I've finished this challenge hosted by Rose City Reader, and now it's time to reflect on whether the National Book Awards winners are better, worse, or just different than the Pulitzer winners. Based on such a small sample, it's hard to generalize, and all of the books I read were extremely well-written, so this is a difficult choice to make. But of this three-book series, I'd have to say that Katherine Ann Porter's Collected Stories (which won both prizes) gets my vote for the strongest literary work.
Welty's The Optimist's Daughter (the Pulitzer winner) is a steel magnolia of a book, perfect in tone, situation, and word choice, with sharply drawn characters and a relatively narrow storyline that leads gently into a much larger theme. It's a piece of great literature, not to mention great Southern literature, without a doubt.
McCann's Let the Great World Spin (the National Book Award winner) is a modern patchwork that benefits from its unspoken association with 9/11 and the destruction of the World Trade Center towers. It has long sections of brilliance, portraying a variety of interesting, likeable and not-so-likeable characters; it also has a few sections that do not work as well, leaving it slightly uneven overall. Time will tell whether this is one of the greats.
So that leaves Porter's collection of awkward moments. Overall, I think this work not only presents grand themes and memorable, believable characters, but I think it moved literature forward in its time. Its frank exploration of the mysterious secrets and understandings of childhood, its variations of communication and miscommunication, and its moving melding of mind and heart combine to reveal the human experience in a new way. For those reasons, here it gets my vote.
This was a fun challenge that drew me off the beaten reading path, with delightful results. This is my second year of participating and I am already thinking ahead to next year . . . . Thanks for hosting, Rose City!