes about how earlier in the day her assistant had been asked for autographs because she “looked more like a star.” Then Rodale CEO Steve Murphy, in talking about company founder Ardeth Rodale, commented that there is “no necessary separation between doing well as a company and doing good for others.” He also lives by advice given to him during his music business years: “It’s not about the money — it’s about the money.” Interpreted that there’s always money to give.

In quick succession, awards were given to the following: Naomi Wolf in the Childcare & Parenting Category, Jeanette Walls for Inspirational Memoir, Christina Baldwin for Motivational (who spoke charmingly of how she fell in love with story at the age of sixteen) Martha Stout in Psychology (for THE SOCIOPATH NEXT DOOR, which she said she wrote “to try to help people — not scare them”) John Welwood in Relationships, Richard O’Connor in Wellness (who didn’t expect to win, but still pulled out a speech and went on for a good long while) and Stephen Levine in Spiritual, while both Kirshbaum and Jane Brody were inducted into the Books for a Better Life Hall of Fame. (Note: We’ve since heard from O’Connor, who clarified that the organizers asked all the finalists to be prepared to make five-minute speeches.)

Then the specter of TV showed up in the form of Orman — who seemed to be playing to millions when there were only a couple of hundred people in the room — and Jim Cramer, winner in the Personal Finance Category, making some strange correlation between his book and Dickens. Orman then returned to present the First Book Award named for her to J.R. Moehringer (who couldn’t be there and so his agent accepted.)

And unlike many ceremonies of note — like one happening this Sunday night — this ended early, before the slated 9 PM close. Probably a good thing as so many had to brave the cold weather to get home…