Here’s a line from Thursday’s Wall Street Journal that caught my eye. The author is referring to the announcement of the finalists for this year’s National Book Awards:
Judges chose, and presumably read, from 1,259 books submitted by publishers.
Readers with long memories won’t need to be reminded of the reason for that skeptical “presumably,” but for the benefit of those who have better things to do than read everything Michael Kinsley writes, he’s to blame.
As for me, I was one of the judges for the 2003 nonfiction award, and wrote about the selection process here:
We considered 436 books (some of them very, very briefly, but they all got talked about at some point in the past few months). We never raised our voices, never argued with one another, never got angry. Our deliberations were civilized, collegial, and great fun. When we met yesterday afternoon to make our final selection, it was the first time all five of us had been in the same room at once–we mostly deliberated via e-mail and in conference calls–and the atmosphere, far from being tense, was positively festive.
In case I didn’t make myself clear, let me say unequivocally that I read some of all 436 books. I don’t claim to have read all of them, or all of most of them, or very much of some of them–but, then, anyone who’s reviewed a book knows that you don’t have to read very far in certain books to know that they’re no damn good.
I might add that I haven’t read a single one of this year’s finalists, though two of them are on my list of books I’d like to read. (In fact, I hadn’t even heard of most of them.) Alas, those who write for a living must ration their literary intake severely! Besides, now that I no longer review books other than occasionally, I find it an incredible luxury to be able to read only what interests me, and nothing more. Time is a lovely thing to waste–so long as you get to decide how to waste it.