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Friday, June 12, 2009

BRIEF COMMENTS ON PULITZER FICTION WINNERS

In a past blog I told about my hobby of reading every Pulitzer Prize winning fiction book from the year I was born, 1949, to the present. When I began, it was a challenge for a slow book reader like me to catch up to the present before I die; but I've done it! And after finishing each book, I jot down a brief comment about it, and I thought I'd share these comments with you.


GUARD OF HONOR (1949, Cozzens) - Too much characterization. Not enough plot.
THE WAY WEST (1950, Guthrie) - Very good. You ride right along with them on that hard journey.
THE TOWN (1951, Richter) - Excellent book. Very different, and not predictable. Prose flows.
THE CAINE MUTINY (1952, Wouk) - Excellent. Couldn't put it down.
THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA (1953, Hemingway) - Profundity in simplicity. Inspires one to write.
A FABLE (1955, Faulkner) - Terrible. Not recommended, except as a cruel joke. Beautiful words, but what did they say?
ANDERSONVILLE (1956, Kantor) - Very good book, yet depressing and too long. Kept interest, but relieved when finished.
A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (1958, Agee) - Simple, very descriptive, very realistic. Good book.
THE TRAVELS OF JAMIE McPHEETERS (1959, Taylor) - Wonderful work! Like Huckleberry Finn. Couldn't put it down. Was sorry it ended.
ADVISE AND CONSENT (1960, Drury) - Unexpectedly excellent! Makes me more patriotic, more conservative, and interested in government.
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1961, Lee) - The excellent movie was faithful to the book, and the book contains more good story and meat than the movie.
THE EDGE OF SADNESS (1962, O'Connor) - Very good. Slow moving, seemingly without plot, but toward the end couldn't put it down. Moving.
THE REIVERS (1963, Faulkner) - No reader should have to learn how to make sense of an author's writing. Nevertheless, after not understanding much of the beginning, finally learning how to read around Faulkner's parentheses, the book made sense once the trip began, and it turned out to be an enjoyably good story.
THE KEEPERS OF THE HOUSE (1965, Grau) - I liked this book. Well written, it gives you thoughts to carry with you.
COLLECTED STORIES OF KATHERINE ANNE PORTER (1966) - It's my understanding that stories must have endings. The Collected "Stories" of K.A.P. is a misnomer.
THE FIXER (1967, Malamud) - A book full of suffering and with no ending.
THE CONFESSIONS OF NAT TURNER (1968, Styron) - A disturbing book--well written.
HOUSE MADE OF DAWN (1969, Momaday) - The many flashbacks are sudden and confusing--hence boring.
COLLECTED STORIES OF JEAN STAFFORD (1970) - An OK book, well written, but only a few of the stories did I get caught up in.
ANGLE OF REPOSE (1972, Stegner) - Took patience to get through it, but it's good. Neat mix of past and present.
THE OPTIMIST'S DAUGHTER (1973, Welty) - Easy to get through. Causes one to think about his own life more.
THE KILLER ANGELS (1975, Shaara) - Superb book--hard to put down. Sparked new interest in the Civil War.
HUMBOLDT'S GIFT (1976, Bellow) - Seemed a long time to get through. Had trouble relating to the characters, and perhaps this is a good thing.
ELBOW ROOM (1978, McPherson) - Some stories flowed; the last one stumbled. Was happy to finish the book.
THE STORIES OF JOHN CHEEVER (1979) - Flowing style, some stories pulled me in, many didn't--but it took forever to get through it.
THE EXECUTIONER'S SONG (1980, Mailer) - Book was too long, but it kept my interest.
A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES (1981, Toole) - Wonderfully enjoyable book. Inspires me to write. This is my second reading of it, and I was sorry to see it end.
RABBIT IS RICH (1982, Updike) - Even pornography can somehow earn a Pulitzer.
THE COLOR PURPLE (1983, Walker) - A well-written and inoffensive presentation of feminism and lesbianism.
IRONWEED (1984, Kennedy) - Increases your care for "bums." Good book.
FOREIGN AFFAIRS (1985, Lurie) - A boring book for bored women, except pages 140 and 173.
LONESOME DOVE (1986, McMurtry) - The book I dreaded for its thickness turned out to be my favorite Pulitzer so far. I slid enthusiastically through its 820 pages.
A SUMMONS TO MEMPHIS (1987, Taylor) - A waste of time.
BELOVED (1988, Morrison) - Sections are not chronological and their transitions are so subtle that I kept losing track of where (when) I was. Contained some terrible images of slavery and its desperate result. Didn't end right.
BREATHING LESSONS (1989, Tyler) - Anne Tyler is a great studier of people. Enjoyable book--and thoughtful.
MAMBO KINGS PLAY SONGS OF LOVE (1990, Hijuelos) - A boring book by a horny author.
RABBIT AT REST (1991, Updike) - A bit slow at times, but generally good. Better than "Rabbit is Rich."
A THOUSAND ACRES (1992, Smiley) - Good book, as my reading speed shows. Takes you through a gamut of emotions.
A GOOD SCENT FROM A STRANGE MOUNTAIN (1993, Butler) - Good, easy-to-read book of short stories increasing appreciation for our Vietnamese immigrants.
THE SHIPPING NEWS (1994, Proulx) - Good book. Liked the Newfoundland setting. Although strange, was easy to relate to.
THE STONE DIARIES (1995, Shields) - Lack of organization in writing enhances the realism of this woman's life story.
INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996, Ford) - Boring book about a character I have nothing in common with. The only action was a boy getting hit in the eye by a baseball. Pulitzer???
MARTIN DRESSLER: TALE OF AN AMERICAN DREAMER (1997, Millhauser) - I sailed through this book, and it will stay with me.
AMERICAN PASTORAL (1998, Roth) - Seemed disorganized, with too much dwelling on distractions. Boring. No plot--just an upsetting situation. No real ending, after all that.
THE HOURS (1999, Cunningham) - If you can get past the idea that life is futile, and if you like homosexuality, you'd probably like this book.
