Posts Tagged ‘pulitzer winner’

31st January
2011
written by Steph

"Oh my God!"

If The Catcher in the Rye is considered required reading for teens in high school, then I definitely think that A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole should be required reading for those at college and university. It’s not that Dunces’ central character (and some (where some = me) might argue, the titular character as well) is what Holden Caulfield would be at age 30, because truthfully there is only one Ignatius J. Reilly (and that’s a good thing)! But as I read through Dunces, I kept thinking that for all of its absurd twists and outlandish moments, there is a part of it that very much deals with being out in the real world and figuring out what to do with your time and yourself, and just making it through all of the bizarre curve balls life (or, as Ignatius would claim, Fortuna) has a way of throwing at you. (more…)
19th August
2010
written by Steph

When I picked up a copy of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao I only knew three things about it: 1) it had won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction; 2) it had a bunch of Spanish in it; and 3) it involved a lot of “geeky” sci-fi/fantasy references. The first point was certainly not a deterrent, and I figured that being fluent in French and having taken one year of highschool Spanish would probably be enough to make it through any smatterings of Spanish throughout the book. I’d only heard effusive praise for the book, even by those readers who didn’t have an extensive background in genre fiction, so I was pretty excited to give it a go. I think the first thing I have to say is something that you’ve probably heard in other reviews but which I must make very clear: THERE IS A LOT OF SPANISH IN THIS BOOK. Sometimes it’s just a word thrown into a sentence here or there that doesn’t completely undermine your comprehension of the book… but other times it’s an entire phrase, and it’s not likely to be one of those phrases you learned in an introductory language course. This isn’t holiday Spanish, this is contemporary, living Spanish that uses a lot of slang and idioms, that will probably be lost on you unless you’re a native speaker or extremely fluent. If you know how to ask where the beach is or proclaim your love of chicken and rice, that’s not going to cut it. Consider yourself warned! (As an aside, you need to worry less if you know nada about sci-fi and fantasy. I’m sure some references didn’t hit home, but I didn’t feel these detracted from my comprehension of the novel.) (more…)
26th March
2010
written by Steph

In Edgar Allen Poe’s classic story “The Tell-Tale Heart”, the sound of a still beating heart represents the manifestation of a murderer’s guilt.  The rhythmic pounding riles and incites Poe’s narrator, ultimately driving him to confess his crime in order to gain a reprieve from his torment. However, not all heartbeats are torture.  To me, listening to Tony’s heart beating as we lie in bed at night is one of the most soothing and gentle sounds I know, lulling me softly into the arms of sleep.  The heartbeat is life’s soundtrack, and Gilead – an epistolary novel recounting a dying preacher’s thoughts on life – is like reading a heartbeat. I don’t think it is strictly true to say that Gilead is a narrative without a plot; there are specific stories that Reverend Ames wishes to share with his young son through his letter, but the action is quite fractured, often interrupted by long reflections on faith, family, love, forgiveness and life. The things that happened over the course of Ames’s life are important insofar as all of our experiences shape our present person.  But although such moments are frequent in novels, do real people often have a single moment that defines who they are, just one story to tell?  When looking back on your life, could you easily pick just a single thing as the most important event that transpired all the years that you lived?  Such clarity would probably make for a good story, but it alone might be the very basis of fiction. Regardless, although Gilead may not be the kind of narrative most readers are used to, it is a narrative.  We learn much about the men in the Ames family, starting with John’s grandfather.  John comes from a family of preachers, so he spends a lot of time discussing the many ways in which they have all struggled with issues of faith and applied God’s teachings to their own lives.  Another storyline that features quite prominently is John’s lifelong friendship with a fellow preacher and the difficult relationship John has developed with the man’s troubled son (happens to be named after John and is his godson).  We learn early on that John is very wary of his godson, but it takes most of the novel for us to learn why exactly this is. (more…)
3rd March
2009
written by Steph
Winner of the 2002 Pulitzer

Winner of the 2002 Pulitzer

I’m sorry for the hiatus in reviews lately, but the latter half of February saw me in a rather big reading slump.  None of the books I was picking up held my interest for very long, and I just wasn’t feeling as though I wanted to spend my free time reading.  Hey, it happens!  I can’t say that I’m fully out of this funk, but I will say that this book helped a lot, because Empire Falls is a really good book (perhaps unsurprising, given that it won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize). Prior to Empire Falls, I hadn’t read anything by Russo, so I really had no idea of what I was in for when I started this novel.  For what it’s worth, the back of the novel briefly mentions the novel takes place in a small town in Maine, Empire Falls, which has seen better days.  An accurate bit of trivia, but not really all that informative or revealing.  In a way, I think I profited from the relatively terse description on the novel’s back flap, as a good portion of the fun with this novel was just immersing myself in its world and seeing what would unfold next.  At its heart, this novel revolves are Miles Roby, who grew up in Empire Falls and runs the struggling Empire Grill.  Also featured are his teenage daughter, Tick and estranged wife, Janine who is leaving him for the local gym owner, Walt Cormeau.  Behind the scenes, but pulling all the strings is elderly Francine Whiting, the Whiting family being the only prosperous family in all of Empire Falls.  I think it’s fair to describe this novel as a “slice of life” as it generally follows the trials and tribulations of small town people living in a small town in close detail, such that the reader really feels like he or she is there.  Accordingly, we learn of the town’s history as well as the personal histories of this rich cast of characters (there are tons of secondary characters to boot, all of them contributing to the sense that one is reading about a really vibrant and vivid family), and certain secrets are revealed along the way, too.  It’s the kind of novel that operates on the “slow boil” principle – for a long while it seems like really nothing is happening, but eventually you find yourself sucked in as things gradually begin to spiral and suddenly tons of stuff is happening.  At times I felt that maybe Russo could have stood to chop bits here and there – the novel clocks in at nearly 500 pages – but I think it would be difficult for Russo’s characters to resonate and forge emotional connections with the reader if we were afforded a brisker read.  They’ve all spent so much time with one another, so it’s very rewarding to feel at the end of it all that you’ve experienced something along with all of them and have a good grasp of Empire Falls’ denizens.  I think after spending a week or so reading this book, you can’t help but feel connected to the people contained within its pages. (more…)
10th January
2009
written by Steph
Middlesex

It seems like pretty much everyone in the universe who reads this book (and their moms) loves it.  It won the Pulitzer in 2003 (generally a point in a book’s favor, I would say), but it was also named an Oprah’s book club pick (I don’t want to be a snob, but let’s say that I don’t look to Queen O to dictate my reading habits… I certainly don’t think people should read particular books simply at her say so, but I suppose it would be equally wrong for me to NOT read a book for the same reason).  It’s been sitting on the shelf long enough that I vowed to not be daunted by its 500+ pages any longer. In the end, I’m glad I did, because those pages were immensely readable and wove a very rich tale indeed.  At first glance, Middlesex appears to be the story of a hermaphrodite (lady-man lady!), Cal(liope) Stephanides.  Cal is born with 5-alpha-reductase deficiency, a genetic disorder stemming from a chromosomal mutation.  This results in an insensitivity to testosterone while in the womb, such that Cal is born with the outward appearance of a female; at puberty, however, the influx of testerone causes certain male characteristics to appear.  I found the idea of exploring the nature versus nurture debate with respect to sexual and gender identity through fiction to be a pretty interesting ones and hoped Eugenides would treat the subject with a deft hand. (more…)