Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Guest Post: In Defense of the Pulitzer Board

Amy here. Again. Fulfilling my role of being contrary.

Everyone is up in arms about the no-award year for fiction. (And by everyone, I mean the industry as reported by the New York Times, Ann Patchett, and my husband. But that’s a start.)

We don’t know what happened –whether it was an intentional snub, or whether they simply couldn’t garner a majority. But either way, I have no problem with it. And here’s why:

No “Pulitzer book” was published this year.

What is a Pulitzer book? I don’t know that I could generate a precise definition, one that would include all the right books and exclude all the wrong ones. But here’s a start:

They are big, sweeping, ambitious books that tell the stories of American lives.

Often, they involve multiple generations, or at least the lifespan of one quirky character.

They’re compulsively readable without being too light.

They’re not overly fancy or experimental. (The books are, after all, chosen mostly by journalists, not the literary elite.)

They’re of truly high quality, both in prose and in heart. I believe them.

Don’t get me wrong. Not all the books that win fit this mold. But the Board never seems to stray too far from this category, and they return to it again and again. It’s Middlesex. It’s Cavalier & Klay, and Empire Falls. They don’t have to be the very best, most artistically accomplished, groundbreaking books. But it’s a towering achievement in a certain micro-genre.

And nobody wrote one this year.* So what? Keep writing, authors. Keep reading, readers. There are other awards.

*The closest book I came across was The Art of Fielding. It fits the general description, but – and I may be alone here – I found it to be utterly without sparkle. Almost as if it were written by formula, like those movies you think are produced purely for the purpose of getting Oscar nominations. It fails my last criterion. In short, just not good enough.

1 comment:

  1. i am glad that they don't give an award if they don't think one is deserved. maybe the oscars could learn a thing or two.