Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Sunshine Smackdown -- Battle of the Prizes Wrap-Up

Rose City Reader's pitched battle starred the winners of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the winners of the National Book Award. We readers were supposed to determine whether one prize was superior, based on its "higher standards" or "better winners" or "more reading entertainment or educational value."

I have read only a limited number of books from the lists, and it's always hard for me to say whether I think a particular book is "better" than another.

I have no trouble saying whether I liked a book or loathed it. I'm also comfortable justifying my overall opinion of a book based on subject matter, plot, style, characterization, theme, etc., etc., etc. Why do you think I spent all those years as a lit major? 'Cause I like to talk book talk!

But "better" is too squishy for me. I think Olive Kitteridge, the Pulitzer winner, is a near-masterpiece. I loved every moment of reading it, and continue to think about it days later. It's very accessible and many people will enjoy it, whether they analyze it or just breeze through. This one's the young upstart in the ring: good stuff now, but hard to tell whether this one will stand the test of time.

The Fixer, the dual winner, is a totally different book in almost every possible way, but also one I would heartily recommend to the right person. It deals with the big themes, employing strong philosophical and historic elements; in some ways is a much more serious, substantial book. If you're looking for the reigning champion, maybe with a little age on him but still powerful, look no further.

And The Great Fire, the National Book Award winner? Definitely my choice for third place in this trio. I'm sure it has its followers, but it's not a book I would pass along with enthusiasm. Despite being rather well-written, it simply lacks the gravitas of the others. It belongs in another weight class altogether.

All that said, no way am I going to generalize about an entire prize list based on such a small sample. Even with two National Book Award winners on the list, I'm at a loss to draw any general conclusions about that prize. At the very least, I would need to read another NBA winner as a tiebreaker.

But I haven't failed entirely at the goals of this challenge: We were also permitted to simply read three great books. I'd say I did that, almost. And in this particular boxing match, almost counts.


  1. Great analysis! And you reminded me of the guidelines for my own challenge. :)

    As soon as I finish Goodbye, Columbus, I will try to do a wrap up "compare and contrast" post of my ow.

    In the meantime. I will add a link to this on the main contest page.


  2. Thanks! I learned about the wrap-up post from Wendy and the Themed Reading Challenge over at caribousmom. It's a good prompt to synthesize all the books (if possible).

    Looking forward to more of what you have to say!


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