I was ruminating a bit about the Pulitzer Prize this week and wondering why it isn’t a bigger deal. The bookstore I worked at in Los Angeles may not be indicative of national trends, but while I was there, the Booker Prize and the National Book Award moved more books than the Pulitzer. (The Nobel Prize had a bigger impact on sales than all the other awards combined, believe it or not.) I think part of the reason that the Pulitzer fails to capture the interest of readers is that it’s much less controversial than other awards. Pulitzer winners are almost always safe picks. But part of it, I think, is that the award has no build up. The judges do not announce the nominees (aka the shortlist) in advance, instead the finalists are revealed at the same time as the winner. It’s pretty obvious that having a shortlist would build interest – some might say artificially – by placing the prize in the public eye for longer. But I’d argue that the Pulitzer is worthy of this treatment. Though the picks are often safe, taken together, the Pulitzer winners are an incomplete, but still compelling bunch of books. The Pulitzers are primarily a journalism award, and that, I think, matters too, in that it allows us to equate the novel with journalism, which, at its best, is meant to be a noble and unfrivolous pursuit. (And this isn’t just the J-school grad in me talking.) Finally, giving the Pulitzer a shortlist would just be more fun and it would give us book bloggers more to natter on about.
For those who missed it, Tom McCarthy’s Remainder faced Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao in the final. The winner was crowned here. If you’ve got a little time to spare, I encourage you to read all of the judge’s decisions and the accompanying “booth” commentaries from Kevin Guilfoile and John Warner, as I found them to be quite entertaining. Incidentally, I would have liked to have seen Joshua Ferris’ Then We Came to the End, Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke, and/or Roberto Bolano’s The Savage Detectives, if only to read more people’s thoughts on them, but it’s hard to complain about such a fun enterprise.Bonus Links:Andrew’s review of Remainder.Junot Diaz participates in our Year in Reading.Joshua Ferris participates in our Year in Reading.Garth’s review of Tree of SmokeGarth on Bolano
The IMPAC Award shortlist was announced today. The IMPAC sets itself apart with its unique approach. Its massive longlist is compiled by libraries all over the world before being whittled down by judges. This makes for a more egalitarian selection. It’s also got a long lead time. Books up for the current prize (to be named June 15th) were all published in 2009, putting the IMPAC more than a year behind other big literary awards. There’s a distinct upside in this. By now, nearly all the shortlisted books are available in paperback in the U.S. The IMPAC also tends to be interesting for the breadth of books it considers.This year’s shortlist is typically eclectic, representing four countries and ranging from bestsellers, to relative unknowns.Galore by Michael Crummey (excerpt, At The Millions, Michael Crummey’s “Whale Music“)The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver (excerpt, In his Year in Reading, Sam Anderson suggests some edits.)The Vagrants by Yiyun Li(excerpt, At The Millions, Yiyun Li on Per Petterson)Ransom by David Malouf (excerpt)Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (excerpt, A Millions Hall of Famer)Little Bird of Heaven by Joyce Carol OatesJasper Jones by Craig Silvey (excerpt)Brooklyn by Colm Toibín (excerpt, Edan’s Year in Reading)Love and Summer by William Trevor (excerpt)After the Fire, a Still Small Voice by Evie Wyld (excerpt)
Two of the four Americans on the Booker Longlist made it through to the Shortlist, Joshua Ferris and Karen Joy Fowler. They are joined by past winner Howard Jacobson, Australian Richard Flanagan, Indian Neel Mukherjee, and Ali Smith, who has landed on her third shortlist, a fact that may make her the favorite at this point. Big names like David Mitchell and Richard Powers failed to make the cut.
All the Booker Prize shortlisters are below (with bonus links where available):
To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris (excerpt, Ferris’s Year in Reading 2009)
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (Khaled Hosseini on Karen Joy Fowler)
J by Howard Jacobson
The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee
How to Be Both by Ali Smith (Wordsmith: The Beguiling Gifts of Ali Smith)
This year’s IMPAC shortlist was quite eclectic, as we noted when it was released. One side effect of this is that the 2008 IMPAC won’t have an impact on the “Prizewinners” tally that we keep. The upshot, of course, is that the IMPAC shed its spotlight on some less well-known names, including this year’s winner: Beirut-born, Canadian novelist Rawi Hage, who won for his debut effort, DeNiro’s Game.Andrew reviewed the book for us last year, writing “Less a political tract than a survival story, DeNiro’s Game illustrates how a war breeds anarchy which then gives way to militia rule.” Elsewhere, The Globe and Mail covers the award and offers an excerpt from Hage’s acceptance speech.