Books: Pangs and Prizes

When the winners of this year's National Book Awards lined up on the rosy stage of Manhattan's Alice Tully Hall last week, the group was somewhat more suggestive of prize day at school—with something for everyone—than an austere few chosen for literary excellence. The awards were originally conceived to promote "the wider and wiser use of books," and no doubt with that laudable, if ambiguous view in mind, the N.B.A. this year increased the number of prize categories from seven to ten—a notable jump from the early days, nearly a generation ago, when...

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