INTERPRETER OF MALADIES (2000, Lahiri) - Very good writing! A delight to read these short stories. Especially liked the last two.
THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER AND CLAY (2001, Chabon) - Jews and especially homosexuals guaranteed it a contemporary Pulitzer win. Okay book, but not as good as its cover.
EMPIRE FALLS (2002, Russo) - Good book. Good author. I liked it. Not mind-blowing, but life expanding nevertheless.
MIDDLESEX (2003, Eugenides) - There is a lot in this book! Worthy of a Pulitzer. Either this is a true story, or the author is a genius.
THE KNOWN WORLD (2004, Jones) - With the subject of black slavery assuring its Pulitzer, this book bounces around but comes together at the same time. I liked the ending.
GILEAD (2005, Robinson) - Unusual book for a Pulitzer--a Christian book--written as a diary of a minister, a letter to his young son he is too old to raise. Being the son and grandson of ministers, I could relate to this book and it's made me more thoughtful.
MARCH (2006, Brooks) - Excellent book taking place in and around the Underground Railroad and the Civil War--a must-read for fans of Alcott's "Little Women."
THE ROAD (2007, McCarthy) - Excellent book--easy to read and hard to put down. If you want to appreciate more what you have, read this book.
THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO (2008, Diaz) - Despite the fact that you need to know Spanish to get the full meaning of this book, despite the cussing, despite there being more abortions in it than quotation marks, I can't say that I disliked the book. It's a depressing read, about a family curse, but I couldn't help liking Oscar.
OLIVE KITTERIDGE (2009, Strout) - A life-changing book, good reading all the way through.
TINKERS (2010, Harding) - I managed to get through this book on my second attempt. Its layout confused me, bouncing back and forth between the story of two, then three, people, occasionally inserting parts I never did figure out. But in this book is the best description I’ve ever read of what it’s like to die slowly.
A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD (2011, Egan) - This book was good for me, in that it described a generation I had intentionally skipped. Its organization, though, confused and frustrated me, to the point that I thought it would be better to read the chapters in reverse order and take notes on who the characters are. But as I finished its pages, I realized that this is a realistic view of life, and that the organization of life itself is also confusing and frustrating. It’s obvious that the author is vastly experienced, as well as a good writer (e.g. “It’s turning out to be a bad day, a day when the sun feels like teeth").
THE ORPHAN MASTER'S SON (2013, Johnson) - The feeling of despair I had while reading the 1956 book, "Andersonville" (see above), returned to me in this hard glimpse of the most alienated nation on Earth, North Korea. This book takes the reader into what it's like to "live" in a completely Communist and tyrannical condition, where religion is supplanted by the state and the "Dear Leader" is god. It's a good read, and leaves me with the relief that, despite the Obama administration, we haven't yet fallen that far.
THE GOLDFINCH (2014, Tartt) - Taking place in current times, this book has several unexpected twists and took me through places I've never been while making me relive so many parts and feelings of my own life. It's one of my favorite Pulitzer Prize winners, and I can see myself reading its 771 pages again. I kept looking at the picture of the author, who could be so knowledgable, skilled, insightful and experienced to write such a book.
ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE (2015, Doerr) - Being a fairly slow reader, it's not often that I read a 530-page book in ten days, but it was hard to put down. It's about a German boy and a blind French girl in World War II, and that's all I'll say. I found myself enjoying simple foods more, sitting out on the porch and enjoying the breeze, and just appreciating life more. Reading this good book, truly worthy of a Pulitzer, will make your life fuller and your mind more thoughtful.
THE SYMPATHIZER (2016, Nguyen) - Having given myself the challenge of reading every Pulitzer Prize winning fiction book published in my lifetime, is the only thing that got me through this book. Not liking the protagonist and not caring what happens to him makes for a very boring and unworthwhile read. Now that I've read 382 depressing pages about a bad man finally becoming insane, I can move on to good books. And to top it off, and I hope it's not the new thing, none of the conversations have quotation marks, adding confusion to depression. But I made it through.
THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD (2017, Whitehead) - Another Pulitzer Prize winner about the atrocities of slavery, fomenting racism in blacks and guilt in whites. Although I was troubled by the author's order--often telling the end of the story before the story--the book did keep my interest because I wanted to know what becomes of Cora, whose story did come before the end. But the book describes the "underground railroad" as a literal network of actual trains that crossed the country in secret underground! Sorry. Tunnels don't get blasted in silence. Locomotives don't tip-toe. Didn't happen. And so this fantasy bothered me throughout the book.



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2 comments:

  1. Oh, I feel the same way about House Made of Dawn. I was all excited about it because I'm part Cherokee and was interested that a Native American person won the Pulitzer. But I kind-of don't like it and don't know if I'll finish. (Sorry, Mr. Momaday) I also felt the same way about Middlesex: either it's true, or Eugenides is a freakin' genius.

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  2. Very impressive Dale. Top of the line fiction for sure. Hope you get thru many, many more books before you bite the dust! Your friend and Army buddy, Dennis Christen

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