What are you doing?

The simplest answer is the one in the blog’s subtitle, but I can expand on that a little.

I’ve decided to read the winners of the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel (1918-1947) and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (1948-present) in chronological order.  Along the way, I’m going to record ideas that occur to me, questions that I struggle with, comparisons between books or authors, etc.  And I’ll post a final review of each book, breaking down how successful I think it is as a work of fiction and as a window into America at that time…and of course offering my opinion of whether or not you should read it.  I am doing this for the following reasons:

  • Because the few Pulitzer winners I have read are generally good books, so the likelihood of my finding new good books seems high.
  • Because I am less well-versed in American literature than I would like to be, and this seems like a good method for getting a broad sense of American novel writing in the 20th/21st centuries, at least.
  • Because I think that this will add to my awareness of both how America has changed, and how literature in America has changed, over nearly 100 years.
  • Because I’d like to have conversations about books and life that go a little deeper than I think Facebook can reasonably allow (to say nothing of Twitter).
  • Because the list is there, and there’s something human about wanting to accomplish things for the sake of having done them.

I’m also doing this because I want to add to my awareness of blogging–as an avid reader of a number of blogs, and occasional commenter, I feel like I understand the consumer side.  But the production side is still a little mysterious, and I want to pressure myself to contribute something meaningful, and see what that’s like.  So, if you’re here and you feel like commenting on anything, please do!  That conversation is key to what I’m hoping to gain from the experience.

11 comments on “What are you doing?

  1. Sarah Ann says:

    I’m going to watch your blog! This is neat, and, as an English major, is definitely something that I have considered before!

    Buena Suerte

  2. jwrosenzweig says:

    Thanks, Sarah–glad you dropped by!

  3. Betsy Talbot says:

    Hi, James. I’m a big fan of projects like this and will be following along. Your sister Karen is a friend of mine and we’ve often talked about “a year of” type of projects and how they impact a person. I can’t wait to read more!

    • jwrosenzweig says:

      Great! Of course, mine probably won’t be “a year of” at the current pace…more like 2 or 3 years…but I’m hoping it will have an impact. Just what I’m hoping for, I’m not sure, but it’ll come with time, I trust.

  4. SilverSeason says:

    I like your project very much and will keep checking back on your progress. I have considered a similar project — to read at least one book by each of the winners of the Nobel prize in literature. I have not been committed to it, but I do now and then try one just because I have no experience with the author. I found, for example, that I enjoy Saramago, which I did not expect. The main obstacle — besides time — is to deal with the issue of translations and translators. You can read everything in American English.

    • jwrosenzweig says:

      Thanks, SilverSeason! I have a feeling that one day (probably a decade from now, at my current pace) I’ll have caught up with the Pulitzer winners, and will then need a new mountain to climb: the Nobel winners do sound like fun, and would definitely broaden the global scope of my reading experience. 🙂

  5. Mabel says:

    Stopping by to quietly suggest this article by my friend Adam. He wrote it a couple years ago in response to the censorship of Mark Twain’s work and revived it this morning for Banned Books Week. A vital topic! Cheers. 🙂

    • jwrosenzweig says:

      Mabel—thanks for the link! Adam’s article was well worth reading. It is a tricky topic: as someone who both worked along side teachers who taught Huck Finn, and as a teacher who chose not to teach Huck Finn to a class (it’s a long story), he definitely raises a lot of the reasons why a bowdlerized version is problematic. In a completely balanced account, I think we’d also need to discuss all the ways Huck Finn can go wrong in the classroom, and the care we have to take with Twain’s book (which is excellent in a lot of respects), but I don’t blame Adam for not raising all of that: it would take a book the length of Twain’s novel to get at everything worth saying about this very complicated text. 🙂

  6. Brenda Townsend says:

    I too, am following the same literary path as yourself and am at about the same point on the list. However, I’ve had to skip several titles due to unavailability. My first surprise on this journey was that libraries did not have all Pulitzer fiction novels in their collection as a matter of course! I can understand our city library, but even our brand-new, 9-story downtown library in San Diego doesn’t have a few of the titles. Amazon, here I come! Trying to read in order as much as possible, but one of my missing titles is the 1918, His Family. Wondering if I should read For Whom The Bell Tolls for 1941, even though it didn’t win. Btw, that is how I found your blog…Seeking information on reasons why Nicholas Murray Butler found it so offensive. Seems like some personal vendetta, since it was an innocuous Book-of-the-Month title. Thanks so much for researching and sharing the back story!

    • jwrosenzweig says:

      Thanks for this note, Brenda—as you can see, I’m a bit stuck right now on Upton Sinclair but I intend to get moving again soon. Yeah, access to some of these titles is hard: I’m lucky that, as a university librarian, I usually have deep collections to draw from (and good access to interlibrary loan, when I don’t have the title I need). As you can see, I skipped the non-winner in 1941 (but chose to read Arrowsmith in spite of Lewis refusing the prize), but I’m sure whatever call you make will be the right one for you. Best of luck with the reading, and please hop on with comments, even on very old posts, if as you read you find you have a reaction to anything I might have said about the book in question!

      Oh, and p.s., I’m a genealogy nerd, so I have to ask—do you know where the “Townsends” came from who supply the surname you gave? My great-grandmother was a Townsend, and my mother and I have spent a couple of decades researching our branch and trying to figure out where they came from. I figured I’d ask just in case serendipity was at work. 🙂

      • Brenda Townsend says:

        Yeah, I thought that Dragon’s Teeth would be the death of my endeavors. I did not see where the narrative was going for the first 300 pages! However, I stuck with it and glad that I did. The last 50 pages are real page-turners, but you really have to want it with this one! lol Really enjoyed Early Autumn, as you did. Love your posts…very academic and articulate. Everyone who I talk to about this project, I tell them that it feels as though I’m taking a class, however self-guided. Much wider breadth and scope of learning than I ever expected…

        My husband’s family are Canadian Townsends, via Regina B.C. Not sure about their line before they arrived in Canada.

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