The Pulitzer Prize Project
I’ve always wanted to be known as well-read even though I have little clue what that actually means. My father was often referred to as such after trouncing us all in rounds of Trivial Pursuit, until we realized of course that the version of the game we were playing came out before many of us were even born, and we were decidedly and defensibly at a generational disadvantage. Regrettably, Trivial Pursuit has yet to incorporate a handicap structure, despite my many imagined angry letters.
What further frustrated us was that the NASCAR-loving, muscle car-restoring man’s man that was our father would still chime in astonishingly with “Madam Bovary” or “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” followed by an otherwise (for the rest of us anyway) elusive brown wedge and the growing cloud of our imminent defeat. After which he would descend to the den and audibly curse Dale Earnhardt.
“Well, Dad’s well-read so…”
But what does that mean? I read. But do I read the canon of the well-read? Does horror vampire fiction count? My Goodreads profile says my favorite authors by quantity of novels consumed are far and away Stephen King and Neil Gaiman. Are they of the echelons of the… um… well-authored?
Is it Shakespeare? Jane Austen? Both? Neither? What about poetry? Are we simply talking novels? Fiction or non-fiction?
What do I have to digest to earn the right to turn my nose up at the rest of you!?
I know I bailed on the English department for journalism because I was out of my depth, but I still have the burning desire to wax literature at high society dinner parties and spout apparent truths like “Oh yes, that’s much like Norman Mailer’s blah dee blah dee blah.”
What’s a rube like me to do?
Thankfully, we Americans like to award ourselves.
Every monetized creative art has an array of potential honors, certificates, fellowships, and gleaming statuettes, and those trophies are disseminated regularly thus creating a definitive list of arguably “good” work. The crème de la crème for writers of course being the Pulitzer Prize and the perfect place for someone like me who both needs coordinates and a checklist to begin his journey to the warm cerebral jacuzzi waters of the well-read.
Thus I begin a project of no determined deadline in which I will read every novel which has won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in a random, whimsical, certainly non-chronological order.
Does this mean, I think runner-ups or non-Pulitzer Prize-winning novels are not of the well-read strata? Heavens no. I just need to start somewhere.
Now certainly, I have read some of these already. All the Light We Cannot See, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, To Kill a Mocking Bird, etc., and I will touch on them in this project at some point. But many I have not.
At present, I’m a quarter of the way into The Orphan Master’s Son and I’m already seeing structure and character parallels to All the Light We Cannot See. It’s really engrossing and wonderful so far.
Oh, and if there’s a year where no award was given, I’ll simply pick one of the nominees.
So get ready, Dad. Get the Baby Boomer edition out and start drilling cards, because I’m coming for that brown wedge.