I’m done. My Pulitzer Project has concluded. While I was unable to read EVERY piece of fiction that won the Pulitzer Prize, I did read as many as I could that could be found electronically. (I probably would have read more had the Verona Public Library’s PalsPlus inter-library catalog been in place when I started.)
It took not quite two years (and I did give myself a few breaks during the process) and I have to say I’m relieved that it’s over. I want to say that in my opinion, winning a Pulitzer doesn’t necessarily mean that the book is good. I found there to be several “clunkers” even though they may have been acclaimed.
Here’s how it breaks down:
1918: His Family by Ernest Poole: Surprisingly good and relevant nearly 100 years later.
1919: The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington: It’s not that the book was bad, I just hated the main character and just wished that he would die and the book would be over already!
1920: No award given.
1921: The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton: Beautifully written, but I wasn’t moved.
1922: Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington: Identified with Alice more than I would have liked to.
1923: One of Ours by Willa Cather: The only Cather I’ve ever read and I don’t know if I’d rush out to read more.
1924: The Able McLaughlins by Margaret Wilson: Unable to find, so I didn’t read.
1925: So Big by Edna Ferber: Love Edna Ferber’s plays (particularly Dinner at Eight, written with George Kaufmann). We all could learn to adjust our attitudes and learn from Selina.
1926: Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis (declined prize): Unable to find.
1927: Early Autumn by Louis Bromfield: Unable to find.
1928: The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder: Like Ferber, I find Wilder’s plays to be more interesting, but this was a relatively quick read.
1929: Scarlet Sister Mary by Julia Peterkin: Unable to find.
1930: Laughing Boy by Oliver La Farge: Unable to find.
1931: Years of Grace by Margaret Ayer Barnes: Unable to find.
1932: The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck: Thought I wasn’t going to like this one, I was wrong. Perhaps like is the wrong word, I found the story compelling and heartbreaking.
1933: The Store by Thomas Sigismund Stribling: Unable to find.
1934: Lamb in His Bosom by Caroline Miller: Unable to find.
1935: Now in November by Josephine Winslow Johnson: Unable to find.
1936: Honey in the Horn by Harold L. Davis: Unable to find.
1937: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell: Read previously and since it is such a LONG novel, I did not re-read during the process. But I love the drama and the story.
1938: The Late George Apley by John Phillips Marquand: Unable to find.
1939: The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings: I thought I would really love this. I didn’t. I wanted Jody to just grow up and stop being bratty.
1940: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck: Another one that just hit me in the gut. Can I say I liked it when it pained me to continue to read? This old story is so relevant to current times and maybe it should be required reading for our nations leaders.
1941: No award given.
1942: In This Our Life by Ellen Glasgow: Unable to find.
1943: Dragon’s Teeth by Upton Sinclair: Unable to find.
1944: Journey in the Dark by Martin Flavin: Unable to find.
1945: A Bell for Adano by John Hersey: The story was simple, but nourished my soul.
1946: No award given.
1947: All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren: I read this my senior year in high school. Didn’t love it then, so didn’t bother to read it again.
1948: Tales of the South Pacific by James A. Michener: A fascinating insight for me into WWII in the Pacific. War is so many things: brutal, crazy, boring, etc. and Michener captures it all.
1949: Guard of Honor by James Gould Cozzens: Could not find.
1950: The Way West by A. B. Guthrie, Jr.: Could not find.
1951: The Town by Conrad Richter: Could not find.
1952: The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk: Walked away not sure who I should have been “rooting” for. The actual mutiny is such a small part of the book that I wondered why the title focuses on it.
1953: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway: Read it my junior year in high school and liked it. It was short enough to read again, but I didn’t. Maybe now that this project is over, I’ll give it another read.
1954: No award given.
1955: A Fable by William Faulkner: I felt like I was reading a foreign language. I didn’t understand this, I couldn’t follow it and I have no idea what the heck it was about! FRUSTRATING!
1956: Andersonville by MacKinlay Kantor: Unable to find.
