21 April 2012

The literati are abuzz

Bird Loomis sent me a link to Ann Patchett's response to the Pulitzer Prize Board's decision not to award a prize for fiction this year. The New York Times op-ed was "And the Winner Isn't..."

Patchett, who had a book eligible to compete this year, said that "It’s fine to lose to someone, and galling to lose to no one." And, as a book store owner, she "can’t imagine there was ever a year we were so in need of the excitement it [a Pulitzer Prize] creates in readers."

She also bemoans about an American culture where "book coverage in the media [is] split evenly between Fifty Shades of Grey and The Hunger Games. She'd prefer "to have people talking about The Pale King, David Foster Wallace’s posthumous masterwork..." [I pretty sure she meant it was published after Foster's death, not that he wrote it from an afterworld.]

Patchett ends with a standard cultural defender statement: "Let me underscore the obvious here: Reading fiction is important. It is a vital means of imagining a life other than our own, which in turn makes us more empathetic beings. Following complex story lines stretches our brains beyond the 140 characters of sound-bite thinking, and staying within the world of a novel gives us the ability to be quiet and alone, two skills that are disappearing faster than the polar icecaps.

"Unfortunately, the world of literature lacks the scandal, hype and pretty dresses that draw people to the Academy Awards, which, by the way, is not an institution devoted to choosing the best movie every year as much as it is an institution designed to get people excited about going to the movies. The Pulitzer Prize is our best chance as writers and readers and booksellers to celebrate fiction. This was the year we all lost."

What do you think? Write and tell this little bit of the world.

And while you're at it, here's the list of Pulitzer Prizes for fiction (before 1947 it was for novels):

    •    1947: All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren
    •    1948: Tales of the South Pacific by James A. Michener
    •    1949: Guard of Honor by James Gould Cozzens
    •    1950: The Way West by A. B. Guthrie, Jr.
    •    1951: The Town by Conrad Richter
    •    1952: The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk
    •    1953: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
    •    1954: No award given
    •    1955: A Fable by William Faulkner
    •    1956: Andersonville by MacKinlay Kantor
    •    1957: No award given
    •    1958: A Death in the Family by James Agee (posthumous win)
    •    1959: The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters by Robert Lewis Taylor
    •    1960: Advise and Consent by Allen Drury
    •    1961: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
    •    1962: The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O'Connor
    •    1963: The Reivers by William Faulkner
    •    1964: No award given
    •    1965: The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau
    •    1966: The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter by Katherine Anne Porter
    •    1967: The Fixer by Bernard Malamud
    •    1968: The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron
    •    1969: House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday
    •    1970: The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford by Jean Stafford
    •    1971: No award given
    •    1972: Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
    •    1973: The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty
    •    1974: No award given
    •    1975: The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
    •    1976: Humboldt's Gift by Saul Bellow
    •    1977: No award given
    •    1978: Elbow Room by James Alan McPherson
    •    1979: The Stories of John Cheever by John Cheever
    •    1980: The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer
    •    1981: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
    •    1982: Rabbit Is Rich by John Updike
    •    1983: The Color Purple by Alice Walker
    •    1984: Ironweed by William Kennedy
    •    1985: Foreign Affairs by Alison Lurie
    •    1986: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
    •    1987: A Summons to Memphis by Peter Taylor
    •    1988: Beloved by Toni Morrison
    •    1989: Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler
    •    1990: The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos
    •    1991: Rabbit at Rest by John Updike
    •    1992: A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
    •    1993: A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler
    •    1994: The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx
    •    1995: The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
    •    1996: Independence Day by Richard Ford
    •    1997: Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer by Steven Millhauser
    •    1998: American Pastoral by Philip Roth
    •    1999: The Hours by Michael Cunningham
    •    2000: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
    •    2001: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
    •    2002: Empire Falls by Richard Russo
    •    2003: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
    •    2004: The Known World by Edward P. Jones
    •    2005: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
    •    2006: March by Geraldine Brooks
    •    2007: The Road by Cormac McCarthy
    •    2008: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
    •    2009: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
    •    2010: Tinkers by Paul Harding
    •    2011: A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
    •    2012: No award given.

I've only read half of dozen of these. The Old Man and the Sea and To Kill a Mockingbird were the ones I liked best. Chabon's mysterious brick, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay was my least favorite.

What have you read? What did you think? Is this a list of America's best fiction from the last 65 years? Or just a committee's award to get us excited about reading fiction?   Write and tell this little bit of the world.

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