Tag Archives: pulitzer

A List of Good Books the Pulitzer Didn’t Pick

Gabe Habash -- April 17th, 2012

Some reactions following the announcement that the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction was a head fake:

“Shocked…angry…and very disappointed.”

-Pulitzer fiction juror Susan Larson

“Honestly, I feel angry on behalf of three great American novels.”

-Pulitzer fiction juror Maureen Corrigan

“I was so thrilled for Karen,” Ms. Pavlin said. “Then my second response was, what a shame, because the committee had it within their power to do something so wonderful for any one of those novelists. And they, for whatever reason, chose not to.”

-Swamplandia! editor Jordan Pavlin

According to the Pulitzer’s site, the award is “for distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life.” But no book, apparently, was distinguished enough.

There are a lot of people who lose out with this decision, the largest group of which is the reading public, who, as the Washington Post‘s Ron Charles tweeted, “would have been directed to a good novel.” Larson said the fiction reading community hopefully will now be encouraged to “read three books instead of one,” and we couldn’t agree more. That’s why we’ve put together some good books from last year that the Pulitzer didn’t think were worthy.

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson

The Pale King by David Foster Wallace

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

The Call by Yannick Murphy

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock

Changó’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes by William Kennedy

We the Animals by Justin Torres

Open City by Teju Cole

Someday This Will Be Funny by Lynne Tillman

I Married You for Happiness by Lily Tuck

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

Ghost Lights by Lydia Millet

A Moment in the Sun by John Sayles

My New American Life by Francine Prose

Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta

The Submission by Amy Waldman

Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore by Benjamin Hale

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell

Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman

The Angel Esmeralda by Don DeLillo

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

The Best Year in Fiction was 1958

Gabe Habash -- August 4th, 2011

Okay, let’s get it out of the way at the beginning: there is no actual way to determine if one year is better for books. There isn’t an algorithm for quantifying the impact of a year’s fiction versus another’s.

But let’s pretend that there is. Let’s say you could definitively declare how good a year was for fiction, just like wine.

If you could, the best fiction year for America in the last fifty years would be 1958.

But why?

First, let’s look at Awards. Here’s what 1958′s major literary awards landscape looked like:

The Pulitzer Prize: A Death in the Family by James Agee

The Nobel Prize in Literature: Boris Pasternak (for Dr. Zhivago)

The National Book Award: The Wapshot Chronicle by John Cheever

If we look at these awards as a three-pillared representation of the highest sampling of literary fiction, 1958′s three books trounce the three books that any other year can offer. 1972 had Flannery O’Connor’s Collected Stories (NBA) and Stegner’s Angle of Repose (Pulitzer), but its Nobel winner, Heinrich Böll, can’t compete with Pasternak, who had the bestselling book of 1958 (and the #2 bestselling book of 1959). 1958′s other two flagship books, Family and Wapshot, are well-respected as well: the former making it onto Time’s 100 Best English Language Novels Since 1923 and the latter ranking #63 on The Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels.

So, that’s 1958′s awards. But let’s also take a look at the Other Notable Books of 1958:

The other notable nominees for the National Book Award of 1958 were: A Death in the Family by James Agee, By Love Possessed by James Gould Cozzens, The Assistant by Bernard Malamud, Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov, and Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.

That’s an absolutely stacked field of nominees (though many of the nominees weren’t first published in 1958, they reached the heights of their critical recognition that year). Malamud’s novel was included in Time’s 100 Best list, and Atlas Shrugged has sold over 7 million copies since its publication. And, just because this is really cool, the film adaptation of By Love Possessed was the very first in-flight movie, shown on a TWA flight in 1961.

And those are just the notable award nominees. Here are a few other notable books from 1958:

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote, Dr. No by Ian Fleming, The Dharma Burns by Jack Kerouac, and Exodus by Leon Uris.

And one final book made its debut in America in 1958. It was picked up by G.P. Putman’s Sons following some initial nervousness (the book had been called pornography overseas), but the book ended up selling 100,000 copies in its first three weeks (good enough to make it the #3 bestselling book of 1958) and has since gone on to be considered one of the finest novels of the 20th century. That book is Lolita.

That’s why 1958 was the best year for fiction. Ultimately, the number of important books and the degree of their importance was the highest in 1958.

And, 1958 is exceptional for its sheer variety of quality books. The fact that 1958′s Nobel Prize winner was also 1958′s bestselling author is about as objective as it gets in measuring both critical and commercial success.

So, that’s our inexact formula for why 1958 tops all other years for its fiction. Disagree? Let us know in the comments!