My Love/Hate relationship with Pulitzer Prize winning novels

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….


About Anne Loughrey

I am an avid member of several book clubs and a prolific keeper of my books. I love to discuss books and hear what others think of books I have read.
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6 Responses to My Love/Hate relationship with Pulitzer Prize winning novels

  1. bob says:

    Hi Anne!!! Interesting query.. What makes Jackson Pollack great? Anyone can stand back and throw paint at a canvas.. What makes Andy Warhol great? Anyone can hang with Mick and Bianca and re-hue photographs of Campbell’s soup cans. What makes Pablo Picassso great? anyone can draw/paint distorted figures with three eyes and give it a catchy name.. Though, that said, what I think makes Pulitzer material both *worthy and yet completely ridiculous is politics, agendas, current bias, coming out against the right, establishment bashing, socialism, etc.. (*, Middlesex, J. Eugenides, the epic tale of a brother and sister marrying each other for the opportunity to emigrate to the US. Well written? Yes. Best novel in the world for it’s year? No. Agenda? Yes. Quintessential liberalism? Yes. Sex in your face to prove a point? yes. Love ya, Bobby-

    • Bobby, I always love your unique perspective. I have always wondered how to properly judge modern art (i.e. Picasso not my thing) and books are just another art form. I think you throw in a little liberalism and sex and it always makes for a good book though! Love ya back! Anne

  2. Kim says:

    A Visit From The Goon Squad was one of my book club’s picks from last year, that is, when I belonged to a book club. My book clubs tend to fizzle out. (Wonder if it’s me?) I did not enjoy the first 50 or so pp., so I did not finish it. I don’t have the “stick-with-itness that you have, Anne!!

    • Kim, I didn’t know you quit your book club, maybe it’s time to start another one? So far I am liking the first chapters. I like that the narrator changes, to me that keeps me on my toes as a reader and helps me deal with my adult ADD. If I like it, maybe you can finish it? NASH VEGAS baby! xoxo your sis

  3. RFW says:

    I had the same problem with Tinkers – never did finish it or “Goon Squad.” You make a good point about the Pulitzer; I have more luck with Man Booker Prize winners – well, some anyway.

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