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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Home Is Where Your Heart Is, Or Wherever You Leave It Cluttering Up The Counter

What represents proof of life more than the stuff we all leave everywhere? Bits of change, keys, hair ties, tubes of chap stick, a cup with the last dregs of coffee? We are are a species that values things. I don’t mean high-profile, flashy items, but rather the small creature comforts that keep us at ease more or less throughout the day.

These things are us in a nutshell. They are the pair of shoes left in the hallway, the charging cord left dangling, and a book left open with the pages fluttering. We just left doing something, are about to return, about to wake up, or close our eyes to sleep. In essence, this is family life. It doesn’t matter if you are a family of one or ten-we all take part in leaving some debris in our wake that shows we were there.

Domestic dramas are my favorite genre. I like being the window-watcher to everyday life. Families that are like the people next door or maybe quite different, are the ones I enjoy reading about. I mentioned in another post that I do not care for self-help type books. I gain more help and insight from reading about real-life type stories and people than I do from someone claiming to have the answers to whatever problem I hypothetically might be seeking out. I like seeing how characters react in different situations. It might be fiction, but they aren’t acting. Fiction authors often write from what they know and it’s those truths which come out so much more genuine than those presented in the self-help section.

A Nearly Normal Family by M. T. Edvardsson was my June #BookoftheMonth selection. The blue box sat on my counter ( my clutter-y debris ) because I was reading so many books when it arrived that I didn’t want to be tempted by yet another book. I received an email yesterday that said my July book (which I am also very excited for- I’ll keep you wondering for the moment) was on its way so I figured it was time to open it. I flipped it open and dang it, I couldn’t. put. it. down.

Seriously, it’s such a good thing my addiction is to books and not heroin or some other hideous substance.

Anyway this book follows a family, which consists of a lawyer mother, pastor father, and their recently-turned eighteen-year-old daughter, Stella. Stella stands accused of the brutal murder of a man almost fifteen years older. She is an ordinary teenager from a great family, so what reason does she have to even really know this man, let alone kill him? Her parents “find their moral compasses tested as they defend their daughter while struggling to understand why she is a suspect. How well do you know your children? And how far would you go to protect them (from the book flap)?”

This book makes me think of two books that I have read that have really stuck with me. Defending Jacob by William Landay and We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (& one of my all-time favorite books). Many differences but all beg the question of “how far would you go” when it comes to your child?

If that doesn’t sound like a good family drama to you, then you probably don’t like these types of stories.

Maybe try the self-help section? Ha-ha, just kidding, that would be torturous 🙂

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies . . . The man who never reads lives only one.”

– George R.R. Martin

Yelling doesn’t make me believe you, it just means you are loud

Heartland by Sarah Smarsh was gifted to me by #Scribner / @Scribnerbooks •

I hate the news, not so much from the newspaper, but more specifically, the televised news. This is not a political post-you have my word. I’m not stating where I stand politically and I couldn’t give two shits where anyone else stands. The reasoning behind my avid dislike of the televised news is that people talk and usually yell simply to hear their own annoying voice. I don’t care which channel is on, someone is being unnecessarily loud and obnoxious. With the invention of fake news it has become even worse. It’s loud and false! Seriously I think many of the popular yellers have got to be alcoholics, listening to their crap for five minutes and I need a drink, so I can’t imagine a day full of listening to themselves and others like them! Maybe they are handed a stiff one when the camera moves to a commercial? On the flip side I am grateful that we live in a country where both sides are able to speak freely, however annoying it may ultimately be.

My husband knows of my disdain and in the evening when we begin to unwind, he likes to say, “You want to watch the news?” He must really think me rolling my eyes is hot, because aside from cracking my book open (which he does not find hot) that is the only response he gets.

Perhaps my dislike for the news runs even deeper. Maybe going in to it knowing that it is non-fiction (I say that loosely) is the ultimate turn-off for me? Maybe that’s why I rarely read non-fiction books, I simply prefer my fictional worlds. Although a lot of fiction is based upon a whole lot of truth, (that is a conversation for another day) I still know going in that the author isn’t going to try and persuade me of anything, nor are they yelling at me.

That being said, I do have a non-fiction bookshelf. The collection on that shelf is small in comparison to my fiction lovelies, and this shelf rarely gets a new book added to it. When I take the time to look at some of the titles there I will admit that I think, I really do need to read these! For this post I selected a few that I gravitate towards.

1. Heartland by Sarah Smarsh. Sent to me by #Scribner. This is “a memoir of working hard and being broke in the richest country on earth” ( from cover ). It’s about Smarsh’s childhood in the 80s and 90s. She was born a fifth-generation Kansas wheat farmer and the daughter of generations of teen mothers. Smarsh grew up in a family of laborers trapped in a cycle of poverty. She was raised predominantly by her grandmother and this story is a look at class, identity, and economic crisis. This memoir has similar tones of Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance, which is a great book in its own right, but I think coming from a female perspective alone will be enough to cast a unique light on this book.

2. My FBI by Louis J. Freeh . Freeh was a former director of the FBI, serving from 1993-2001. His time working there covers the Mafia, the Clinton Investigation, and the war on terror. Anything FBI intrigues me.

3. Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand. The sole reason for wanting to read this book is because I read Unbroken also written by her. I look forward to reading about a subject I know next-to-nothing about simply because she wrote it.

