Tuesday, April 17, 2012

And the Pulitzer goes to ... nobody!

As I'm sure we all know, the Pulitzer Prizes were announced yesterday. Wait, you mean everyone else didn't have the announcement in their Google Calendar for months? OK, fine, I may be slightly  more interested in the Pulitzers than some most other people, but yesterday there really was something interesting for those of us who like to read a good ol' Pulitzer-winning novel now and again: no Fiction award this year!

The last time this happened for the Fiction category was 1977. In fact, it happened for Fiction three times during the 70s!  It happens from time to time in most categories. I was intrigued to note that there has been No Award only once each for Poetry and Biography as opposed to the multiple No Award years for other Letters and Drama categories. Anyway, since I have known and loved many a Pulitzer-winning novel, I thought I would offer my totally unsolicited recommendations to those of you who were ready to rush out to your local bookstore/library to pick up a copy of this year's winner, only to find there was no winner. Here are...

Linda's 10 Pulitzer Fiction Books To Read Instead of This Year's Non-Existent Winner (Pulitzer award year is in parentheses)
  1. His Family by Ernest Poole (1918)
    This was the first one, awarded in 1918 (note: there was no Fiction award in 1917, the first year of the Pulitzer Prizes!) His Family went out of print and few people remember Ernest, who wrote some other acclaimed novels as well. I consider this a little-known gem, especially for people who like or have lived in New York City and want a taste of its old days -- the city has always been filled with immigrants, financiers, do-gooders, and bright-yet-obnoxious young people (even if they weren't called hipsters yet). This book also speaks to a changing nation faced with war and a new generation that will surely do things better than the old generation did -- right?
  2. The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington (1919)
    Another early winner, awarded in 1919, that looks at the progress of a nation's people and their shifting political and financial fates, this time in the Midwest. The younger Amberson with his sense of entitlement from his "great" family kind of reminds me of Dubya.
  3. So Big by Edna Ferber (1925)
    Edna Ferber is a truly underrated writer. She's vaguely "famous" but really not pushed on anyone in the academic canon, and most young people probably just tune out at the name Edna. Big mistake. (Your great-grandchildren will do the same thing with "Britney" and "Jaden," you know.) Any book of Edna's you pick up is a good choice (Giant, Cimarron, and Showboat, to name a few) but why not start with So Big, which won the Pulitzer and may be of particular interest to my readers in Chicago, Iowa, Michigan and environs?
  4. Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis (1926)
    Our hero has some flaws in this one, but his journey is interesting, and the ending made me cheer - out loud and everything! Awarded in 1926, this is one of those books that makes you realize people have always just been people and we have hopes and dreams and fears in common with our peeps of previous generations.
  5. All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren (1947)
    Dude, you think politicians are messed up now? Well, I mean, they are. But they were messed up in 1947, too, when this book won the Pulitzer, as they were in the 1930s when the events in Louisiana that may (or may not) have inspired this novel transpired. Very well written!
  6. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (1953)
    For those of you who want to check a winner off your to-do list quickly, head for this novel. I think it goes by pretty fast, unlike some other Hemingway works I could mention *cough* set in the Spanish Civil War *cough* and plus it's got the Cuba connection! And it's the eternal struggle of man versus nature! And yet it's so much more! And so on.
  7. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee  (1961)
    Because seriously, if you haven't read To Kill a Mockingbird by now, you are just not caught up on one of the best, most essential works of the 20th century.
  8. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (1986)
    This is one of my favorite books ever. It's a big one, but well worth it. It immerses you in a world with wonderful characters and unparalleled achievement in storytelling, plus snakebites and campfires and prostitutes and sweeping vistas that are evoked by the stellar writing. I know that a lot of people think, "Lonesome Dove?" as they wrinkle their noses and recall fleeting images of the 80s mini-series and Robert Duvall in a cowboy hat. The answer is: yes. Lonesome-freakin'-Dove. AMAZING.
  9. The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx (1994)
    I think people are divided on this one, but I love it. It's all so gray and cold and psychologically dark, up there in the northeast U.S. and Newfoundland, and there is so much that haunts the characters and, naturally, the reader. Bonus points: the protagonist is named Quoyle. Cool name.
  10. The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2007)
    I'm totally with Oprah here. Yeah, it's got the whole depressing apocalypse thing going on, but it's a fantastic choice for everyone because although it's grisly at times, it's the story of a father and son and the choices of humanity. The writing style is such that it moves quickly, but that's only one reason I couldn't put it down. And yes, you just might cry at the end, if you (and humanity) have a soul.
There now. Just because the Fiction jury consisting of Maureen Corrigan (whom I love listening to on Fresh Air) and Michael Cunningham (whom I love reading and even meeting in real life) and Susan Larson (whoever that is) didn't find any Pulitzer-worthy fiction that was published in 2011, you still have choices.

And may I suggest that to obtain these books you either a.)get a library card  or b.)visit an independently owned bookstore?  Happy reading!

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