1957: No award given.
1958: A Death in the Family by James Agee: Sad, sad, sad.
1959: The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters by Robert Lewis Taylor: A good story in a Tom Sawyer/Huckleberry Finn kind of way.
1960: Advise and Consent by Allen Drury: Unable to find.
1961: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: What can I say? This is probably my favorite book of all time. I couldn’t stop myself from re-reading it and I fell in love with it all over again. A MUST read.
1962: The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O’Connor: Unable to find.
1963: The Reivers by William Faulkner (posthumous win): Faulkner again! Oh No! At least I understood this one.
1964: No award given.
1965: The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau: Another MUST read and wondering why more people don’t know about it. If you are moved by To Kill a Mockingbird, follow it up with this wonderful novel!
1966: The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter by Katherine Anne Porter: Some of the stories were amazing and others just so so. I much preferred her Ship of Fools.
1967: The Fixer by Bernard Malamud: Even if you are the happiest person in the world, this book will depress you. Something you SHOULD read, but won’t want to read again.
1968: The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron: Ok, so you’ve shocked and appalled me. Now what?
1969: House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday: Loved some of this; not so much others. Hard to follow. Guess I’m not a stream of consciousness kind of gal. (Which should have been obvious after attempting A Fable.)
1970: The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford by Jean Stafford: Unable to find.
1971: No award given.
1972: Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner: My e-version crashed and burned so I skipped this.
1973: The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty: Dealing with aging parents seems to be a “new” thing. It’s not; just read this.
1974: No award given.
1975: The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara: AMAZING! This is not just reading about Gettysburg, this is living it!
1976: Humboldt’s Gift by Saul Bellow: If this had just been edited down a little bit it would have been a much better book in my opinion. A good book with parts that drone on for too long at times.
1977: No award given.
1978: Elbow Room by James Alan McPherson: Unable to find.
1979: The Stories of John Cheever by John Cheever: Turn some mellow music on your hi-fi, pour yourself a Martini and enjoy.
1980: The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer: This song is too long. Didn’t like anyone in the story…at all!
1981: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole: Don’t get what the fuss is about this book. Many seem to love it and I just thought it was kind of stupid.
1982: Rabbit Is Rich by John Updike: Is this a novel or am I reading a 1970s issue of Playboy (or maybe Penthouse)?
1983: The Color Purple by Alice Walker: Read this when it first came out. It was powerful then and I’m sure it is now. I did not re-read it, but I should (and I will).
1984: Ironweed by William Kennedy: Life is bleak when you are a drunk during the Depression. This book shows you just how bleak.
1985: Foreign Affairs by Alison Lurie: Thought I would like this; wanted to like this, but eh…
1986: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry: Don’t like Westerns; LOVED this. Did start out a little rough (there are A LOT of characters), but by the end it was a wonderful epic. If you don’t like Westerns, read this!
1987: A Summons to Memphis by Peter Taylor: Couldn’t find.
1988: Beloved by Toni Morrison: Great American gothic novel? Just wasn’t for me.
1989: Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler: I read this maybe 15 or so years ago. It was the first Anne Tyler I read. It stuck with me and over the years I’ve read much of her work. Personally, I liked The Beginner’s Goodbye and Noah’s Compass better, but in my opinion pretty much any Anne Tyler is worth reading.
1990: The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos: So so. Some parts so good, some parts not so good (how much sex can you read about?)
1991: Rabbit at Rest by John Updike: Liked this one better than Rabbit is Rich (that’s not saying much). It’s hard to like the book when you don’t like any of the characters that much.
1992: A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley: Supposedly based (loosely) on King Lear, I figured that I wouldn’t like this book that much. I was wrong and now I need to find some more books by Jane Smiley to read.
1993: A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler: Good book of short stories from a perspective that I never would have had.
1994: The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx: An interesting read as I didn’t love it and didn’t hate it. I think I kind of liked it, but not that much. Strange, I know, but so is this story.
