Ladies and Gentlemen, We Have a...Letdown

Aja Gabel

Mar 31, 2012

So, the Pulitzer board pissed a lot of people off this week. They pissed off the publishing industry, as reported here, causing publishers and booksellers to give out their own awards. They pissed off Sandra McNally of the independent New York bookstore McNally Jackson, who then said she would have given an award to Pym by Mat Johnson, a professor here in the UH program. They really pissed off Ann Patchett, and though I don't wish that Ann Patchett was upset all the time, I love when she gets passionate about things, because she writes essays like this one where she boils down exactly why it was so irresponsible of the Pulitzer board to not award a work of fiction: "The Pulitzer Prize is our best chance as writers and readers and booksellers to celebrate fiction. This was the year we all lost." I imagine they also kind of pissed off Karen Russell and Denis Johnson and the estate of David Foster Wallace, and all the people who loved those books this year. I guess what I'm really trying to say is that at first they pissed me off, too. This week, I'm re-reading The Road for a project I'm doing, and even though it's my third or fourth read, I still finish the book and think, "Damn, no wonder this won the Pulitzer." I thought last year's winner, A Visit from the Goon Squad, was one of the best books I'd read in years and years. I had similar feelings about Tinkers, Gilead, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, The Interpreter of Maladies, and The Hours, just to name a few other Pulitzer winners. Up until Monday, I thought the Pulitzer really knew how to pick 'em. I looked forward to seeing who would win, what living writer best represented the American experience through prose. For us young writers, it's important to see someone's work succeeding at being bold and complex so we might have something to aspire to, some great contemporary work that can live up to our canonical studies. By choosing no one, whatever the board's rationale, they told the readers and writers of the world that there was no one worthy, and that's just not true. Stuck in a dead end vote, the board should have done something else. They aren't Supreme Court Justices, bound by an ancient rulebook into making obscure decisions; the award is, as Ann Patchett says, not so much about picking the best book of fiction as it is about getting readers excited about fiction. Their decision was at best irresponsible and at worst a vote of no confidence in the state of American fiction. So I say screw them. The semester is almost over, and this summer, I'm getting in the car and heading for an apartment on a lake where I will, among a few other things, voraciously read. Below is an incomplete list if some of the Pulitzer-worthy books I read in 2011 that I'll bring along for inspiration combined with some of the books of 2011 that I'm most excited about dipping into. Consider it not a summer reading list, but an anti-Pulitzer reading list. No more complaining. Let's celebrate the fiction of 2011 since the Pulitzer board refuses to. 2011 Books I'd Give a Pulitzer to Any Day: The Family Fang, by Kevin Wilson Volt, by Alan Heathcock Mattaponi Queen, by Belle Boggs, We the Animals, by Justin Torres The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenidies Salvage the Bones, by Jesmyn Ward This is Not Your City, by Caitlin Horrocks Ten Thousand Saints, by Eleanor Henderson Once Upon a River, by Bonnie Jo Campbell 2011 Books I'm Excited to Read: Binocular Vision, by Edith Pearlman The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach The Buddha in the Attic, by Judith Otsuka This Beautiful Life, by Helen Schulman The Pale King, by David Foster Wallace Swamplandia! by Karen Russell Train Dreams, by Denis Johnson State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett Ayiti, by Roxane Gay