I don’t do challenges. And when I say challenges I mean the types of challenges that go viral on social media. You know the ones. I didn’t dump a bucket of ice water on my head. I’ve never planked. And I most certainly have not done the Harlem Shake.
In fact, if you challenge me with something I’m not getting paid for I’m more likely to duck and run than I am to take you on. I’m lazy that way.
However, if I come up with a challenge on my own that’s a different story, and this story is about 96 books.
As you can imagine Will and I have a lot of time to talk when there are miles and miles of empty road in front of us. A few days ago Will asked me about the Nobel prize for literature. Specifically if the prize was given to a single published piece or to the author (we later learned it’s awarded to an author based on their body of work). We had no G’s at the time but this led to a discussion about literary prizes in general and the Pulitzer specifically.
Then I got an idea.
Anyone who knows me knows that I read like my ass is on fire. I read when I’m bored, I read when I’m anxious, I read when I’m supposed to be doing other things. And reading is such an integral part of my sleep routine that if I don’t get my eyes on at least a few pages the chances are good that I won’t sleep at all.
Science says that reading is good for you. I know it’s good for me. So why do I need to undertake a reading challenge when I already read so much? The short answer is this: I read garbage. More to the point, I read books about horses that are geared toward younger people. This leads to Will receiving emails from Amazon suggesting YA books for him since we share a Kindle account. It’s funny but it’s not.
So, on that 12 hour driving day I scanned the Wikipedia page about Pulitzer prize winners and it came to me. I need to learn more about the world, my world, and the best way for me to do that is to read.
I’m going to read every fiction and nonfiction Pulitzer prize winning book published since the year I was born. I haven’t given myself a time limit but I have given myself some rules. They are as follows.
- I will start with the 1970 winners and read both books for each for year before moving on.
- I will read the nonfiction book first since I’m not a huge fan of nonfiction. The fiction winner will be my reward.
- I will write a report for each book, incorporating the social and political atmospheres of the year and decide how or if the literature reflects that.
- In the few cases when there was no winner for the year I will read one of the finalists or the National Book Award winner for that year.
- I have read 15 of the fiction winners. I will read them again. I will struggle mightily to finish The Goldfinch. I will reaffirm my sincere belief that no one can read Thomas Pynchon and make sense of it.
So, with that being said, this is what I’ll be reading.
1970: The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford by Jean Stafford.
1971: No award given. NBA winner is Mr. Sammler’s Planet by Saul Bellow
1972: Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
1973: The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty
1974: No award given. Finalist is Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
1975: The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
1976: Humboldt’s Gift by Saul Bellow
1977: No award given. Finalist is Roots by Alex Haley
1978: Elbow Room by James Alan McPherson
1979: The Stories of John Cheever by John Cheever
1980: The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer
1981: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
1982: Rabbit is Rich by John Updike
1983: The Color Purple by Alice Walker
1984: Ironweed by William Kennedy
1985: Foreign Affairs by Alison Lurie
1986: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
1987: A Summons to Memphis by Peter Taylor
1988: Beloved by Toni Morrison
1989: Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler
1990: The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos
1991: Rabbit at Rest By John Updike
1992: A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
1993: A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler
1994: The Shipping News by Annie Proulx
1995: The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
1996: Independence Day by Richard Ford
1997: Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer by Steven Millhauser
1998: American Pastoral by Phillip Roth
1999: The Hours by Michael Cunningham
2000: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
2001: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
2002: Empire Falls by Richard Russo
2003: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
2004: The Known World by Edward P. Jones
2005: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
2006: March by Geraldine Brooks
2007: The Road by Cormac McCarthy
2008: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
2009: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Stout
2010: Tinkers by Paul Harding
2011: A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
2012: No award given. Finalist is Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
2013: The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
2014: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
2015: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
2016: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
2017: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
2018: Less by Andrew Sean Green
1970: Gandhi’s Truth by Erik H. Erikson
1971: The Rising Sun by John Toland
1972: Stillwell and the American Experience in China by Barbara Tuchman
1973: Children of Crisis Volumes 2 & 3 by Robert Coles
1974: The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker
1975: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
1976: Why Survive? by Robert Neil Butler
1977: Beautiful Swimmers by William Warner
1978: Dragons of Eden by Carl Sagan
1979: On Human Nature by Edward O. Wilson
1980: Gödel, Escher,Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter
1981: Fin-de-Siecle Vienna by Carl E. Schorske
1982: The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder
1983: Is There No Place on Earth for Me? by Susan Sheehan
1984: The Social Transformation of American Medicine by Paul Starr
1985: The Good War by Studs Terkel
1986: Common Ground by J. Anthony Lukas
1987: Arab & Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land by David K. Shipler
1988: The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes
1989: A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam by Neil Sheehan
1990: And Their Children After Them by Maharidge and Williamson
1991: The Ants by Holldobler and Williamson
1992: The Prize by Daniel Yergin
1993: Lincoln at Gettysburg by Garry Wills
1994: Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire by David Remnick
1995: The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time by Jonathan Weiner
1996: The Haunted Land: Facing Europe’s Ghosts After Communism by Tina Rosenberg
1997: Ashes to Ashes: America’s Hundred-Year Cigarette War, the Public Health, and the Unabashed Triumph of Phillip Morris by Richard Kluger
1998: Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
1999: Annals of the Former World by John McPhee
2000: Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II
2001: Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan by Herbert P. Bix
2002: Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama, the Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution by Diane McWhorter
2003: A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide by Samantha Power
2004: Gulag: A History by Anne Applebaum
2005: Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 by Steve Coll
2006: Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya by Caroline Elkins
2007: The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright
2008: The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945 by Saul Friedlander
2009: Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon
2010: The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy by David E. Hoffman
2011: Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee
2012: The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt
2013: Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King
2014: Tom’s River: A Story of Science and Salvation by Dan Fagin
2015: The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert
2016: Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS by Joby Warrick
2017: Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
2018: Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America by James Foreman Jr.
As you can see I have my work cut out for me. Even typing the full titles of the non fiction books makes me a bit weak in the knees. However, I’m intrigued and excited to get started. I’ll also have to amend my list soon as 2019’s winners are announced. Then 2020, and so on.
And that, my friends, is how a habit grows its wings.
I have read 13 of the fiction and 9 of the non!!! Good luck!!! Can’t wait to see your thoughts!!!
Jeannine Thigpen says
I remember a towheaded, young woman bellied up to the bar at the Grey Moose in Ogden, Utah…with a book in her hand. Or carrying laundry from the car to her apartment…with a book in her other hand. That, indeed, is always how I remember you…with a book in your hand. This challenge is interesting and I made a similar, yet unfulfilled, vow to “read more of the classics.” Can you believe I haven’t read “Moby Dick?” Uncultured swine! After working as a 911 Dispatcher for almost 15 years, my mind was so conditioned to multitask that reading became a struggle, then an anxiety attack and I had to set it aside for years as focusing on one page just became impossible. Since my career change I am happy to say that I have started to read again and have finished 4 whole books in just 3 months!! Fantasy, medieval stuff, but books none the less. I am looking forward to the results of your mission and I am inspired to continue on my journey as well.