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15 ways to get started reading the Pulitzer winners

First Published      Last Updated Mar 11 2016 02:05 pm

Daunted by the Pulitzer? Don't be. Becky Jo Gesteland, interim dean of English at Weber State University, notes that the Pulitzer fiction winners were often popular novels, making them far more accessible than what you might read in college literature classes. Here are some recommendations from her and Siân Griffiths, director of creative writing at Weber.

Do you have a favorite? Tell the Tribune.

"March" by Geraldine Brooks

"It's a retelling of the Civil War, a retelling of 'Little Women' from the perspective of the father," who's away fighting for much of Louisa May Alcott's classic. "It's grim — it's the Civil War, still one of the bloodiest, most awful wars in history, but it's a really accessible book. And it's shorter," Gesteland notes. "After you read it, you want to go find out about the Civil War; it gives you a different perspective. It's a much less romanticized view" of the time period than "Little Women," she says, but it'll also make you want to go back and re-read that novel.

"The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay" by Michael Chabon

"This was just a lot of fun," says Griffiths. "It really took on that comic-book character, but was also placing that in a larger historical context and connecting what was going on in comics to what was going on in World War II."

"Lonesome Dove" by Larry McMurtry

"I'm not usually fan of Western novels, but I really liked this one. You can kind of immerse yourself in this world," Gesteland says.

"Angle of Repose" by Wallace Stegner

"When I started graduate school, I wanted to study Wallace Stegner," Gesteland says. "He lived in Salt Lake City, went to East High. 'Angle of Repose' is about a family, and it's one of those books where you just want to underline everything."

"The Shipping News" by Annie Proulx

"This is a great one," Gesteland says. "It takes place in Newfoundland, and there's kind of weird family history, with rape and incest."

Beyond the plot, Gesteland and Griffiths praise Proulx's evocative language. The book is "amazing in its lyricism and attention to character," Griffiths says.

"What I remember is the scenery, and the starkness of where they live, in the wintertime especially," Gesteland says.

Former BYU professor Richard Isakson has read every Pulitzer-winning novel; here are nine of the lesser-known winners he says readers shouldn't miss

"One of Ours" by Willa Cather

"So Big" by Edna Ferber

"Scarlet Sister Mary" by Julia Peterkin

"Laughing Boy" by Oliver La Farge

"The Store" by Thomas Sigismund Stribling

"A Bell for Adano" by John Hersey

"The Keepers of the House" by Shirley Ann Grau

"Dragons Teeth" by Upton Sinclair

"Gone With the Wind" by Margaret Mitchell (not lesser-known given the movie version, but Isakson stresses that the book is "a different experience" and a captivating look at the South during and after the Civil War)

What kinds of writers win Pulitzers?

"If a writer wins the Pulitzer, it's going to bring new readers to their work, and any writer is hoping to find an audience for their work," says Griffiths. "On the other hand, there are a lot of writers who are interested in more avant garde work, breaking down some of the old ideas of how a novel should be constructed, for whom the Pulitzer is less impactful."

Those experimental books tend to find more favor in the National Book Critics Circle Award and the PEN Awards, whereas "Pulitzer winning books tend to be books that will connect to a fairly large audience," she says.

Anthony Doerr's "All the Light We Cannot See," which won the 2015 Pulitzer, was hugely successful even before it won the prize — something that was a bit surprising, Griffiths says, as "Doerr's previous work had really flown under the radar. He focused on creating beautiful sentences, which doesn't necessarily translate to popular success."

But Doerr apparently hit upon the magic Pulitzer formula with "All the Light We Cannot See," which, Griffiths says, both had the "plot and strong characters that did connect to people, and retained beautiful sentences."




 

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