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Pulitzer post

“For a better marriage, act like a single person,” wrote Stephanie Coontz in a recent pre-Valentine’s Day op-ed in the NY Times. She went on to cite several interesting studies measuring couples’ happiness, which seemed to point to a measurable – and positive – difference in the happiness levels of couples that maintained their pre-marriage hobbies compared to those who devoted themselves exclusively to family. Intuitively, this makes sense. We love our kids, but they can also be too much, and if we didn’t have outlets – yoga, poker, Ultimate Frisbee – we’d drive ourselves nuts.

One hobby, which we both enjoy and for which there never seems to be enough time or energy is reading. D, for example, has made the same New Year’s resolution each of the last four years – to read one book per month. Of course, it never quite works out that way. Instead, he’ll binge-read – while on vacation, or if he is traveling for work, or when S takes a solo trip with the kids – and then go months without picking up a book.

Last year during one such spate, which preceded Junebug’s birth, a friend recommended several Pulitzer-winning novels. Another friend seconded the recommendations, telling D that he was making his way through the list of Pulitzer fiction winners, which struck D as a great goal to set also for himself – both because it is doable and because the list keeps slowly growing, adding a great work of American fiction almost every year. [There have been 11 years since the Pulitzers were first awarded in 1917 when no award was given for fiction, including the prize’s inaugural year.]

Just looking at the list is enough to pique one’s curiosity. D has already read more than half of the winning novels published this century, for example, but very few from the previous century. Three authors have won the award twice (John Updike, William Faulkner, and Booth Tarkington), which reminded D that he had been meaning to read Updike’s Rabbit series for a long time. D was also struck by how few of the past winners have stood the test of time. Whereas To Kill a Mockingbird and The Old Man and the Sea are titles that most anybody would recognize, many of last century’s winners are not exactly household names.

Of the 16 Pulitzer winners D has read, he loved ten, enjoyed two, felt so-so about three, and loathed one – a rather small sample size, but a pretty encouraging ratio nonetheless. In 1980, the Pulitzer committee started announcing three finalists before selecting a winner, and the runner-up books are also worth checking out. The Poisonwood Bible, for example, was every bit as compelling as The Hours, which won the 1999 honors, and D found The Corrections considerably more engrossing than 2002’s winner, Empire Falls.

Below is the list of the 90 past winners; we’ll also add a page with reviews for the ones we’ve read (D’s list is bolded below), which we’ll update periodically. More than anything, D hopes that putting this self-commitment in writing will spur him to action. He hasn’t read anything since finishing The Known World in January, but just writing this post got him to pick up a book again (American Pastoral, which will clearly require multiple readings to do the novel justice).

2017            The Underground Railroad (Colson Whitehead)

2016          The Symphathizer (Viet Thanh Nguyen)

2015          All The Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr)

2014            The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt)

2013          The Orphan Master’s Son (Adam Johnson)

2012            no award given

2011            A Visit From The Goon Squad (Jennifer Egan)

2010           Tinkers (Paul Harding)


2009           Olive Kitteridge (Elizabeth Strout)

2008         The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao (Junot Diaz)

2007          The Road (Cormac McCarthy)

2006          March (Geraldine Brooks)

2005            Gilead (Marilynne Robinson)

2004          The Known World (Edward P. Jones)

2003            Middlesex (Jeffrey Eugenides)

2002          Empire Falls (Richard Russo)

2001          The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (Michael Chabon)

2000         Interpreter of Maladies (Jhumpa Lahiri)


1999          The Hours (Michael Cunningham)

1998            American Pastoral (Philip Roth)

1997            Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer (Steven Millhauser)

