With the recent naming of a new Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction, I thought of past winners and wondered how many of those American-authored books I had read. So I looked at the Pulitzer website and counted 35 perused-by-me titles honored from 1918 to 1947 (when the category was for novels only) and 1948 to now (when the category became “fiction” to include short-story collections).
Then I decided to rank my favorites. Why? Because I needed a blog idea for this week. 🙂 I’ll note before I offer my in-descending-order list that I liked most of the 35 books — including the lower-ranked ones, so there were definitely many deserving victors. Yes, I liked most, but not all. 🙂
35. Gilead, Marilynne Robinson (2005 Pulitzer winner): Some consider this novel a subtle gem, but I found it boring. I was also put off by the old man/young woman marriage. I much prefer Ms. Robinson’s novel Housekeeping.
34. The Confessions of Nat Turner, William Styron (1968 winner): I wanted to like this historical novel — Nat Turner was a hero — but the writing annoyed me. Maybe it was partly because a white author was not-so-successfully trying to get inside the head of the insurgent African-American slave.
33. The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway (1953 winner): A short classic in the eyes of many, but I thought it was so-so. Give me Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls any day of the week.
32. The Shipping News, E. Annie Proulx (1994 winner): Appealingly quirky and unappealingly quirky.
31. One of Ours, Willa Cather (1923 winner): Hardly Ms. Cather’s best work, yet a pretty absorbing World War I novel.
30. Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri (2000 winner): I’m more a fan of novels (including Ms. Lahiri’s) than short stories, but this collection has a nice ratio of excellent tales vs. good tales.
29. The Fixer, Bernard Malamud (1967 winner): Compelling story of an unjustly imprisoned Jewish man in Czarist Russia.
28. Tales of the South Pacific, James Michener (1948 winner): A novel comprised of interrelated short stories is usually not my cup of tea. Still, this is quite good — and it of course inspired the musical South Pacific.
27. Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout (2009 winner): Similar short-stories-as-novel format as the above Michener work. The acerbic Olive is an abrasive “hoot.”
26. Tinkers, Paul Harding (2010 winner): A mesmerizing blend of the past and present through the eyes of a dying man.
25. March, Geraldine Brooks (2006 winner): Interesting concept of focusing on the American Civil War experiences of the father from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.
24. The Road, Cormac McCarthy (2007 winner): A post-apocalyptic novel that doesn’t match the author’s best work (such as Blood Meridian) while still being memorable.
23. The Orphan Master’s Son, Adam Johnson (2013 winner): A strange but very readable novel set in North Korea.
22. Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell (1937 winner): I’d rank this higher if the troubling racial dynamics weren’t so painful.
21. The Magnificent Ambersons, Booth Tarkington (1919 winner): Progress vs. tradition, and some disturbing family relationships.
20. The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Thornton Wilder (1928 winner): Very poignant novel.
19. The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck (1932 winner): Classic set in China.
18. Arrowsmith, Sinclair Lewis (1926 winner): A doctor indelibly depicted.
17. A Confederacy of Dunces, William Kennedy (1981 winner): Weird and absolutely hilarious.
16. All the King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren (1947 winner): One of the best political novels.
15. Ironweed, William Kennedy (1984 winner): Masterfully sad look at characters on the street.
14. Foreign Affairs, Alison Lurie (1985 winner): The affairs are of the romantic variety, and the professor protagonist is very original.
13. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz (2008 winner): A novel about a nerd, the United States, and the Dominican Republic — with amazing footnotes.
12. The Yearling, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1939 winner): A boy and his fawn. Among the greatest young-adult novels ever written.
11. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon (2001 winner): About two cartoonists roughly based on the co-creators of Superman.
10. The Caine Mutiny, Herman Wouk (1952 winner): Gripping shipboard saga.
9. The Color Purple, Alice Walker (1983 winner): A powerful look at racism, sexism, and more via letters.
8. Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides (2003 winner): An eye-opening story featuring gender confusion, immigration, and other elements.
7. Beloved, Toni Morrison (1988 winner): The iconic work set after the American Civil War.
6. The Overstory, Richard Powers (2019 winner): A tour de force starring people and trees that I’m currently reading, so its rank might change by the time I finish. Will discuss it more in a future blog post.
5. The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton (1921 winner): Unforgettable novel about (among other things) choosing between the conventional and the unconventional in a relationship.
4. The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt (2014 winner): Wide-ranging book about the impact a priceless painting has on the protagonist’s life.
3. Empire Falls, Richard Russo (2002 winner): Enthralling novel that’s sort of low-key until the emotional fireworks arrive.
2. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee (1961 winner): There’s nothing I can say about this book that hasn’t been said before.
1. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck (1940 winner): The uprooted, beleaguered Joad family in a riveting novel that brims with outrage against injustice.
Your favorite Pulitzer-winning books (including those I mentioned and those I haven’t read)? Anything you’d like to say about them?
My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.
In addition to this weekly blog, I write the 2003-started/award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com every Thursday. The latest piece — which discusses an “event horizon” of sorts — is here.