Let’s be real. For many, the Pulitzer Prize is not a reading turn-on.
And I understand why. If contemporary literary fiction isn’t your thing, ploughing through some of the past winners may seem like real work.
But I like literary fiction and think many prize-winning books make for a good read, even if you aren’t living in an ivory tower. If nothing else, they always give you plenty to think about!
Don’t forget that Pulitzers are also awarded for nonfiction, history, and biography.
Ready to take the plunge? Here’s a few prize winners that may just draw you in…
If you enjoy historical fiction:
Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2000)
Love comics but think they often get short shrift in other mediums? Try Michael Chabon’s 2000 novel that is set during the Golden Age of Comics and follows two young Czech Jewish cousins, one of whom managed to escape Europe before WWII’s outbreak, as they break into the world of comic books. “Funny” may not be an adjective you usually associate with Pultizer Prize-winning fiction, but Chabon received a lot of acclaim for the humor of his story. Believe it or not.
Recommended for those who enjoyed Brad Ricca’s Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster–the Creators of Superman and Neil Gaiman’s work
Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer (2015)
This year’s Pulitzer Prize-winner for fiction, The Sympathizer focuses on a half-French/half-Vietnamese army captain who escapes to America after the fall of Saigon. While that may sound like the foundations of a fairly typical novel about the difficulties of adjusting to life in a new country, this one is further exacerbated by the fact that the former army captain in question is reporting back to his Communist superiors in Vietnam about his fellow emigres. As you can imagine, complications–of both the personal identity and espionage variety–ensue.
Recommended for those who enjoyed Ha Jin’s The Map of Betrayal.
If you actually do like literary fiction:
Marilynne Robinson ‘s Gilead (2006)
A more traditional type of Pulitzer winner, this meditative, epistolary 2005 winner is told from the perspective of an elderly Iowa clergyman, living in the 1950s. He knows he is dying and sets out to record his life’s story–and that of his father and grandfather–for his son. If you like plot-driven fiction, this book is probably not for you, but if you like character-driven work with lovely prose and enjoy literary fiction that is not dour, you’ll likely love this book.
Recommended for those who enjoyed Jane Smiley’s Some Luck and/or Kent Haruf’s Plainsong.
If you prefer nonfiction:
Tom Reiss’s The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo (2012)
This 2013 Biography winner tells the story of a fascinating but forgotten figure in French history–Thomas-Alexandre Dumas. The illegitimate son of a French nobleman and a slave, he rose to the top of the French army during the French Revolutionary Wars before a stint as a POW and a clash with a certain Corsican named Napoleon Bonaparte put an end to his military career. Today, if he has any name recognition, it’s probably for being the father of Alexandre Dumas, the 19th-century writer who gave the world historical adventure novels, like The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers. But Thomas-Alexandre’s life inspired the swashbuckling action in his son’s work and is an intriguing story in its own right.
Recommended for those who enjoyed Tom Reiss’s other biographies, Alexandre Dumas’s work, and/or Jennet Conant’s The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington
David Oshinsky’s Polio: An American Story (2006)
If you like good books about social history and science, consider reading this 2006 winner for history. David M. Oshinsky not only details the inspiring story of Jonas Salk’s creation of the polio vaccine, but he also chronicles the intense fear that surrounded the disease in the mid-20th century. The widespread influence polio has even today on American medicine in regard to disease advocacy, drug testing, and lawsuits over liability make this a relevant read. His argument that the “polio epidemic” was never, in fact, an epidemic after all makes it a conversation starter.
Recommended for those who enjoyed Jeffrey Kluger’s Splendid Solution: Jonas Salk and the Conquest of Polio and/or John Kelly’s The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death.
If you want a Western:
Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove (1985)
I tried to just stick with selections that were winners after 2000, but I could not resist throwing in one of my favorite books, Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, the 1986 Pulitzer Prize winner for Fiction. In its depiction of a cattle drive from Texas to Montana in the 1870s, led by bored retired Texas Rangers, it’s a wonderful Western that immerses the reader in its time and place. But it’s also an engrossing work of fiction with memorable adventures and characters. And, of course, reading the book is also the perfect excuse to watch–or re-watch–the excellent miniseries adaptation after you’re done. You see, even a Pultizer winner can make a good movie!
Recommended for those who enjoyed Robert Bausch’s As Far As The Eye Can See, Alix Hawley’s All True Not A Lie In It, and Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy,
As always, if you’re interested in learning more about any of these books, please follow this link to our online library catalog.
Have you read any of these books? Is the Pulitzer Prize a reading turn-on or turn-off for you? What’s your favorite Pulitzer Prize-winning book? Tell us in the comments!