Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Close but no cigar

Did you hear that the Pulitzer Prizes were announced yesterday and, for the first time since 1977, no prize was awarded for fiction? That seems pretty curious in view of the fact that there was some pretty darned good fiction released within the past year.

The only three books in the fiction category that were finalists in the nominating process for the prize were Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, Train Demons by Denis Johnson, and The Pale King by David Foster Wallace. I have not read any of the three - yet. (To be perfectly honest, I'd never even heard of Johnson's book, but now that I have, I'll look it up and see if its something I might have an interest in reading.) But I did read several books published in 2011 that I certainly think were worthy of Pulitzer consideration and I blogged about all of them here: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach; The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht; State of Wonder by Ann Patchett; and The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, to name just four.

One difference that I see between the four books that I just mentioned and the three nominated by the Pulitzer committee is that my four had a pretty wide audience. They were not necessarily blockbuster best-sellers, but they sold well. The three nominees, I believe, were not that popular. Perhaps acceptance and popularity with the public is a strike against a book when it comes to being considered for this prize. Sometimes prize-giving entities like these seem to enjoy rewarding obscurity.

Of course, I don't know what the Pulitzer nominating committee or the board that makes the final selection have as their standards and guidelines, but I do think that the books that I read compare very favorably with many of the winners for fiction down through the years.

I was happy to see that at least one book that I read did win. Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt won in the General Nonfiction category. Well deserved.

UPDATE: See this Daily Beast article for more on the issue and the selection process.

UPDATE 2: Also, here's an excellent op-ed by Ann Patchett on the subject.


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