Commentary

Toasted Galifianakis, Trippy Pages and a Stoned Pynchon Keep Book Trailers Hip

Go ahead and marvel over the digital wizardry of the latest branded viral video, but if you want a safe haven of genuine creativity and flat out hip weirdness, then try on some of the top book trailers from last year. Last week the 2010 Moby Awards were given in a strange assemblage of categories for the online videos that have now become a standard part of book publishing.

Categories included "Trailer Least Likely to Sell the Book" (Winner: Sounds of Murder by Patricia Rockwell) and "Most Annoying Performance by an Author" (Winner: Jonathan Safran Foer for Eating Animals). There was "Biggest Waste of Conglomerate Money (Winner: Level 26 by Anthuny Zuiker) and "Most Annoying Music (Winner: New Year's At the Pier by April Halprin Wayland). The awards were organized by the MobyLives blog from publisher Melville House.

The great thing about book trailers is that the publishers and authors just have a lot of fun with it. I don't think anyone has a clue whether they actually help sell books. Notice how few of the titles sound familiar. The greatest send-up of the year was Zack Galifianakis posing as author John Wray for the Lowboy trailer. In the piece Galifianakis looks about as wasted as one can imagine a person being and still be awake as he reveals secrets of his writing method: a loop of Dolly Parton's 9 to 5.

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The stoned way of being was also key to one of the biggest surprises of last year, Thomas Pynchon's voiceover to his own trailer for Inherent Vice. The famously reclusive author lent a few utterances to a couple of Simpson's episodes years ago, but this video was the most public appearance the author has even given. He played the pot-addled detective hero of his mildly hallucinogenic hard-boiled turn that poked onto bestseller lists this summer.

Not enough for these Moby judges, however. Pynchon lost out to Hard Case author Dennis Cass in the "Best Performance by an Author" category for his deft self-deprecating skit about how poorly he is promoting his own book.

But before dismissing book trailers as just so much smug self-parody from a disaffected literati (okay, well there is a lot of that), consider some of the trippy and very cool work that is enriching the literary experience. The beautiful hand-drawn animation illustrating Kathryn Regina's poetry from I Am In the Air Right Now (Winner: Best Low Budget/Indie Trailer) is a visual reminder of the uniqueness of the form.

And the Big Budget winner for Maurice Gee's Going West literally restores the sense of magic that springs from a simple book. Big Brand viral video mavens may want to consider some of the power of understatement and words meeting images that drive the best example of this odd universe of marketing.

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