4. A Mother’s Reckoning by Susan Klebold. If this book or her last name doesn’t ring a bell, I’ll ring it for you. Her son was one of the Columbine High School shooters. If that doesn’t ring a bell, go back to the rock you’ve been living under. I’ll admit I’ve read a bit of this book as well as others that deal with school shootings. It’s a subject that is crazy in itself that it’s even a thing in our world. As a mother I cannot begin to know what she has lived with since that day. I will not judge, I have not been in her shoes. I just want to read the words of a heartbroken mother and hope only to gain insight and wisdom from her journey.

5. The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore. This story follows two boys with same name, born blocks apart within a year of each other. They had similar backgrounds and childhoods, yet one was always in trouble with the police and the other became a Rhodes Scholar (summarized from back cover). To me, the name similarity is interesting, but it isn’t what draws me to this story. What draws me to this are the vastly different choices made by two similar boys living under and with similar circumstances.

6. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. Of the six books in this post, this one has been on my shelf the longest. To write with complete transparency, I have some trepidation about reading this book (due to a personal loss). Didion is a master of words and this book is about grief. She loses her husband and almost loses her daughter in a matter of months in two separate events. I have been thinking about reading this book for years. Because it is a short read, coming in at just over two hundred pages, I know it’s conciseness will only make it that much more poignant of a read.

I hope these synopses didn’t bore you to tears, but if anything, they aren’t fake news and I wasn’t yelling at you.

Have a great day, Bookworms.

“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”

– Groucho Marx

What to Talk About at Boring Parties

The other night I was thinking about an old stack books, because that’s where my mind goes at random intervals. These books were bought at some used book sale several years ago. They all have cloth bindings and are old text books- more suited for decor than for interesting reading. There was one exception. I knew a copy of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables was amongst the stack. Again, I’m not sure what prompted this thought and then further prompted me to dig LM out. But I did.

I found Les Mis as it so commonly is shortened to and flipped it open. I had never read this before and didn’t even know the story line (don’t judge) because I haven’t seen the movies or operas based upon it either. I do know the character Jean Valijean, but honestly that and the fact that Hugo is the author is as far as my knowledge goes. I read the first few pages and thought, hmm, this is decent and doesn’t feel tedious ( in full disclosure, I find many ‘older’ classic-types to feel tedious due to the syntax/writing style). I can’t say that my intentions were to stop everything and read this book, but it definitely was going to be added to the outrageous stack already living and collecting dust on my nightstand.

After reading those first pages I flipped to the front and read the short blurb about Hugo. I find those fascinating, especially when a book was written in the 1800s. What I don’t usually find fascinating and skip over is the forward section. Forwards are usually long-winded, often time present spoilers (which is definitely not needed in a book that may have next to no twists or surprises!), and in my opinion, simply something for a Ph.D student or subsequent professor to brag about at boring parties. Thanks, but no thanks, just pass me the Danielle Steel and no one gets hurt. Anyway. This book had a section called The Publisher’s Note and that’s where it got interesting.

The first paragraph reads, “Many authors and editors extol as a virtue the ability to skip as a means of extending one’s reading habits.” The widely read and popular author W. Somerset Maugham is listed as an “outstanding advocate” of skipping and he is actually called the “dean of the contemporary literary world” in this note.

Summarizing the publisher’s note (you can read it in its entirety above) states that more of the greatest novels would be more widely read if they were not too long or too slow in tempo. The note does go on to say that the modern reader is often “deprived of savoring the richness of the classics because of the lack of time.” However right after this statement it is said that often many writers of the classics were…wait for it: paid. by. the. word. Due to this pay structure, this “sometimes made them more verbose than they might otherwise have been.” Hmm, ya think? Sometimes? Shit-fire, people! This was the 1800s, if you could add thousands of words for extra dough you could buy so many…candles? Hay for your horse? Sorry, I’m being a jerk.

It goes on to say that editors have “deleted large blocks of unnecessary narrations, description, and unimportant historical data, the story line…[stays] intact.” So literary purists will abhor the practice of skipping I’m sure, and is skipping just another name for abridged? Before reading this note the idea of an abridged novel bothered me. The small section of my brain that could maybe be called a literary purist would shout or maybe say nicely from the rooftops, “Just give me the whole darn novel!” However, in light of hearing about these authors being paid by the word, my opinion has changed.

I love beautiful writing as much as the next reader, what I don’t like is ridiculousness, more specifically, ridiculousness for profit. Whether it’s from a classic or a contemporary novel does not matter, if one, two or more hundred pages can be cut and the story line isn’t affected or cheapened, isn’t that a no-brainer? No offense Moby Dick, but a million pages about ropes is a bit much. To be fair, I’m not just here to pick on classics (there just happens to be a lot of examples, thanks, Don Quixote). A more contemporary example of cutting to more to the chase would be Donna Tartt. Disclaimer: I love and have read all three of her books. The Goldfinch is my favorite by far and I m excited to see the upcoming movie. That being said, her novels could definitely benefit from a delete key or ten.

Bookworms, I am a lover of large books, but not large books that feel tedious or simply (as some people feel, but won’t admit) give bragging rights at boring parties. Life is too short.

“I intend to put up with nothing that I can put down.”

– Edgar Allan Poe