I love my book challenges and this is one I’ve happily set for myself. In the past I’ve avoided reading books that are touted as prize-winners. I thought they would be something I wouldn’t like – too many big words, too literary, too metaphorical, – in other words, too hard or too weird. But, by forcing myself to concentrate on prize-winners, I knew it would open up new worlds for me, book-wise. It has and I’m enjoying these “new” books.
Two weeks ago I read the 2010 Pulitzer Prize winner, Tinkers by Paul Harding. A week later the prize winners were announced for 2011. So I thought today I’d tell you which books won and a bit about each one.
The purpose of the Pulitzer Prize awards is to honor outstanding work in journalism, literature, and music composition. Within literature there are several categories, each with a specific goal. Here are the categories for literature and this year’s winners:
The awards for Fiction are for “distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life.“ The 2011 prize:
Bennie is an aging former punk rocker and record executive. Sasha is the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Here Jennifer Egan brilliantly reveals their pasts, along with the inner lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs. With music pulsing on every page, A Visit from the Goon Squad is a startling, exhilarating novel of self-destruction and redemption. (From the publisher)
The award for History is to a “distinguished book on the history of the United States.” This year’s winner is:
Eric Foner gives us the definitive history of Lincoln and the end of slavery in America. Foner begins with Lincoln’s youth in Indiana and Illinois and follows the trajectory of his career across an increasingly tense and shifting political terrain from Illinois to Washington, D.C. Although “naturally anti-slavery” for as long as he can remember, Lincoln scrupulously holds to the position that the Constitution protects the institution in the original slave states.(From the publisher)
An award for Biography and Autobiography is for a “distinguished biography or autobiography by an American author.” This year’s winner is:
Chernow gives us a Washington who starts with limited education and means and, through a remarkable combination of timely deaths, an incredible capacity for hard work, a shrewd marriage, astonishing physical hardiness and courage, a propensity for land speculation, and a gift for finding influential patrons, transforms himself into a soldier, well-to-do planter, local official, and eventually the only real choice to command the Continental army, preside over the Constitutional Convention, and serve as the first president.(From Publisher’s Weekly)
An award for Poetry is for a “distinguished volume of original verse by an American poet.” This year’s winner is:
Kay Ryan, the current U.S. poet laureate, may well be the oddest and wisest poet to hold that prestigious post. Her tiny, skinny poems pack a punch unlike anything else in contemporary poetry, though not unlike haiku, if haiku could be cut with a dash of Groucho Marx. This, her first retrospective volume, which also contains a book’s worth of new poems, is a much-needed introduction to the work of one of our best and most accessible poets. (From Amazon)
General Non-Fiction is awarded for a “distinguished book of non-fiction by an American author that is not eligible for consideration in any other category.” For 2011 the winner is:
An exhaustive account of cancer’s origins, The Emperor of All Maladies illustrates how modern treatments–multi-pronged chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, as well as preventative care–came into existence thanks to a century’s worth of research, trials, and small, essential breakthroughs around the globe. While The Emperor of All Maladies is also a meditation on illness, medical ethics, and the complex, intertwining lives of doctors and patients. (From Publisher’s Weekly)
These five award-winners all sound good to me. (I know, can you believe it?) I’ve already downloaded A Visit From the Good Squad to my Kindle, although I haven’t started reading it yet. I also have The Fiery Trail on reserve at the library. I believe I have some good reading hours ahead of me.
Tell me what you think: Are you familiar with any of these books? Do you like reading the Pulitzer Prize winners or other award-winning books?