Monday, October 29, 2012

A Book Report On...

One of the items on my 30 before 30 list is proving more difficult than I thought it would be when I set it. 

1. Read all 87 Pulitzer Prize winning novels (7/87)

When I made the list over 2 years ago, I thought this would be one of the easiest to fulfill. I'm a fast reader. Like, lightning fast. Reading a new Harry Potter book in less than half a day fast. 87 books? Pssshh, no problem. What I should have known, is that I really, really should have finished them before Arthur was born. Definitely before he started crawling. And ABSOLUTELY before he began walking. Was I smart and plan ahead for that? Nope, I sure didn't.
Anywho, I have been making some progress. And so I present to you, a book report. Or, rather, reports. I intended to wait until I had all of the winners from the 2000s done before writing this post, but I'm starting to forget my thoughts on the early reads, so I'm just going to get it all down now and then I'm going to try to write a post for each book from now on.

#1 Visits from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan, 2011 Winner
Lordy, I hated this book. It made me so nervous for the rest of the list because I hated it so much. 
The story is a fragmented look at a group of interconnected people. Most of them work in the music industry and much of the novel focuses on the death of music. The rest of the book focuses on how everyone dies, gets old and ends up alone. I think Egan's theory was that everything in life sucks. 
I'm not going to say that I don't appreciate a little artsy-fartsiness every once in awhile, but this was over the top. I felt like she was trying to be deep for deepness' sake and that has always rubbed me the wrong way. 

#2 Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides, 2003 Winner

Thank goodness this was so much better! It restored my faith in the Pulitzer Prize committee. 
The story is that of Cal, an intersex man raised as a girl by his Greek family in Detroit. There are also insights into his family's history, including the relationships that led to Cal's recessive condition. 
The plot was fascinating, the language was beautiful (without trying too hard) and the story was sad and hopeful and heartbreaking all at the same time. If you only read one of the 7 books reviewed here, choose this one. 

#3 Tinkers, Paul Harding, 2010 Winner
After reading this, I decided I was destined to like every other book I read for this project. While I did like slightly more than "Goon Squad", I still was not a huge fan. 
A man on his deathbed narrates his life story, focusing on his relationship with his father. The language is pretty and evocative of senses. While I can appreciate that objectively, I put this book in the "not for me" category. Falling in love with a character, being drawn into an interesting plot, feeling an emotional tie to the story...those things are all more important to me than language. And I know that's a personal preference, but this is a personal blog! Deal with it :)

#4 March, Geraldine Brooks, 2006 Winner

I love companion books more than most things. That is, if they're done well. "March" is the story that was missing from "Little Women", that of the father of our beloved sisters. It was such a lovely read. It felt true to the original characters, without keeping us from finding out new things about them. Seeing Marmee as a fiery young woman was especially intriguing for me. Brooks based much of Mr. March's characterization on the research she did on Louisa May Alcott's father. It is widely known that Alcott based her characters on her own family. 
By the way if you like companion novels, I recommend this one, based on Jane Eyre and this one, based on Beowulf. 

#5 Gilead, Marilynne Robinson, 2005 Winner
Yet another novel written from the perspective of a dying man, but this one slightly more tolerable. This is the story of John Ames, the son and grandson of congregationalist pastors in the Midwest. Since I am the daughter and granddaughter of congregationalist pastors in the Midwest, I felt I should have appreciated this much more. So much of this could have been a family history for me. It's not that I didn't like it. I just wasn't drawn in by it. It took me FOREVER to get through it, despite the fact that it's one of the shortest on the list. 
By the time I finished I didn't even remember to take an instagram picture. Oops. 

#6 The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz, 2008 Winner

This is the story of a poor nerdy little Dominican boy growing up in New York, his mother, and his sister. This was one of those books that took a long time to get me interested/invested but then I couldn't put it down. I think it took me two weeks to get through the first quarter, and then only a couple days to finish it. I finished this only days before my baby sister left to go to the DR for a year long appointment with the UCC Global Ministries. It was a nice little insight into the world she would be stepping into. 

#7 The Magnificent Ambersons, Booth Tarkington, 1919 Winner
Obviously this was a little departure from the 2000s. I discovered it as a free download on my Nook and started it before I could get to the library for the book I had waiting for me. 
It's been a long time since I've cared about a story where I hate the main character. I hesitate to call him the protagonist, as I believe Tarkington intended for you to hate young George Amberson. By the end of the tale of the rise and fall of this great family at the turn of the century, although I still didn't like him, I cared about him in an odd way. And that was a great feat. 
Loved, loved, loved it. 
Incidentally, there is apparently a very famous movie version directed by Orson Wells. I think I'll check it out soon. 

#8 The Road, Cormac McCarthy, 2007 Winner

Gosh darn, this book was depressing. A post-apocolyptic story of a man and his young son trying their hardest to survive despite starvation, brigands and the elements. Even though I just finished this yesterday, I'm finding it hard to come up with things to say. It was not my favorite but it was very well done. Do you know the difference between "well done" and "good"? I don't know how to describe it, but I feel it covers quite a few of the books on this list.

So that's it! Whew! On to #9. I just began "Olive Kitteridge", which is constantly reminding me of a certain American Girl doll.


  1. I think this post has done one thing for me: it's convinced me not to put "Read all the Pulitzer Prize Winning Novels" on any bucket list I ever make. I'll just let my sister do it, and then I'll read the ones that she likes. :)

  2. I'll be happy to be your guinea pig.