Monday, April 16, 2012

Pulitzer board to fiction jury: why did you give us this crap to read?

NMC notes that the Pulitzer Prizes are out, and for the first time since 1977, the board has refused to make an award.

The way it works is, a jury picks three finalists and then the board votes. This year's finalists were Train Dreams by Denis Johnson, Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, and The Pale King by DFW. (I can't imagine that last was a good book, and know nothing of the other two.) No word whether the board had a hung vote, hated all three, or just what.

... Hung vote, it's said:
"The main reason (for the fiction decision) is that no one of the three entries received a majority, and thus after lengthy consideration, no prize was awarded," said Sig Gissler, administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes. "There were multiple factors involved in these decisions, and we don't discuss in detail why a prize is given or not given." * * *

Susan Larson, chairwoman of the Pulitzer fiction jury, stressed that it wasn't up to the jury to select the winner. Rather, she said, its job was to submit three finalists to the board. "The decision not to award the prize this year rests solely with the Pulitzer board," she wrote in an email to the AP.
The board has 20 members, including such luminaries as Thomas Friedman (himself heavily favored to win Wanker of the Decade) and a co-founder of Politico - heavy with newspaper editors, which perhaps suggests part of the problem: a single board that evaluates journalism, fiction, poetry ....

UPDATE: Aaaaand it's Friedman.


  1. a) I heard reliable things about Swamplandia, all good, including from Jane, but they did not make me jump to read it. Perhaps my bad.

    b) Given the degree to which I've choked on Wallace's fiction (while loving much of his non-fiction), I was not really about to try his giant unfinished mess about the IRS that seemed so unworkable he hung himself.

    c) I know nothing about choice three

    d) The Pulitzer Prize has never much determined what I'd pick to read. I'm interested to note that a couple that from prior no-prize years where the committee made recommendations (Voice at the Back Door) that I'd read. But, save for All The Kings Men, between The Age of Innocence (1921) and Executioners Song (1981) (followed by Confederacy of Dunces) what did they pick you'd give much of a shit about? I mean, the Faulkner novels selected where The Rievers and A Fable!?! OK, I'll calm down a bit-- Grapes of Wrath, To Kill a Mockingbird. But seriously-- The Caine Mutiny? Bridge of San Luis Rey? The Caine Mutiny got it the year Invisible Man got the National Book award. I've read both. It's silly to suggest a comparison. I guess I won't bitch about the year To Kill a Mockingbird beat both Catch-22 and The Moviegoer... but...

  2. Swamplandia was amazing at depicting the old Florida using an on-its-last-legs family-run alligator farm in the swamps and then contrasting it with the Florida of Disney and Universal Studios. We lived in Tallahassee up until right before Disneyworld opened and we'd travel Florida in the family station wagon to Wakulla Springs, St. Augustine, Silver Springs, etc. That was part of its appeal for me.

  3. Well sure it's bogus, like the Oscars, but that doesn't stop us from carping about 'em.

    I don't read much fiction, but Gilead and The Hours were very good. The award has perhaps been less egregious in recent years than it was in the first 50 years.

    Sorry for the DFW choke - Infinite Jest really is good, but you pretty much have to be in bed with the flu to settle down to it.

  4. Oh, and here's a gem from that Wikipedia article I linked:

    The fiction jury had recommended the 1941 award go to Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls. Although the Pulitzer Board initially agreed with that judgment, the president of Columbia University, Nicholas Murray Butler, persuaded the board to reverse its judgment because he deemed the novel offensive, and no award was given that year. McDowell, Edwin. "Publishing: Pulitzer Controversies." New York Times 11 May 1984: C26.

    Guess he'd never felt the earth move.

  5. Infinite Jest is in my "try again later" pile. There's a short story collection of his that is most certainly not. I got almost halfway through and just quit.

  6. Not a short-story guy, DFW. Great essayist, one good novel.

  7. I've got real problems with Atrios's attempt to distinguish what Glen Reynolds does from wankering, particularly after reading his description of why he was ranking Andrew Sullivan so highly.

  8. Sully is more MSM than Reynolds; I think the idea is to peg media types who enable the Cheneys etc to do their evil.

  9. I'd have accepted that explanation rather than the "Oh, Reynolds is not a wanker." If wanking is about content....

  10. Wow, Friedman went all the way in his latest in earning that wanker title. He proposes that what political gridlock in Washington needs is for a third party candidate, ideally Mayor Bloomberg, to run for president. He never hints at how this-- which could produce another, say 2000-like result-- would have any impact on the actual source of the gridlock at the other end of the Mall.

    He's David Broder without the actual anecdotes produced by actual reporting-- in this one, the "reporting" was whining about his cell signal, bumps in the road, and a busted parking lot escalator all encountered in going from DC to New York.

  11. What this country needs, I guess, is a president with positions materially indistinguishable from Obama's, but Republican. Or white. Or something. Maybe just with a mustache.

    ... Mocking Friedman is easy, but the scary thing is, the Times probably figures there are tens of thousands of readers who *like* Friedman. Are they right?