2 Pulitzer Prize Winning Books That Look Like They Don’t Suck

What may be surprising to many is that a pulitzer-prize-winning book isn’t necessarily a bestselling book.  What makes a book great to the general public isn’t necessarily what makes a book great within the smaller circle of the literary world.

Add to that the fact that my tastes, as an average reader, tend to be rather specific in genre (paranormal, horror, fantasy, sci-fi), and you can see why I won’t be making my way through the pulitzer list any time soon.

However, after searching long and hard through a list of previous pulitzer winners, I did find 2 books that  look accessible even to someone of my usually jaded, mass-market tastes.

1. House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday (1969): 

Description:  “He was a young American Indian named Abel, and he lived in two worlds. One was that of his father, wedding him to the rhythm of the seasons, the harsh beauty of the land, the ecstasy of the drug called peyote. The other was the world of the twentieth century, goading him into a compulsive cycle of sexual exploits, dissipation, and disgust.”

I was especially drawn to this book after reading this quote that an amazon reader included in their review:

“Dypaloh. There was a house made of dawn. It was made of pollen and of rain, and the land was very old and everlasting. There were many colors on the hills, and the plain was bright with different colored clays and sands.”

Momoday is also a poet laureate who was born on a Kiowa reservation in Oklahoma.  The publication of this book in the 60’s was a huge breakthrough for Native American writers.  To learn more about this author, see his interview with Modern American Poetry or read some of his poems at PoemHunter.com.

2. The Stories of John Cheever by John Cheever (1979):

Description:  “These stories seem at times to be stories of a long-lost world when the city of New York was still filled with a river light, when you heard the Benny Goodman quartets from a radio in the corner stationary store, and when almost everybody wore a hat. Here is the last of that generation of chain smokers who woke the world in the morning with their coughing, who used to get stoned at cocktail parties and perform obsolete dance steps like ‘the Cleveland Chicken,’ set sail for Europe on ships, who were truly nostalgic for love and happiness…”

This book is a collection of short stories.  Here’s a little bit from a story called The Enourmous Radio:

“Irene was proud of her living room, she had chosen its furnishings and colors as carefully as she chose her clothes, and now it seemed to her that the new radio stood among her intimate possessions like an aggressive intruder. She was confounded by the number of dials and switches on the instrument panel, and she studied them thoroughly before she put the plug into a wall socket and turned the radio on.  The dials flooded with a malevolent green light…”

Cheever had an interesting but sad life.  He was once kicked out of a school for smoking, his education ended when he was 17, his father abandoned the family after losing everything in the stock market crash, and his mother drank herself to death.  Find out more about this author by reading his biography or read quotes by the author at BrainyQuote.com, including gems like this one:

“When I remember my family, I always remember their backs. They were always indignantly leaving places.”

If you’ve read either of these books, or even if you haven’t but think they look interesting, leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Book Suggestions, A List of Modern Day Classics

Entertainment Weekly recently put out a list of the best 100 books published between 1983 and 2008, calling them the new classics.  The book list doesn’t give any type of description, so I decided to go through the list, do some research, pick out the books that look most interesting to me (minus those I’ve already read), and provide you with a little info so you could see if they would be something you’d want to read, too.  

Here are 5 book suggestions, in no particular order.  Each of the following reviews is courtesy of amazon.com.

1. The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr

In this funny, razor-edged memoir, Mary Karr, a prize-winning poet and critic, looks back at her upbringing in a swampy East Texas refinery town with a volatile, defiantly loving family. She recalls her painter mother, seven times married, whose outlaw spirit could tip into psychosis; a fist-swinging father who spun tales with his cronies–dubbed the Liars’ Club; and a neighborhood rape when she was eight. An inheritance was squandered, endless bottles emptied, and guns leveled at the deserving and undeserving.

2. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Fifteen-year-old Christopher John Francis Boone is mathematically gifted and socially hopeless, raised in a working-class home by parents who can barely cope with their child’s quirks. He takes everything that he sees (or is told) at face value, and is unable to sort out the strange behavior of his elders and peers.  Late one night, Christopher comes across his neighbor’s poodle, Wellington, impaled on a garden fork. Wellington’s owner finds him cradling her dead dog in his arms, and has him arrested. After spending a night in jail, Christopher resolves–against the objection of his father and neighbors–to discover just who has murdered Wellington. He is encouraged by Siobhan, a social worker at his school, to write a book about his investigations, and the result–quirkily illustrated, with each chapter given its own prime number–is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

3. Sandman by Neil Gaiman (a graphic novel series)

Amazon customer, “T. James Book Smuggler” writes of the first book in the series:

The novel is divided up into separate stories/chapters that seemingly jump around and are unrelated at first glance, but eventually tie together nicely as the story progresses. The tale is simple, with mythological roots.It is a quest story of a lost hero, stranded from his home, who undertakes a quest to regain his power and his throne. Enslaved by greedy humans who aimed to capture his sister, Death, Dream (or Morpheus) spends years waiting for his inevitable escape, and revenge. Once freed of his prison, Dream is terrifying. More the stuff of nightmares, he is imagined beautifully in bold dark ink and burning red eyes.

4. Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc

Politicians rail about welfare queens, crack babies and deadbeat dads, but what do they know about the real struggle it takes to survive being poor? Journalist LeBlanc spent some 10 years researching and interviewing one extended family-mother Lourdes, daughter Jessica, daughter-in-law Coco and all their boyfriends, children and in-laws-from the Bronx to Troy, N.Y., in and out of public housing, emergency rooms, prisons and courtrooms. LeBlanc’s close listening produced this extraordinary book, a rare look at the world from the subjects’ point of view.

5. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

At the age of 22, Eggers became both an orphan and a “single mother” when his parents died within five months of one another of unrelated cancers. In the ensuing sibling division of labor, Dave is appointed unofficial guardian of his 8-year-old brother, Christopher. The two live together in semi-squalor, decaying food and sports equipment scattered about, while Eggers worries obsessively about child-welfare authorities, molesting babysitters, and his own health. His child-rearing strategy swings between making his brother’s upbringing manically fun and performing bizarre developmental experiments on him. (Case in point: his idea of suitable bedtime reading is John Hersey’sHiroshima.)