1995: The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields: Excellent story, autobiography if you will, of a woman’s life over nearly a century. Told from multiple points of view it is a wonderful read. I’m sure I’ll be reading this one again.
1996: Independence Day by Richard Ford: Liked certain sections more than others. Probably because I’m a Jersey Girl, the parts about the Jersey Shore (there is no “South Mantoloking” but hey…) was what interested me most. The rest…not so much. Since the Jersey Shore was not even half of the book…what can I say?
1997: Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer by Steven Millhauser: Not sure what to say about this one. I enjoyed it. Sometimes I loved Martin (for his ambition) and sometimes I wanted to slap him.
1998: American Pastoral by Philip Roth: I got through it.
1999: The Hours by Michael Cunningham: Read it when it first came out (before it was the movie) so did not re-read. I haven’t seen the movie and honestly after reading it, don’t know if a movie would be worthwhile.
2000: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri: Beautiful short stories. I loved them all.
2001: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon: Enjoyed this, but have to say I enjoyed Wonder Boys more. Quirky is how I would describe the author’s style.
2002: Empire Falls by Richard Russo: Russo is a gifted storyteller. There’s just a wonderful atmosphere to his writing (not unlike Michael Chabon). His characters draw you in and hold you tight.
2003: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides: If you like Greek drama this is for you. I liked it more than I thought I might, but it was quite a long read.
2004: The Known World by Edward P. Jones: I wish I hadn’t known it.
2005: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson: Some of it was very touching, but a good deal put me to sleep.
2006: March by Geraldine Brooks: Has been branded “fan fiction” since it takes a mostly unseen character from Little Women (the father) and gives you his story. I’m not that big of a Little Women fan, but I enjoyed this for the most part.
2007: The Road by Cormac McCarthy: Depressing, but then how could it not be?
2008: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz: I found little to be wondrous and at over 300 pages it certainly wasn’t brief.
2009: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout: Saw the HBO mini-series first and really liked it, so I knew what I to expect. Very “New Englandy” (which is a good thing!)
2010: Tinkers by Paul Harding: Had a similar reaction that I had to Gilead. Some of it was beautifully written, but ultimately it just didn’t do much for me.
2011: A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan: Read it when it first came out and it didn’t make that much of an impact on me, so I didn’t bother to try it again.
2012: No award given.
2013: The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson: My Nook had a problem with this one. It would load and then promptly lose it. I’d find it, start to read it, put it down and when I picked it back up again it was gone. I’d search and eventually find it again, only to have it go back to page 1. After this happened three times I figured it was a sign from the literary Gods and gave up.
2014: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt: This is a LONG book. A very long book. And there were plenty of parts that I really HATED, but there were more parts that I loved. If you’re going to read this, you’ve got to stick to it.
2015: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr: Loved it. Loved and hated the main characters. (If you’ve read this you’ll know why.) Truly worthy of the Pulitzer.
2016: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen: Felt I missed the boat on this one. Wish it WASN”T the last Pulitzer winner that I read. (If I had only started earlier and ended on the 2015 winner)
So there you have it. Out of 89 books, I read 58 over the past 22 months. There are 23 that I should probably go try and find at some point. There were 8 that I had previously read. Of all of these, the ones that I would recommend and would consider re-reading are (in order of publication): His Family, Gone With The Wind, A Bell for Adano, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Killer Angels, The Stories of John Cheever, The Color Purple, Lonesome Dove, Breathing Lessons, A Thousand Acres, The Stone Diaries, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Empire Falls, Olive Kitteridge, The Goldfinch, All The Light We Cannot See.
One more thing: On September 1, the Verona Public Library became a full-fledged member of PalsPlus, which means that we can borrow from 25 other libraries in our area. Just click on the book titles above, hit the “Reserve” button and our Verona Public Library will call you when it comes in. PalsPlus has e-books, audiobooks and large print books too!
Beth Shorten is a life-long resident of Verona. For more than three years she has been chronicling life here on her personal site, Bfth’s Boring Blog.