Pulitzer vs. Short-List: 1991

Starting in 1980, the Pulitzer committee announced up to 3 short-listed books along with the winner of the award. I’ve read all the Pulitzer Prize-winning novels but am now going back to read the short-listed books to confirm or deny the committee’s final decision.

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize 1991: Rabbit at Rest by John Updike

Read and reviewed in 2010:


This was the fourth and final book in Updike’s Rabbit series, and the 2nd of the series to win the Pulitzer. While I did love this book, it was definitely not the best of the series. While one of the things I love about Updike is his attention to detail and the richness he brings to characters and situations, he went a little overboard in this book. It seemed that he’d done an awful lot of research for the series, and wanted to make sure to jam all that remained into the last book.

That said, it was still excellent. I haven’t been huge into series in the past, but this was definitely a series that I am sad to see end. Rabbit was a rich character and it was really interesting to follow his life for 40 years, in 10-year increments.


Short-Listed for the Pulitzer 1991: The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

Read and reviewed in 2012:

thingsThe Things They Carried completely destroyed m I am an easily affected person, but I don’t cry easily. In fact, I don’t think a book has ever made me cry before, but I can feel the tears coming just thinking about this book.

After (mostly) completing the Pulitzer challenge, I’ve read dozens of books about various wars, and it seems that those actually written by combat veterans are rarely linear. That’s certainly true of this book, which is sort of a collection of stories and sort of, well, something else. I could feel Mr. O’Brien trying to make sense of everything while at the same time trying to explain feelings that are impossible for civilians to comprehend.

So much of the subject matter made me uncomfortable, but the author was completely fearless when describing scenes that most veterans would never want to think about, let alone admit to the world at large. Through flawless prose and a rawness that completely wore me down, Mr. O’Brien did an exceptional job of giving the reader the largest glimmer possible into the mindset and emotions of a person in combat.

Easily one of the best and most important books I’ve ever read, The Things They Carried will stay with me for a long time.

“A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue. As a first rule of thumb, therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil.” – Tim O’Brien

Short-Listed for the Pulitzer 1991: Mean Spirit by Linda Hogan

Read and reviewed a few days ago:

1Rating this book is a complicated thing and how a person rates it would be heavily impacted by the criteria they’re using. I mean, I realize that’s a super general thing to say that’s applicable to any review but when reflecting on this book it really hit home. Am I rating whether or not it was an enjoyable read? Because it wasn’t. It was depressing as hell. But so was The Grapes of Wrath and I have a freaking tattoo from that book. Am I rating whether or not the writing is good? Because it is but it’s also hard. Not the word usage but the fact that for the first seventy-five or so pages there are so many god damn characters that I had to give up trying to keep them straight in the grander scheme and just concentrate on what the character in front of me was doing on the specific page I was reading. Once the background was set up and the author focused on the key characters it was much smoother sailing and inevitably worth it.

This book tells the story of Native Americans (the author uses the term Indians) living in Oklahoma in the 1920s. This particular tribe was deeded land by the U.S. that ended up being oil rich as all hell. Some folks fond themselves mighty wealthy and then a bunch of murdering started up. There’s also a lot of horse training going on.

The story was depressing because, though this particular tale may be fictionalized, it was – and still is – a reality for way too many indigenous people. I was also sort of uncomfortable with this book being deemed magical realism. I get why but the only real “magic” stuff going on was actual native ceremonies and I think it’s beyond rude to refer to them as “magic”. Well, and that guy that died but then was sort-of alive and more human than ghost – enough to marry someone, I guess. So there’s that. OK, I guess I’m comfortable with the term. Forgive me, fearless readers.

Conclusion: The wrong book carried it away

All you’d need to do is look at my GoodReads ratings to see that two of these earned just four stars from me with The Things They Carried as the only knock-it-out-of-the-park five star book. Anytime I start a review with, “This book completely destroyed me” it’s a pretty good indication that it’s a slam-bam amazing book. Though I would have awarded the Pulitzer to O’Brien without a second thought, all three books were solid choices by the Pulitzer committee. Good job, 1991!

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