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.

1800s Cure for Deafness and Other Maladies

Sunnispace has posted some excerpts from a book published in 1852 that she recently bought called Ladies’ Indispensable Assistant, which claimed to help women of the time with everything from caring for canary birds to curing cancer (a recipe which called for the patient to drink a concoction made from, among other things, the very poisonous plant, hemlock). 

Here is the cure for deafness, according to the author:

Take ant’s eggs and onion juice, mix and drop into the ear; or, drop into the ear at night six or eight drops of warm chamber lye.

This becomes even more disturbing when you realize that “chamber lye” is actually urine.

Read the entire post titled Advice from the 1800’s at Sunnispace’s blog.  It’s a very nice little blog, mostly about family life, and you can visit the homepage here.

Reading Advice to Ladies in 1869, Part 2

This is a continuation of the advice regarding reading which appeared in the book from the late 1800s, What Now? For Young Ladies.  Apparently, women from this era were advised not only on what to read, but how to read it…

Read slowly.  If physical dyspepsia is caused as much by rapid eating as by a multifarious diet, so may an intellectual dyspepsia be superinduced by bolting your mental food.  The books you read are the pabulum of your mind.  You eat to live, not live to eat; so you must read to live, not live to read….

Read for use, and use what you read.  There is such a thing as intellectual wine.  You may perpetually be stimulating your mind with intoxicating reading.  The reaction must be mental depression, and the longer the stimulus be kept on, and the longer the return to a natural healthful state be postponed, the deeper will be the depression and the more weakened will be the intellect when it wakes up from this unhealthful dreaming.  There are those who are thus driven again and again to the stimulant until a mental delirium tremens sets in on them, or they are reduced to a drivelling idiocy.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that although his work appears here, the author would not have liked A Bunch of Wordz at all.  Until next time, my fellow drivelling idiots, happy reading!

Reading Advice to Ladies in 1869

The book, What Now? For Young Ladies, was written in 1869 to give advice to women who had just graduated college but could not enter the workforce as their male counterparts did.  The author is Charles F. Deems, D.D., Pastor of the “Church of the Strangers” in New York.  Pastor Deems had some very specific instructions on what and how a lady should read…

You must read.  You will read.  The habits already formed will lead you to this.  The danger is that you may read the wrong kinds of books, or read the right kind improperly.  Upon these points a few suggestions are affectionately addressed to your understanding.

1) Be content not to read every thing.  You cannot go over the whole field.  Make a selection.  Not because it is a book has a volume claims upon you.  You would not allow every kind of man to talk to you for hours.  Be as choice of books, for books are men’s minds made portable.  As there are so many good books in each department of learning, and whereas your time is short, select the very best.

2) Be sure that you never read a sentence in a book which you would not be pleased to have your father or your brother know to be engaging your attention.  Never read a book which you must peruse in secret.

3) Beware of new books.   Let them take their place in society before you admit them to your library.  They will do you as much good five years hence as now, and then those assayers of books, the critics, will have passed tehm through the fire, and the great public of reading persons, often forming a safer tribunal for the trial of books than even the critics, will have stamped the mark of an approximated true valuation.  There are enough books which have survived three generations, to engage your attention while the books published this year will be running the gauntlet.

4) Beware of books with colored paper covers, the cheap thin issues of a depraved press, the anonymous nouvellettes, and tales and stories.  Better never read than peruse such trash as these contain.  Be sure that the man who wrote the book you are reading is really a great man in his department.  Do not be ashamed of being ignorant of the productions of the modern, flippant, bizarre writings, while you are unfamiliar with Milton and Shakespeare, Spenser and Ben Jonson, the men that “built the lofty rhyme,” and the grand old fathers of our noble English tongue.  If you read the modern books of such men as Macaulay and Hazlitt, and Leigh Hunt, read with them the older and the greater men, to whom they make constant reference, and from whose “well of English undefiled” they drew the water sparking in their shallower channels.

5) Make yourself a small good library to begin on.  Let it embrace the works of a very few of the greatest poets, the greatest historians, the greatest essayists, the greatest metaphysicians, and the greatest religious writers in the language.  Of course THE BIBLE will lie at the foundation of your studies.  These, with a very few books in each of those departments of physical science with which a woman should be acquainted, and the best dictionary of the language, and, if practicable, an encyclopedia, will make you such a beginning as will give strength and breadth and consistency to your self-cuture.  If you have been styding other languages let the same rigid rule be applied to the literatrue of those languages.  The careful reading of one book will show you what you further need in that department; and so you will pass over the field of English literature, omitting much, but short as life is, and many as may be your cares, you will doubtless by perseverance obtain all that is necessary.

6) You will also have your periodicals.  Few things produce superficiality more than a promiscuous reading of our current periodicals.  You will have two selections to make; one from the mass of such publications soliciting your attention, and another, from those which you take, the articles proper to be read.  It is one of the necessities of successful editing of our monthly magazines that so much useless matter must be introduced to make them popular enough to render them profitable to their proprietors.  There is no monthly magazine in existence, with which I am acquainted, which should be read in all its articles by an intellectual young lady seeking a high and large cultivation of mind.  Your own judgement must guide you in this.  A very few of the best monthlies and quarterlies should be suffered to enter our families, and from these a young lady of refinement may select, perhaps, all the light reading necessary to mental recreation.  It is painful to observe how low the standard of mind among our ladies is, judging from the contents of the most popular magazines for ladies.  In your measure do what you can to correct this evil, by laboring to enlarge in your sex the class of more elevated readers.

The author then goes on to make recommendations about the proper way to read.  I will share the funnier points in my next post.