The Pulitzers

July 22, 2008 at 9:39 pm | Posted in Book Blather | Leave a comment

Sometimes it’s hard to pick just one reading project, especially when what you really want to do is just read Every Book in the Whole World overnight.  But the Pulitzers are a fairly short list, and arguably worth hunting down.  So I thought I might as well polish them off.  (Then I was glad that I looked at their website, because I found I’d been pronouncing it incorrectly as “Pew-lit-zer” when it’s really “Pull It Sir”).  Luckily, I had already read a few of the post-1980 titles, by coincidence, including the 2007 and 2008 winners.  Rather than cherry-pick, I decided to start at the beginning of the list, skipping over anything I’d already read.


The first book to win the Pulitzer prize for fiction was Ernest Poole’s His Family, in 1918.  (There was no fiction prize awarded in 1917).  I downloaded it from  I have to say I really loved it, although it’s almost embarrassing to read for any woman exposed even briefly to feminism.  One of the dominant themes of the story is the paramount importance of motherhood.  But I found this a very touching story about the inner life of an ordinary businessman and his love for his family.  I don’t think this is a book that could be written today, so there’s also an element of nostalgia that adds to its charm.


By coincidence, again, I had just read The Education of Henry Adams, the biography/autobiography winner of 1918.  What a tremendous book.  Adams talks about being a child in the early 19th century, and how in his lifetime he went from an essentially 18th century mindset to the 20th century.  It is truly terrific to look back on major events of the past through a modern man’s eyes, especially when he is so self-effacing.


Now I’m reading the 1919 fiction winner, The Magnificent Ambersons, by Booth Tarkington, also on PDA.  It’s the second book of Tarkington’s Growth trilogy.  Naturally I wasn’t going to take that lying down, so I read the first volume as well.  The Magnificent Ambersons can be read without The Turmoil, but I thought this was a terrific book, and in fact I got into it sooner than Ambersons.


It’s interesting, historically speaking, to read from both ends of this list at once.  I can scarcely imagine how Poole or Tarkington would react to reading Cormac McCarthy.  It wouldn’t be possible for them to understand more than a few words of Junot Diaz.  If this prize is still being awarded a century from now, I wonder if our modern titles will seem as quaint to those future readers.


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