I have a love/hate relationship with Pulitzer Prize winning books. One one hand, I love to read them to try to find out what makes the 18 member board pick the book. But quite frankly, I almost never like the book.
I recently finished Paul Harding’s first novel, “Tinkers”. It started out well and is a compact little (less than 200 page) novel which seemed perfect for me as I nursed my daughter back to health as she recovers from her ACL repair surgery.
However, once again, I realize that I don’t understand what makes for a Pulitzer prize winning novel. This book is the 2010 award winner but I don’t see what made it so special. Yes, there were some interesting moments and the premise of the dying man reconciling with his family hours before his death seem to be a compelling enough subject. Yet there were whole sections of the book that appear to be passages from clock repair manuals that frankly, I just skimmed over. I may have missed something but they didn’t add to the story about this dying man’s reconciliation with his family.
As I puzzled over this, I began to get curious about how a Pulitzer Prize Winning novel is chosen. It turns out that the criteria to receive the prize is that it must be “a distinguished piece of fiction by an American writer, preferably about American life.”
I went back and looked at all the winners of the prize since 1965 and was amazed that I had read 17 of the 46 winning books.
Actually, I thought I had suffered through more of them and I learned that there were 3 years during this time that there was not a winner. Apparently 1971, 1974 and 1977 were not banner years for writers because there was not a winner and according to the website this only happens when “the entries fall below the standard of excellence”.
I can’t resist, so let me get a little catty here. After reading a few Pulitzer winners over the last years I used to joke that the only thing I knew about award winning novels is that I won’t like them. So maybe 1971, 1974 and 1977 would have been MY years?
Although to be completely truthful, I HAVE actually liked a few of the winners. In fact, 2 winners stand out as books I really loved. Both “A confederacy of dunces” by John Kennedy Toole which won in 1981 was excellent as was the 2002 winner “Empire Falls” by Richard Russo.
In the end, I didn’t HATE the novel “Tinkers”, I just didn’t see what makes it so special. But that said, I did just order the 2011 winner: “A visit from the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan.
So I guess I am still trying to figure it out….