17 April 2012

Holy Pulitzer, Batman!

Yesterday was an important day in American letters.  You see, it was the day the Pulitzer Prizes were announced.  For everything except fiction, that is. You know, the division that more readers care about than any other.  No biggie.

What's the deal, Pulitzer Committee People? While the official word is that the committee couldn't reach consensus, the rumors started flying right away yesterday that the committee didn't think any book was worthy of the prize. That's not the kind of elitist publicity anybody wants. (And of course, by "anybody" I mean me...and readers & booksellers who agree with me.)

Seriously, though.  What gives?  I understand that it's hard to reach consensus when three (and I probably ought not to get started on why there were only three titles short listed) books are so vastly different.  But yoo-hoo, Pulitzer Committee People? You're the ones who created the short list to begin with.  The decision was only as difficult as you made it for yourselves. I imagine there's also a lot of pressure to make the "right" decision as literary tastemakers, establishing one book above all others as being worthy of our posterity.

Which, in my view, is all the more reason to actually make a decision.  Nobody else in the real world can get by with just withholding the award when the decision-making process is too preciously difficult.  Why can they?

I don't happen to agree with the three finalists that the committee picked, but that's neither here nor there.  I would have preferred to see Teju Cole's Open City win this prize, as to my mind, it was the finest book "dealing with American life" published last year. The point is, now I don't have a winner to champion or to rail against, and I'm pretty sure that's my God-given right as an American reader, book blogger, and bookseller.

What about you?  What are your thoughts on the omission this year for the fiction prize? What do you wish would have won?


  1. Fortunately I have basically nothing invested in the Pulitzer topic, but I read about it on twitter yesterday and was just like "....seriously?" Maybe the committee is looking for more publicity. ;) But it obviously sucks for people whose chance was this year and then lost out because they decided not to make up their minds.

  2. As we sat and listened to the NPR interview with one of the folks who read ALL 300 of the worthy novels, we got steamed. Surely, surely out of that vast pool of creativity ONE great book would float to the top.

    This has horrible repercussions throughout the book business, world of readers, etc. What kind of a message does this send about the world of letters?


  3. Agreed. Perhaps if there were, like, twenty books on the shortlist, no prize wouldn't have been such a slap, but how must those three authors feel to know none of them were good enough? I don't know, it's so baffling and weird. If a shortlist is made, surely that means something was good -- if you're not going to award the award, stop at the long list?

  4. I hope the people who are on that committee don't get paid, because they kind of didn't do their job. Perhaps we could all make long lists of the things in our lives that we consider to be "hard" or "difficult" that we still somehow find a way to do. Having been on many committees myself, I suspect not giving a prize was really just about the inability of the people on the committee to get along or come to an agreement. It's not a jury, folks. Ugh.

  5. I'm disappointed. I can sympathize with not loving any book on a short list, but that's no excuse to flake out. It makes the decision more complicated, sure, but its the Pulitzer for goodness sake! God forbid it be a difficult decision!

    There have been other years when no Pulitzer for fiction was given, so maybe they go into the judging process feeling like it's a viable option?

  6. I'll have to go read up on this touchy situation. Are we sure that they didn't feel all of them so worthy that they couldn't pick one? I mean, I have no idea, but just want to make sure it's not the opposite problem.

  7. Thanks for the comments, y'all. Looks like I wasn't clear enough in my post: the official word is that the committee couldn't reach consensus. The three books were so good, but so different, that they couldn't decide. It was the RUMORS that said there weren't enough good books to choose from.

    But still...it just seems so awfully whiny to be a judge and say, "Oh, it's too hard. We couldn't decide. So we didn't give any awards."

  8. I've never paid attention to the Pulitzer before. If they were simply trying to choose the best of 300 novels, that should have been possible. If they were trying to find a novel that met some 'objective' standards of greatness -- that is, one which was being compared not to 299 other books, but to some ideal -- I suppose not declaring a winner is better than settling for the best of the 300, if they were going for the 'greatness' standard. Seems to me that choosing the best of 300 would be easier, not to mention more popular.

  9. Their decision staggers the imagination...on my part, that is. Sounds like they were lacking in that particular qualilty.


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