The beautiful thing about Book Lab is that we’re all nerds of a different feather. That is to say, some of us are into nonfiction. Some of us love thrillers. Some of us love memoirs. Some of us read a lot of juvenile fiction. And some of us (ahem) are stuck-up literary snobs.
About seven years ago, I decided, on my own, to read my way through the Pulitzer Prize list. This seemed like the kind of thing anyone might do. I didn’t finish, but I read a buttload of the winning novels before getting sidetracked with gradate school. So, when Book Lab decided to investigate the Pulitzer Prize, I was sort of surprised. The reason this topic was being investigated was because it turned out that not all of us gave a shit about literary awards, Pulitzer or otherwise. Being the highbrow geek-girl that I am, I was sort of scandalized. But I was also intrigued. What would Book Lab conclude about the Prize?
Jennifer read The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson.
Why did you choose this book? A few days before this Book Lab topic was announced, I found Orphan Master’s Son in the library recycling bin and rescued it. Then when I learned we were going to be doing Pulitzers, I was going over the list of winners, and I saw that this book was on the list. I figured the Universe wanted me to read it.
How many stars do you give it (out of five)? Five RESOUNDING stars.
Does this experience legitimize the Pulitzer Prize for you? That is, would it make you want to read a book simply because it was a winner? It’s not something I’d ever considered before, but I will now. This was a most enjoyable round.
If a book didn’t appeal to you, would you read it anyway based on the fact that it had won a Pulitzer? No. I’d still have to find it appealing on some level, or to have it recommended to me by someone I trusted.
Petra was this round’s overachiever, reading all 900 pages of Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove.
Why picked: I’m an adventure junkie! I loved the idea of this big trek across the country, these really difficult conditions the characters had to endure, and the specific time and place of the setting. It just seemed really interesting to me.
Number of stars: 4.8 out of 5.
Does this legitimize the Prize? If I knew that a book I wanted to read had won a prize, it would be a bonus, an extra incentive for me to read it, but I wouldn’t seek out a book just because it had won. I definitely wouldn’t read a book that didn’t appeal to me based solely on a prize sticker on its cover.
Anna read House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday.
Why picked: For years, this book sat on my book shelf, partially read, until I eventually passed it along to someone else. When I saw its title on the list of Pulitzer Prize winners, I decided to revisit it, and to finish it. I’m glad I did.
How many stars? 4.3 out of 5.
Does this legitimize the prize? Yes! Especially now that I’m seeing everyone else’s response to their books as well.
Would you read a book that didn’t appeal, if it had won the Prize? Yes, but it would have to be coupled with enthusiasm from other trusted readers, or people’s enthusiasm at large would have to pique my curiosity.
Deb read A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley.
Why picked? I was aware of the book when it came out and when it won the prize. I knew that it was about a farm, and the breakup of a family farm. I knew it was loosely based on King Lear. But I guess because I grew up on a farm, the subject just seemed a little close to home and I didn’t want to read it before. I knew it would be sad.
How many stars? 5 out of 5.
Does this legitimize the Prize? No. I don’t care. I’ve never chosen a book based on those kinds of criteria.
So you wouldn’t read a book just because it had won a Pulitzer, even if it didn’t appeal to you. No. There are so many books in the world, so many books that I’d like to read that I haven’t read yet. I can’t waste valuable reading time reading something that doesn’t interest me. It takes more than a Prize to interest me, is what I’m saying.
Nedra read Beloved by Toni Morrison.
Why picked? The book I was initially going to read was 1000 pages. This seemed more manageable. And it was recommended to me.
How many stars? 4 out of 5.
Does this legitimize the Prize? Well, before this experiment, I never considered the Pulitzer Prize when selecting a book. But after this round, it does make me curious about other books that have won.
Would you read a book that didn’t appeal, based on Prize? No. It would still have to appeal to me, or be recommended to me by someone whose literary taste I trusted.
E. D. Watson (Yours Truly) read Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.
Why picked: This was one I’d deliberately passed over when doing my own, private Pulitzer thing several years ago. Linked short stories? About a crabby old lady? In Maine? Um… I’ll pass. But people kept telling me how good it was. How Olive was, like, this cultural icon or something. So, I read it. And holy shit, was that book good.
How many stars: 6.5 out of 5. I’m stealing other people’s unused stars. Sue me.
Does this legitimize the Prize? The Prize was already legitimized for me. I’ve only read a couple of Pulitzer books that seemed unworthy. This wasn’t one of them. A few pages in, I wanted to lick the book. I wanted to read it aloud. I wanted to rub it on my face. It’s that good.
Would you read a book that didn’t appeal? Well, obviously. I devise weird projects for myself, as we’ve already discussed. And like I’ve said, I’ve read only maybe two disappointing Pulitzers. They weren’t total stinkers as books go, but they weren’t lick-the-pages glorious. All in all, I think the Prize is a decent measurement of excellence in literature. It’s good to broaden your horizons and read something to which you wouldn’t otherwise be drawn.
The verdict: Not all of us were converted to literary snobbery, but we more or less agreed that there’s something to the Pulitzer Prize, even if it’s not going to be the reason we pick our next books. I should probably finish reading the list, for bragging rights if nothing else. Nothing impresses other people at a bar like hearing how many Pulitzers you’ve read.