My friend Gisele is probably the most well-read person I know. She is one of those people that writers love– she’ll actually go into a bookstore, pick up a hardcover book by someone she has never read before, peruse the front matter, and if she likes it, she’ll buy it. Go, Gisele! She regularly orders the Amazon.com recommendations just because they sound interesting. Again, we love you, Gisele!
But recently, this wonderful, literate, adventuresome reader fell into the dark pit of Pulitzer Prize Winners, sucked in by a book club that reads only Pulitzers. I have to give her credit; she stayed with it longer than I would have. She stayed with it longer than I thought she would have, and I have great admiration for her determination. It began with tentative comments, “It’s hard to find a book I enjoy” and escalated to “These Pulitzer books are brutal!” and finally, “Why is it so hard to find a Pulitzer book I can actually read? Who chooses these things anyway? How can a book win a Pulitzer Prize when it’s unreadable?”
I think that's an excellent question. Shouldn't the first requirement for a book-- prize-winning or not-- be that it's, well, readable?
This is not to say that there have not been some wonderful reads among the Pulitzer Prize winners over the past half century or so: Gone With the Wind, Lonesome Dove, Grapes of Wrath, To Kill a Mockingbird, Tales of the South Pacific, The Color Purple to name just a few. These books prove that a novel can be engaging, evocative, tell an actual story and still be important. A book doesn’t have to be incomprehensible to win a prize. A book can, in fact, do what it’s supposed to do– inform, transform and entertain (yes, that dirty word–entertain!)the reader and do it so extraordinarily well that it is recognized for excellence by the literary community. So I guess the real question is, why can't more of them do that?
If you’d like to join Gisele in her Pulitzer struggles, here, in absolutely no particular order, are my personal top recommendations:
The Color Purple
To Kill a Mockingbird
Advise and Consent
Tales of the South Pacific
Grapes of Wrath
Gone With the Wind
The Good Earth
For a more complete list, you can go to www.pulitzer.org