Peeking Behind Literary `Masks'

Article excerpt

George Plimpton could't resist touting his own book at the 12th annual PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction benefit.

Hey, masters of ceremonies can do that. So Mr. Plimpton read from his forthcoming "Pet Peeves," a fictitious collection of comic letters to a deranged veterinarian, with Edward Koren illustrations.

"I have a pet called Ernie, a Labrador, named after `The Importance of Being Earnest,' obviously," the courtly white-haired celebrity author said Monday night, "and Ernie Hemingway. He's one of those pets that you spend all your time on - and your fortune.

"He used to eat socks. Finally, I had to go to the veterinarian and have all these socks removed from his belly at an enormous expense."

Such bizarre musings fit the theme of the evening, which featured three-minute readings by 15 noted authors from the Elizabethan stage of the Folger Shakespeare Library. A dinner of poached trout timbale, cranberry-glazed quail, ginger-carrot puree and orange pudding followed.

The readers' theme was "Masks," and while far too many focused on the seasonal Halloween theme, others delved into weightier subjects.

"There was also a lot about the relationship between imagination and masks," said Susan Richards Shreve, president of the board for the PEN/Faulkner Foundation, which was founded in 1980. "This [topic] had a real dramatic speed; people felt very professional."

One of the youngest in the group of readers (which included 1999 Pulitzer winner Michael Cunningham) was 28-year-old District native Myla Goldberg. …