1996            Independence Day (Richard Ford)

1995            The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields)

1994            The Shipping News (E. Annie Proulx)

1993            A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain (Robert Olen Butler)

1992            A Thousand Acres (Jane Smiley)

1991            Rabbit At Rest (John Updike)

1990            The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love (Oscar Hijuelos)


1989            Breathing Lessons (Anne Tyler)

1988          Beloved (Toni Morrison)

1987            A Summons to Memphis (Peter Taylor)

1986            Lonesome Dove (Larry McMurtry)

1985            Foreign Affairs (Alison Lurie)

1984            Ironweed (William Kennedy)

1983            The Color Purple (Alice Walker)

1982            Rabbit Is Rich (John Updike)

1981           A Confederacy of Dunces (John Kennedy Toole)

1980            The Executioner’s Song (Norman Mailer)


1979            The Stories of John Cheever (John Cheever)

1978            Elbow Room (James Alan McPherson)

1977            no award given

1976            Humboldt’s Gift (Saul Bellow)

1975            The Killer Angels (Michael Shaara)

1974            no award given

1973            The Optimist’s Daughter (Eudora Welty)

1972            Angle of Repose (Wallace Stegner)

1971            no award given

1970            Collected Stories (Jean Stafford)


1969            House Made of Dawn (N. Scott Momaday)

1968            The Confessions of Nat Turner (William Styron)

1967            The Fixer (Bernard Malamud)

1966            Collected Stories (Katherine Anne Porter)

1965            The Keepers of the House (Shirley Ann Grau)

1964            no award given

1963            The Reivers (William Faulkner)

1962            The Edge of Sadness (Edwin O’Conner)

1961           To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee)

1960            Advise and Consent (Allen Drury)


1959            The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters (Robert Lewis Taylor)

1958            A Death in the Family (James Agee)

1957            no award given

1956            Andersonville (MacKinlay Kantor)

1955            A Fable (William Faulkner)

1954            no award given

1953          The Old Man and the Sea (Ernest Hemingway)

1952           The Caine Mutiny (Herman Wouk)

1951            The Town (Conrad Richter)

1950            The Way West (A. B. Guthrie)


1949            Guard of Honor (James Gould Cozzens)

1948            Tales of South Pacific (James A. Michener)

1947            All The King’s Men (Robert Penn Warren)

1946            no award given

1945            A Bell for Adano (John Hersey)

1944            Journey in the Dark (Martin Flavin)

1943            Dragon’s Teeth (Upton Sinclair)

1942            In This Our Life (Ellen Glasgow)

1941            no award given

1940          The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)


1939            The Yearling (Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings)

1938            The Late George Apley (John Phillips Marquand)

1937            Gone With the Wind (Margaret Mitchell)

1936            Honey in the Horn (Harold L. Davis)

1935            Now in November (Josephine Winslow Johnson)

1934            Lamb in His Bosom (Caroline Miller)

1933            The Store (Thomas Sigismund Stribling)

1932            The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck)

1931            Years of Grace (Margaret Ayer Barnes)

1930            Laughing Boy (Oliver La Farge)


1929            Scarlet Sister Mary (Julia Peterkin)

1928            The Bridge of San Luis Rey (Thornton Wilder)

1927            Early Autumn (Louis Bromfield)

1926            Arrowsmith (Sinclair Lewis)

1925            So Big (Edna Ferber)

1924            The Able McLaughlins (Margaret Wilson)

1923            One of Ours (Willa Cather)

1922            Alice Adams (Booth Tarkington)

1921            The Age of Innocence (Edith Wharton)

1920            no award given   


1919            The Magnificent Ambersons (Booth Tarkington)

1918            His Family (Ernest Poole)

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Good list to see like this. I have a problem of starting books and not finishing them – a stack resides next to my bed! – but recently started listening to audio books through Audible. I totally prefer non-fiction, but a few of these are on my wish list. Like you, I find that audio books still require a semi-quality chunk of time to actually sit and listen – that is as an active listener – because sometimes I have to rewind when I’ve realized I’ve zoned out while doing work or editing and haven’t actually been listening :) Falling asleep to the right audio book works for me, too, and then just have to back track a little to where I dozed off!

    April 11, 2018
    • Yeah…hmmm, never been one for audio books. I prefer not to mix technology with my reading. I like the feel of an actual book, the smell of it. We’ll add a bit of context for the ones we’ve read, but if you’re going to read just one book off this list, we’d recommend the Orphan Master’s Son — incredible story, thoroughly researched, and very well written.

      April 11, 2018
      • True, I can still understand that. Thanks for this rec – added to my list!

        April 12, 2018

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