Pulitzer Prizewinners (do I like them?)

I’m currently wading through Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See for my book group – 400 pages out of 520 odd – and sick to death of it. It’s not necessarily that I think it’s bad (though others almost instinctively have); it’s more that I can’t really see the point of it. And it’s so long. Almost no novels need to be that long.

But it is emblazoned with a ‘Winner of the Pulitzer Price for Fiction 2015’ sticker – well, a sticker built into the cover. Which made me realise that I’ve never paid all that much attention to the Pulitzer. I know some awards are more likely to put me off a book (Man Booker) and some have traditionally been successes for me (James Tait Black) – so, what of the Pulitzer?

It has been awarded since 1917 (though, brilliantly, they decided not to award it to anything in its inaugural year) and you can read all the recipients here. Let’s see which I’ve read, and what I thought of them, because why not.

1921: The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Found this one a bit of a disappointment. Much like the Doerr – just not bothered. More here.

1932: The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

Really loved this one – indeed, it made it onto my 50 Books list.

1961: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Love it. Obviously.

1973: The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty

This was one of the very best books I read in 2014.

1981: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

Loved this one too – also for my book group. Unexpectedly adored it.

1999: The Hours by Michael Cunningham

One of my favourites too – a really spectacular novel that I have re-read and loved (and that doesn’t happen all that often).

2005: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Surely everybody knows by now how much I love and rate this novel. Robinson is extraordinary.

And that’s it. What I had not appreciated, until I read the Wikipedia page, is that it’s only awarded to American writers who depict American life. Which, given my relatively poor reading of American literary history, is probably why I’ve come up with so few titles.

But, of those, I loved almost all of them. And the ones I hadn’t read were nearly all familiar – they’ve certainly picked books and authors with longevity (which may or may not be self-fulfilling). By contrast, look up the Orange Prize and good luck if you know any of them.

How do you rate the Pulitzer Prize? Will it put you off and make you read? And – most importantly – will I ever, ever finish the final hundred pages of Doerr’s book before book group tomorrow?

26 thoughts on “Pulitzer Prizewinners (do I like them?)

  • November 15, 2016 at 9:50 pm
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    Recommend that you try ‘Olive Kitteridge’. I don’t know how it came my way but it’s most disturbing and well written.

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  • November 15, 2016 at 10:09 pm
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    Crikey…. Obviously I’ve no affinity for this particular book prize (for very few book prizes actually) because I’ve read hardly anything from the list. I confess that the fact a book has won a prize most often puts me off!!

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  • November 15, 2016 at 10:51 pm
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    Checked into your blog to see you moaning about long books as usual! ;-)

    Can second Olive Kitteridge, its excellent. I can also recommend A Thousand Acres and Middlesex (which I’m about to start re-reading).

    Does this also mean you’ve not Rwanda The Color Purple?!?

    Luce x

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  • November 15, 2016 at 10:53 pm
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    Ps. Rwanda is the weirdest autocorrect for read I’ve ever managed!

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  • November 15, 2016 at 11:14 pm
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    I’m not that bothered by the Pulitzer prize but I have just started to work my way through the James Tait Black winners. However I’m reading Olive Kitteridge at the moment, about 100 pages in I’m underwhelmed by it so far.

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  • November 16, 2016 at 12:30 am
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    You won’t finish by tomorrow, and I hope you don’t. Bookclubs are too much like homework. Rebel! And yes, Olive Kitteridge 👍👍👍.

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  • November 16, 2016 at 2:09 am
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    I’ve read seven of them, and a couple of those more than once. But, of those seven, are also some books that I did not enjoy reading. So I have to say that the Pulitzer is probably pretty hit-or-miss for me and I wouldn’t use it as a method of choosing which books to read. If a book happens to have won the award, that would be interesting but neither essential nor a turn-off.

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  • November 16, 2016 at 2:10 am
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    Loved most Pulitzer prize winners. It seems to be the one award designated books I can cope with but I like Ametican books especially the earlier 20th cdntury ones. And yes I loved Olive.

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  • November 16, 2016 at 4:25 am
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    I liked this novel and several other recent winners like A Visit From the Goon Squad and The Goldfinch, but my all time favorite PP winner is House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday. It’s haunting.

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  • November 16, 2016 at 4:50 am
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    I’ve read about 30 of them (though I may have confused some of the runners-up with actual winners. Besides To Kill a Mockingbird (obviously) I really liked One of Ours, Gone With the Wind, The Good Earth, and A Bell for Adano (which is really unexpectedly beautiful, I thought it would be just a boring war story). Angle of Repose is also wonderful. I know many people love The Age of Innocence and I’m a big fan of Wharton and that one left me underwhelmed. I didn’t get what all the fuss was about with Wharton until I read The House of Mirth which I could not stop reading. Ethan Frome is also wonderful.

    From the more recent fiction, I really liked The Interpreter of Maladies and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. I did read All the Light We Cannot See a few months ago, and I liked it much better than I expected, though I found the ending a bit confusing.

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  • November 16, 2016 at 5:11 am
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    I’ve read four of them in your list including the one you don’t like! Some good some not so but that is the way it plays out anyway.

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  • November 16, 2016 at 9:00 am
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    I’ve actually liked quite a few of them though never read or would read one specifically because it won that or any prize. I loved the Anthony Doer, but am puzzled about the bit about depicting American life! How did it slip through, being set wholly in St Malo?

