Moved by fiction: That's the kind of Salt Lake Tribune readers we've been talking to, after more than 60 people answered our call to name their favorite Pulitzer Prize-winning novels. This project began with Rachel Piper's story about Richard Isakson, a retired Brigham Young University professor who is finishing a quest to read every Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. (Here are some ideas about books that might be a good start for your Pulitzer reading quest.)
We invite Tribune readers to celebrate our favorite books — and the new Pulitzer literary winners that will be announced Monday, April 18 — with a Novel Night party at Weller Book Works on Thursday, April 28. See box for details.
The top pick is, of course, no surprise: Harper Lee's best-selling "To Kill a Mockingbird," which earned the Pulitzer in 1961 and gained attention again last year with the publication of Lee's "Go Set a Watchman" and the author's death in February.
Other readers agreed with me about "Gilead," which reader Phillip Waite, of North Logan, considered a "beautiful rendition of the place and role of faith and ministry in everyday life."
Another takeaway from the novel is that faith isn't synonymous with certainty, and that faith and doubt can cohabitate and each is better for it, Waite says. "I also remember that it was the first novel I ever highlighted and underlined passages in because it was just so beautiful."
Other novels highly regarded by many Tribune readers include hometown boy Wallace Stegner's "Angle of Repose" (1972) and John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" (1940). More favorites: Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" (2007), Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea" (1953) and John Kennedy Toole's "A Confederacy of Dunces" (1981).
Readers of every stripe answered our query, ranging from Rebecca James, of Millcreek, who says that Pulitzer Prize-winning novels shouldn't be dismissed as "high brow and boring," to Pat Ames, of Taylorsville, who is not afraid to say that she finds many classics to be "deadly dull."
James, who works at Western Governors University and teaches at Salt Lake Community College, says she's passionate about reading stories of everyday life, including understanding more about such flawed and beautifully rounded characters as the matronly mother who is the title character of Elizabeth Strout's "Olive Kittredge" (2009).
She recounts a moment in the novel when Kittredge leaves behind doughnuts for her dog before she leaves on a walk, which struck her as "endearingly honest." She hopes a contemporary generation of writers will continue to explore the literary archetype of the crone with more of that kind of honesty.
Ames, who has a doctorate in technology, says at present she mostly reads for escape, but nominated "To Kill a Mockingbird" as her favorite Pulitzer novel, calling herself a fan of the book and the 1962 movie adaptation for its perfect casting of Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch.
Jennifer Palmer, a photographer who lives in Salt Lake City, says she appreciates the story of "Mockingbird" even more now than when she first read it as a 15-year-old in English class. Its themes about challenging racial injustice seem at least as relevant as when the book was published in 1960, says Palmer, who calls herself an "equal-opportunity reader."
"I reread it a year ago, and it blows my mind how literature just captures the cycle of humanity," she says.
Stephanie Lobrot lauds another local favorite, "Angle of Repose," for the weave of its language. "The sentences in and of themselves were a thing of beauty," she says. "Collectively, they became a masterpiece. I loved even more he took a story that could have been more mundane and just made it beautiful. It's not a cliffhanger, and yet I absolutely couldn't put it down."
Fiction writer Suzanne Jeschke, of Salt Lake City, praised Bernard Malamud's "The Fixer" (1967) as one of the most memorable novels she has ever read. She loves its "haunting" portrayal of a character who is highly misunderstood to the outer world, yet readers come to understand him as the story unfolds.
"The way the novel is written is sort of myopic," she says. "You're so in this character's inner world, and you feel like you're in their head, and yet it's a universal story. It feels like a commentary on the Jewish struggle."