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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Pulitzer Puzzlement

I'm feeling a little down about the whole Pulitzer Prize thing. If you haven't followed this story in the news, what happened is this: on Monday the Pulitzer Prize Board announced that there were three finalists for the fiction prize . . . and no winner.

This confounds me. While I've mostly been immersed in reading Young Adult and Middle Grade fiction in the past couple of years, I still keep tabs on what is coming out in adult contemporary fiction, and I try to read what I can. There are so many exciting voices out there, so many important American novels. It's just incredible to me that out of 314 books surveyed and three finalists -- David Foster Wallace, Karen Russell, and Denis Johnson -- no winner was awarded.

I always look forward to the annual Pulitzer Prize announcement. A few years ago, shortly after my son was born, I made it a personal goal to read every Pulitzer Prize-winning novel written in the past twenty years. It was ambitious, especially given the length of some of the novels. I chewed through eight of them before my son gave up his lengthy naps and I lost my luxurious reading time. But I will never forget that magical time when my son napped and nursed and I let myself be transported through books and ideas. Reading Pulitzer Prize winners one after another at that time in my life was the perfect antidote to the often mind-numbing work of caring for an infant.

Outside of that time period, I've always enjoyed the Pulitzer Prize-winning novels and am grateful that the award brought these books and authors to my attention. These tend to be books that I buy to keep; they occupy prime real estate on my shelves. 

One of my favorite novelists, Ann Patchett, said it best in her Opinion piece for the New York Times the other day:

"Reading fiction is important. It is a vital means of imagining a life other than our own, which in turn makes us more empathetic beings. Following complex story lines stretches our brains beyond the 140 characters of sound-bite thinking, and staying within the world of a novel gives us the ability to be quiet and alone, two skills that are disappearing faster than the polar icecaps. . . . The Pulitzer Prize is our best chance as writers and readers and booksellers to celebrate fiction. This was the year we all lost."

You can read Ann Patchett's article, "And the Winner Isn't . . . " in full here.

You can read the list of past Pulitzer Prize winners and finalists in fiction here


What do you think of this issue? Do you think literary awards are important today? Why or why not? Have you ever discovered a new author or fallen in love with a book -- in any genre -- because it won an award? 

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