The Pulitzer Project: 10 Books In

Back in January I challenged myself to read as many Pulitzer Prize winners for Fiction as I could.  I knew some would be difficult to find, especially as I planned to read them on my e-reader.  (In this case, that would be my iPod).  With the help of my husband (which means he did all of the work), many of the books were found and towards the end of January I started on my quest with the first book to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1918 (at that time it was in the novel category; later changed to fiction):  His Family.  As of yesterday, I've finished my 10th book, The Grapes of Wrath, the winner of the prize in 1939.  You can do the math, I was unable to find quite a few of the early winners (and no award was given in 1920 and Sinclair Lewis declined the prize for Arrowsmith in 1926) and I still have a long way to go.

So here's what I've read thus far and my impressions: 

  •  His Family by Ernest Poole:  I didn't know what to expect from this one.  Surely things have changed dramatically since the book was first published and yet the story of a man and his three daughters and their paths in life is very valid today.  Yes, things have changed, but women are still struggling to find their way in the work force.  Families still struggle with finances.  And now more than ever, there is the question of what to do about an aging parent.  I was surprised at how much I enjoyed His Family.
  • The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington:  If I was surprised at how much I liked His Family, I was even more surprised at how much I disliked this book.  I LOATHED the main character George Amberson Minafer.  A spoiled brat from the time he was born to the time of his death (which I actually wished for).  His selfishness ruined so many lives that I wanted to reach into the pages of the book and strangle him.  So while I may have really hated the character and the book, it did get a strong emotion from me.  Honestly, I rushed through it because I just couldn't stand George!
  • The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton:  A lovely novel which beautifully describes the manners and life of the era in the late 19th century; however I formed no strong attachment or emotional bond with the book. 
  • Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington:  The story rang all too true for me, which is why I'm going to say I liked it, but didn't love it.  I understood Alice all too well.  (I wish I could say I didn't.)  Her struggle to be a part of a "clique" that clearly did not want her.  Her attempts to have her family be something it clearly could not be.  I saw her mistakes and missteps and understood them all too well.  And in the end, I admired her for taking that deep breath and moving ahead to keep her family afloat.
  • One of Ours by Willa Cather:  This story of Claude Wheeler and his ennui as he tries to figure out what his purpose in life was tiresome to me.  
  • So Big by Edna Ferber:  I found Selina an admirable and inspirational woman.  Life often handed her lemons and she knew how to make lemonade.  Her life might have been considered "hum drum" but she tackled each challenge (such as taking over the farm after her husband dies) with staunch determination.  She appreciates the beauty of all that is around her (even in something as simple as a cabbage) and even when she is mocked she sticks with her views.  I will read more of Edna Ferber once I am done with this project!
  • The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder:  A simple and easy read for me and while I enjoyed the book, I get more from Wilder's plays.  The question of why and how our lives are intertwined is one that will always be relevant no matter what century we live in.
  • The Good Earth by Pearl Buck:  I expected to dislike this and to my surprise, I didn't.  The treatment of O-Lan and women in general enraged me, but that's the power of the novel. Her strength comes from her quietness.  Though some may see her as simply a slave to her husband, it is her wisdom that saves them.  Some may say her subservient nature as a flaw, but I see it as her way of surviving in a world that was all too cruel to women.  Reading this will make you appreciate all that you have (especially if you are a woman).
  • The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings:  This book was not what I expected, probably because of the title and the movie poster which led me to think it was all about a boy and his fawn.  This is no sweet fairy tale of a boy and his deer; it is about the harsh realities of growing up in Florida way before Disney World and spring break in Fort Lauderdale.  Both the "yearling" and Jody struggle as they grow from youth to maturity.  Jody is a reminder of what life as a young boy was like and how making the transition from child to young man is uneasy and painful.  
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck:  The most painful and difficult read I've had thus far.  The struggle of the Joads exists today and it hurts to admit that.  I've said that reading this book will plunge the happiest of people into a deep despair.  It's a story I didn't want to read and yet needs to be read.  And once again I thought, how can people be so cruel and thank God there are people like the Joads and the friends that they make along their travels in this world.  Now that I've read it, I will never forget it.

As different as all the above books are, I found that they all were relevant in today's world.  It seems as much as things change, they still do stay the same.  In His Family, Roger Gale runs a clipping service and is amazed at how people want to see their name in print.  He sees how society is focused on itself; not unlike our Facebook/Twitter/Instagram universe of today.  The poverty/financial struggles described in Alice Adams, So Big, The Good Earth, The Yearling  and of course The Grapes of Wrath have not vanished.  Every book that I've read thus has universal themes that reach out over the ages.  Perhaps that is why they are Pulitzer Prize winners.

I'm anxious to dig into my next book, A Bell For Adano and continue my reading adventure.

(An aside:  I purposely did not read Gone With The Wind as I have read it several times before.)


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