Thursday, May 31, 2012

What have I gotten myself into?

In less than 2 hours, our Pulitzer challenge will officially begin. What started as an enthusiastic (and perhaps poorly thought out) reply to Maria's Facebook status has turned into a 12 month long commitment.  How do I get myself into these things??? Who knows. But a more productive question would be, what do I plan to get out of this thing?

I think I will come out of this one a much better person with a well rounded understanding of the progression of 20th century literature. What was considered ground breaking in 1918? 1919? How did tastes and standards shift as wars and technology changed the face of our world's nations? Are any plot lines considered timeless? Will I be able to pick up on jokes that would have been considered obvious at the time they were written? Will all of these books be horrifically boring and dated as a result of not having proven themselves classics for more than one flash in the pan moment the year they were published? (I really hope not...)

So many questions! And lucky for me, I have a whole year to figure them out. And so it begins!

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Challenge

Sometimes when I'm in a bookstore or library and have no idea what to choose from the shelves, I wander into the literature section, pull out my handy dandy smart phone, Google, "Pulitzer winners fiction," and spend a few minutes poring over one of the most elite lists in American fiction. This is how I found The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which I loved, and this is also how I found Tinkers, which I did not love. It's how I learned that Gone with the Wind won the prize in 1937 (who knew?), and how I learned that sometimes collections of short stories win.

Being a nerd who has always taken pride in a self-proclaimed broad(ish) range of knowledge, a thought occurred to me among the shelves one day, "Wouldn't it be cool to read them ALL?" That thought was followed closely by this one, "Oh right! Who has the time?" I mean, let's get serious, that's a LOT of books. (85, to be exact.) Some of them are quite intimidating. (I'm looking at you, Norman Mailer.) And you know, I have a life. School, work, family, friends, boyfriend, yoga, cooking, napping, you name it! And although I put the thought aside at the time, it was always there in the back of my mind. Lurking. Waiting for just the right moment.

A few weeks ago I found myself in a familiar spot: the literature section of a local bookstore. I turned to my trusty smart phone to see who won the 2012 fiction category and was surprised to find that no award had been granted. Incredulous, I thought, "Can they even do that?" Well yes, as it turns out, they can. They have done it quite a bit actually. Eleven times in all, including this year. I figured that out because I ended up entering all of the prizewinning works into an ultra-nerdy Excel spreadsheet with other details about each book. Like the number of pages (nerd alert! I had to manually look those up), if I'd ever read it before, and if the author was a man or a woman. I learned some interesting things:
  1. Of the 85 winners, I've already read eleven (I am a literary genius!): Gone With the Wind, The Old Man and the Sea, To Kill A Mockingbird, Lonesome Dove, The Hours, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Middlesex, The Road, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Tinkers, and A Visit from the Goon Squad.
  2. An approximate total page count for all 85 works is just over 34,000. I had to guess at a couple that are out of print. To read them all in a year's time, you have to average 94 pages per day.
  3. The Pulitzer for fiction has only been awarded to women on 29 occasions, and no woman has ever won more than once - unlike Messrs. Tarkington, Faulkner and Updike, who've each won it twice.
Because I'm a social media over-sharer, I posted this to my Facebook page, "Since 1917, 85 novels have won the Pulitzer prize for fiction. If I told you I was going to read them all in one year (which averages out to 94 pages per day), do you think I could do it?" I got 30-odd comments with some major encouragement. And a volunteer partner who you'll hear more from very soon. (And thank God someone is going to do this with me, because frankly A Confederacy of Dunces has me shaking in my boots!)

The rules are simple: We will each read every book in chronological order and blog along the way. We start June 1, 2012 and have until May 31, 2013 to get through 34,000 pages of award-winning American literature. Please read along with us, share your thoughts on the books, and send words of encouragement. Or, you know, laugh at what could easily turn into a hair-ripping-out experience of unprecedented magnitude.