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  • November 16, 2016 at 9:08 am
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    Agree, this is a hit-and-miss prize for me, (though I bought All the Light We Cannot See because the man at my library said it was good. I will be peeved if he has misled me!)
    I’ve read five of the ones you listed (loathed Gilead) but loved the others, and I also liked Gone With the Wind though I think I wouldn’t like its depiction of People of Colour now; and The Grapes of Wrath made me a devoted fan of Steinbeck even though not all his other novels are as wonderful. I’ve read both the Hemingways (the one that won which I liked, and the one that should have, which I really liked); also The Colour Purple (great) and Foreign Affairs (yes); The Shipping News (yes) The Stone Diaries (wonderful), The Poisonwood Bible (great) and Independence Day (also wonderful). I’d also recommend Middlesex, The Known World and March, but I loathed The Road, The Good Squad and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao which I could not make myself finish. Indeed that is the book that made me ignore the Pulitzer for years thereafter until (the same) man at the library told me about The Sympathiser and it turned out to be fantastic.
    The interesting thing about this prize for me is that we in places like Australia where we are swamped with US Lit good, bad and indifferent, is that the Pulitzer could be a useful tool to discriminate between the slush and the worthwhile. But when they give it to something like Empire Falls (another DNF for me) it diminishes the prize IMO.

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  • November 16, 2016 at 12:52 pm
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    I loved the writing in All The Light We Cannot See and found the intertwined stories very affecting, but agree it’s too long. It also doesn’t know where to end (a pet hate – needs a firm editor!). Also loved To Kill a Mockingbird (of course) and The Hours, but found Gilead dry and uninspiring. I think The Pulitzer Prize would bring a book to my attention, but I’d still want to judge on its own merits whether to read it or not.

    Keep seeing wonderful things about Olive Kitteridge – definitely on my wish list now!

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  • November 16, 2016 at 2:31 pm
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    I find the Pulitzer list to be like most others. I’ve loved/liked some of the books and disliked others.
    But I totally disagree with you about All the Light I Cannot See, I loved it!

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  • November 16, 2016 at 6:35 pm
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    I enjoyed All the Light We Cannot See, as did most of the Book Club for whom I read it. I agree about the length and found the hopping about between Marie-Louise and Werner’s stories a bit irritating at times. I thought the setting in St Malo interesting, as I’ve visited the town,;the reconstruction is amazing. As for Pulitzer Prize winners, some I’ve read and enjoyed, others I’ve read and disliked and others not bothered to read. I wouldn’t deliberately pick a prize winner as a read because it had won something, it has to appeal to me as a good or interesting or intriguing read, whichever I feel like reading at the time.

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  • November 16, 2016 at 8:39 pm
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    I wasn’t at all sure about “All the Light I Cannot See” when I read it and thought it was rather superficial although several aspects of the story could have become novels in themselves and maybe more satisfying ones, especially the part set in the school for Nazi elite and the relationship of the two boys. I think I would really have enjoyed it when I was about fifteen or sixteen which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Of other Pulitzer Prize winners the outstanding ones for me are The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder and the Stories of John Cheever and I would hate to have missed The Hours, Gilead, The Goldfinch and The Stone Diaries.

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  • November 17, 2016 at 3:40 pm
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    These are the ones I think you might consider based on what I have read and what I think you might like: One of Ours/Cather, Arrowsmith/Lewis, Magnificent Ambersons/Tarkington, Grapes of Wrath/Steinbeck, Angle of Repose/Stegner, Stone Diaries/Shields.

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  • November 17, 2016 at 7:34 pm
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    I’ve never followed the Pulitzer, and not read many of them. The Doerr is not my kind of book though and I have no intention of reading it.

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  • November 17, 2016 at 7:39 pm
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    The length of All the Light We Cannot See didn’t bother me, but the super short chapters bouncing between narratives did. But ultimately I did like it.

    I have read a few Pulitzer winners, some I have liked and some I haven’t. But in general I would say knowing a book has won a prize will make me more interested in reading it. I am a sucker like that!

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  • November 20, 2016 at 7:20 pm
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    I’ve read 22 Pulizter’s and 5 Orange Prize winners ( plus 10 nominees). I highly recommend “Achilles” by Madeline Miller.

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  • November 22, 2016 at 11:51 am
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    I’ve read 16 of them but I’m not that big on prizewinners of any stripe. I’m bigger on recommendations by people whose tastes I trust!

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  • November 22, 2016 at 11:34 pm
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    I meeeeeeean. I feel about the Pulitzer the way I felt about the Newbery as a kid: There’s books that win it that I also like, but in general, the tastes of the prize committee have limited overlap with my own tastes. I think the Booker Prize has a better hit rate for me?

    Oo what if I made a spreadsheet of all the major prizewinners I’ve read and then I would have DATA about which prizes are best.

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  • November 30, 2016 at 2:02 am
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    I pretty much agree with your assessments except I love The Age of Innocence. Totally agree on All the Light We Cannot See. I mildly enjoyed it but wondered what the fuss was about.

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  • December 13, 2016 at 2:16 pm
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    Completely agree about All the LIght We Cannot See – it was very underwhelming – but I’m shocked/disappointed/incredulous that you don’t like Edith Wharton!
    I don’t take much notice of book prizes. I hadn’t even registered that Olive Kitteridge had won – and she’s one of my favourite literary characters ever! I was about to say but you must read Gone with the Wind … but maybe it’s just the best teenage wallow ever.

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    • December 15, 2016 at 4:22 pm
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      Sorry, Mary! I really, really wanted to love Edith Wharton. I just wasn’t able to. And there’s so much love for Olive K that I clearly need to get on and read it.

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