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It's too much reading, says one book prize judge

November 26, 2002|Hillel Italie | Associated Press

NEW YORK — The job seems impossible from the start: As a nonfiction judge for the National Book Awards, you get six months to read some 400 books on everything from environmental science to backroom politics.

At least one of this year's voters, columnist and television commentator Michael Kinsley, says he didn't even try.

In a column posted Thursday on the online magazine Slate, Kinsley acknowledged he looked at only a fraction of the submissions. He likened the awards to choosing "the best rhubarb pie at the state fair" and hinted that he didn't complete Wednesday's winner: Robert Caro's 1,000-page "Master of the Senate," the third volume of his Lyndon Johnson biography.

"Once every seven or eight years, Robert Caro wheels out another gargantuan volume in his legendary biography of Lyndon Johnson, now up to Vol. 6: The Kindergarten Era (Part 1)," Kinsley wrote. He said he agreed to be a judge out of "mainly vanity and a desire for free books."

"[D]id I actually read every page? I'll never tell."

Neil Baldwin, executive director of the National Book Foundation, which sponsors the awards, said Friday that he knew Kinsley wasn't keeping up. According to Baldwin, Kinsley felt "very contrite and apologetic" over the summer and had to be talked out of quitting.

Kinsley did not return messages Friday and has written nothing further on the matter.

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