Thursday, April 26, 2012

No Pulitzer for you! Or: On highly appraised books

I wanted to post this discussion last week, but I was just swamped with work. As you guys may know, this year there was no winner for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. I have to admit that I haven’t read any of the competitors (David Foster Wallace's "The Pale King", Karen Russell's "Swamplandia" and Denis Johnson's "Train Dreams.") but in a recent podcast, the Bookrageous team made me wonder if I should give Swamplandia a chance.  But this whole situation remained me of a long term challenge I auto-imposed on myself, to read at least one book of every Nobel Prize of Literature winner. Needless to say I haven’t quite achieved my goal yet (So far there is 108 laureate and I’m up to 15), but it’s still there. However, the books I’ve read for this challenge put a seed of an idea on my brain and the “debate” about this year’s Pulitzer made the seed finally crack open. Is wining an award such the Pulitzer or the Nobel enough to say is a good book? 

Don’t get me wrong, I think it means is worthy of reading, means it changed something in the “typical” writing. But just as with movies, or songs, the fact that it wins an award does not mean other people will like it or will consider it a good one. I know people that will only go and see a movie when they realized that it is nominated to the Oscars, or on the other hand will not give a film an opportunity because one critic didn’t like it.  A lot of wonderful things are being offered to us, but because they are not praised enough we let them pass by, or because they are over praised, we devour them without thinking. 

In my case, I don’t like reading poetry, is not that I don’t like poetry, I just don’t like reading it, that or plays, it’s just not for me. But some of the laureates of the Nobel Prize were poets, so that makes it harder to complete my challenge. Does the fact that they won a Nobel should make me read them even though I know it won’t be a pleasant reading? I think not, even when you consider the criteria for the Nobel award of literature:

  1. "To those who [...] shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind".
  2. "During the preceding year"
  3. "No consideration whatever shall be given to the nationality of the candidates".
  4. "To the person who shall have produced ... the most outstanding work"
  5. "in an ideal direction or 'in a direction towards an ideal

This will make you think, that this people did something outstanding, and that is the main reason why I wanted to read at least one book from a laureate, but I’m not sure I will make it through the poets…sorry.  I have to add, that those are not the ONLY criteria, since depending on the moment of history, other things have been considered, such as the style, the groundbreaking subject, amongst others.

Anyway, back to the Pulitzer point; the fact that this year the Pulitzer for fiction wasn’t delivered should not be a synonym of absence of amazing American fictional book, it just means that this year’s criteria weren’t met and that’s all right, you should not limit yourself to read award winner books nor should you ignore them assuming they are overrated.Go out there, go to you public library, to your favorite bookstore and wait for a book to "call" you. Did it won and award? Great!, It didn't? Great. Both cases are a chance in the waiting for you to share an experience!

Before I forget, I found this blog today, just in case any of you guys is interested in a similar challenge than mine. I haven't joined yet, but  I'm considering it :)

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