Friday, April 17, 2009
Prize and Prejudice
AbeBooks.com, an online bookseller, has just compiled a list of the top 10 forgotten Pulitzer Prize-winning novels. It's a fascinating glimpse into what was thought significant at some time or another, as well as a not very inspiring look a some of the misjudgments of the people who award one of the most sought-after prizes. Consider, for example, that although William Faulkner won twice, the first of his awards was for what is almost certainly his worst novel, A Fable, and the second is for the comparatively feeble The Reivers. And that in the year when he was eligible for a Pulitzer for The Sound and the Fury, the award went to Julia Peterkin for Scarlet Sister Mary; when Light and August could have been honored, the judges chose Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth. (Buck would, of course, go on to win the Nobel Prize long before Faulkner did.) And that Hemingway's only Pulitzer was for The Old Man and the Symbol ... uh, Sea. Though the Pulitzer judges have shown better judgment in recent years, the truth is that the Pulitzers are almost as reliable an index of enduring creative greatness as the Oscars. Which is to say, not very.