A Diner, Coffee Rings And The Pulitzer

Do books that win or are finalists for literary awards make you more interested in reading them? Are awards such as the Man Booker, PEN/Hemingway, or the Pulitzer enticing, or do you even care?

Personally I’ve felt both ways. A few years ago I was sort of anti-Pulitzer books, which stemmed largely from the 2015 win of All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. A fan of that book I was not and to win such a prestigious prize made me want to choke. But that’s just me and I know most would disagree with that assessment.

I have a list of all of the fiction Pulitzer winners and it’s interesting to peruse and see which on the list I have read over the years. Some of the books that have taken the prize amaze me and not in a good way. While writing requires a honed skill, it also needs the right eye to see its beauty. We are entitled to our opinions and some opinions are clearly the majority and some are not.

To each their own, I suppose.

Some Pulitzer Prize favorites of mine and the year they won:

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, 1981

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley, 1992

Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides, 2003

The Road by Cormac McCarthy, 2007

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, 2014

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, 2016

A few years ago there was a friend on social media who only posted about books that had won the Pulitzer. I thought this was really interesting and informative and I liked hearing him speak about the various prize-winning books. Of the favorite books listed above, all but A Thousand Acres were read in the last few years. It was his insight and views that kind of opened my mind again to those books.

I love book people!

Empire Falls by Richard Russo has been on my shelf for a long time. It’s a Pulitzer Prize winning book (2002) that I always come across in used book stores for whatever reason. I am familiar with Russo because he wrote Nobody’s Fool, which became a movie that is one of my favorites to this day. If you haven’t somewhat guessed, Russo writes about the average person living a normal life. His contemporary domestic dramas are right up my alley and my favorite genre to boot.

Here is a synopsis from Amazon:

• Miles Roby has been slinging burgers at the Empire Grill for 20 years, a job that cost him his college education and much of his self-respect. What keeps him there? It could be his bright, sensitive daughter Tick, who needs all his help surviving the local high school. Or maybe it’s Janine, Miles’ soon-to-be ex-wife, who’s taken up with a noxiously vain health-club proprietor. Or perhaps it’s the imperious Francine Whiting, who owns everything in town–and seems to believe that “everything” includes Miles himself. In Empire Falls Richard Russo delves deep into the blue-collar heart of America in a work that overflows with hilarity, heartache, and grace

Empire Falls has a (sort of) lengthy prologue, which I read last evening after finishing another book. Today I peeked a little at the first chapter and of course it sucked me in.

Russo has a brand new book titled Chances Are, which is sort of what prompted this whole post. I don’t have this book yet, but I am on hold for it and I can’t wait to read it. I’d give you the synopsis, but I’ve already worn your eyes out, so go check it out.

FYI, I’m still reading Lonesome Dove (which also won the Pulitzer in 1986), in case you were wondering.

Sincerely,

tmc

“I don’t believe one reads to escape reality. A person reads to confirm a reality he knows is there, but which he has not experienced.”

– Lawrence Durrell

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7 thoughts on “A Diner, Coffee Rings And The Pulitzer

  1. Interesting post! Yes, I like to check out the list of Pultizer winners each year. Agreed, it’s hit or miss, but has definitely helped me find some gems, e.g. Middlesex and Underground Railroad, as you mention.

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  2. Very interesting, and pertinent, as I had exactly this same kind of searching moment at the beginning of this year: Are prize-winning books worth reading? It occurred to me that I never sought out prize winners, so I decided to try and read all Booker Prize winners this year, and blog about it, of course.

    The range of quality is astonishing. The range of subjects less so. It’s been interesting to plough through books I would otherwise have put aside and been pleased I didn’t. It’s also been interesting to read really well applauded books that are trash.

    I am inclined to have a Pulitzer challenge next year, as I’ve a few winners on my ‘to read’ stack anyway. Need to get to the end of December first, with 95 pages per day to get through all the Bookers.

    https://abookeryear.wordpress.com/

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    1. Thanks for saying and taking the time to write. I’m excited to check out your blog. I couldn’t agree more regarding the range of quality. Sometimes I feel like awards have motivations behind them or sadly somewhat attached to who you know. Not always of course, but we are human beings and that’s just the way life goes sometimes. What has been your favorite Booker read so far?

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  3. A great post for discussion. I guess in some way book prizes make me want to read certain books because I become curious. I have always wanted to read Empire Falls, too.
    Re the books you mention, I wanted to love The Underground Railroad and read it for the first time this month, but even though powerful, I found it hard to connect with the characters there. A certain dimension lacked for me there, even though I even enjoyed the matter-of-fact language by Whitehead. I also loved the Goldfinch, but would you believe it – it is the least favourite of mine from the three books by Donna Tartt. Other winners I want to read are American Pastoral and Breathing Lessons.
    Thanks to your post I now want to read A Thousand Acres, too. I read the synopsis and it looks like a hard-to-read book.

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    1. I am so glad you replied. I think this is an interesting topic. It’s easy to be swayed by awards if you just look superficially. American Pastoral is on my list and I love Anne Tyler, so I know Breathing Lessons will happen at some point.

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