25 Years of Pulitzer Winners and Me

In a rare turn of events, no Pulitzer for fiction was awarded this year.  That got me to thinking about my own history with that award.  Here are my notes on the last quarter century of Pulitzer winners.

  1. 2011 A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan.     Sounds interesting, but I’m not really that excited by it.  Probably won’t read it.
  2. 2010 Tinkers by Paul Harding.     Read it.  Really enjoyed it.  Gave it an 8/10.  Review here.
  3. 2009 Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.     Read it.  Moderately enjoyed it.  Gave it a 7/10.  Review here.
  4. 2008 The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.     Not familiar with it.  The title alone is enticing, but is it enough so that I’ll look into it?  Honestly, if it’s not already on the priority list, chances are it won’t claw its way in anytime soon.
  5. 2007 The Road by Cormac McCarthy.     Read it.  Loved it.  Gave it a 10/10.  No review necessary–what could I possibly add?
  6. 2006 March by Geraldine Brooks.     I wouldn’t mind reading this—it might get into the real “to do” list some day, but not soon.
  7. 2005 Gilead by Marilynne Robinson .    Read this a couple of months ago on Spring Break.  Loved it.  Gave it a 10/10.  Reminded me of Haruf’s Plainsong, which I also loved.
  8. 2004 The Known World by Edward P. Jones.     Not familiar with it.
  9. 2003 Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.     Somewhat familiar with the author—might enjoy it, but probably won’t ever make it a priority.
  10. 2002 Empire Falls by Richard Russo.     Read it in 2008.  Fantastic.  Gave it an 8/10—very thoughtful and creative vision of small town life, but I remember thinking that the ending act was forced melodrama.
  11. 2001 The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon.     I can’t believe I haven’t read this yet!  Definitely on my “to-do” list.
  12. 2000 Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri.     Not familiar with it.
  13. 1999 The Hours by Michael Cunningham.     Haven’t read the book, but I saw the movie, and I did not like it.  I found it to be pretentious, preachy, and predictable.
  14. 1998 American Pastoral by Philip Roth.     Another one I can’t believe I haven’t read, and expect to get around to sometime this year or next.
  15. 1997 Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer by Steven Millhauser.    Not familiar with it.
  16. 1996 Independence Day by Richard Ford.     I remember being intrigued by this when it came out, but I never got around to it, and now I most likely never will.
  17. 1995 The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields .    Read it in 2001.  Must have been pretty darn impressed, because I gave it a 9/10!  I remember now that it traced a heartbreakingly bittersweet life with a decade between each chapter.
  18. 1994 The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx.     Read it in 2003, and also gave it a 9/10, but I think I’m wise to have avoided the movie.
  19. 1993 A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler.     Not familiar with it at all.
  20. 1992 A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley.     Didn’t read it, but listened to the first half or so on tape in the car.  Can’t remember why I didn’t finish, since I recall liking it.  A modern retelling of King Lear, yes?  Maybe I’ll go back and read this sometime.
  21. 1991 Rabbit At Rest by John Updike.     Never been the least bit interested in John Updike’s tales of whiny Baby Boomers.
  22. 1990 The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos.   Not familiar with it…I think.  Wasn’t this made into a movie?  It actually sounds interesting…but probably not enough to get around to reading it.
  23. 1989 Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler.     Like The Shipping News, a 2003 read—that was a good year for Pulitzer novels.  I only gave it a 7/10, though—I recall the writing being solid, but the story being pedestrian and uninspired.
  24. 1988 Beloved by Toni Morrison.     I read this for a class in college, and appreciated it, but don’t know if I really enjoyed it.  I admit that, like too many college readings, I never finished it—no doubt that if I read it today, I’d love it.  I should really, really go back and complete this one.
  25. 1987 A Summons to Memphis by Peter Taylor.    Never even heard of it.  A sad ending to this list, as the next entry, for 1986, would have been Lonesome Dove, which I just started a few days ago.  I can say that the first six chapters of that weighty Western are mighty excellent.

So out of these 25 books, I’ve only read eight.  I read part of another, listened to half of one on tape, and saw a film based on a third.  I only intend to read three of the others.  And there are seven that I know nothing about at all.

And yet I still think that the Pulitzer has a better track record of recognizing pure quality and predicting legacies than the Nobel does.

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