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The 2012 Pulitzer Prizes
We had chosen all of these books as favorites last year. Read on to see our reviews for the Fiction nominees, and Non-Fiction and Poetry winners. We also have added selected commentators' perspectives about the judges' controversial decision to decline to name a Fiction winner. Maureen Corrigan offered what we thought were very reasonable suggestions
If the board, which received our three nominations in early December, is unhappy with the jury’s choices, then why not request that the jury put forward alternative selections?
And, finally, how about changing the rules so that the winner is determined by a plurality, rather than a majority of votes on the board. (And — Hello! — given that there are 18 voting members of the Pulitzer board, perhaps one more body should be added to break any potential ties.)
What do you think? Add your comment below.
National Book Award-winner Denis Johnson’s compact and intense Train Dreams (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $18) tells the story of Robert Granier, who spent his life from the early 1900s through the early 1960s working on lumber crews in Idaho and Montana. After losing his wife and daughter in a fire, Granier led a mostly solitary life homesteading and dealing with the enormous changes taking place around him, such as the advent of the automobile and the airplane. Rather than tell the story of a man’s life in exhaustive detail, Johnson captures the totality of Granier’s life by detailing just a few experiences over the course of his lifetime. Granier never lets go of the tragic deaths of his wife and daughter, and their passing merges in his mind with local folklore. Johnson’s character study reveals the essence of an ordinary man, and in that very ordinariness lies his glory. Mark LaFramboise
Two reviews from Barbara Meade
While I was reading Ahmed Rashid’s new book, Pakistan on the Brink (Viking, $26.95), I recollected a novel I had read about six months ago that takes place in the Northern Tribal Area on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Never have I more fully understood the saying, “all politics is local,” than I did in reading this beautiful short novel, The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad (Riverhead, $25,95). The power of the family, the power of the tribe, and the power of religious belief and ancestral codes all pervade this entirely sad and moving story and in doing so, remarkably convey more about the barriers to peace in this region than any nonfiction history or current events titles. Publishers Weekly wrote about this novel: “A shadowy, enchanting journey…A gripping book, as important for illuminating the current state of this region as it is timeless in its beautiful imagery and rhythmic prose.”
Another short but hypnotic novel, The Sickness ($14.95), has just been published by Tin House Books, a small literary press in Portland. After reading the first chapter I was simply overwhelmed by the beauty of the writing, The author, Alberto Barrera Tyszka, is a Venezuelan writer and journalist and his book is translated from Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa. It’s difficult for me to know whether the luminosity in the writing comes from the original language or its translation, but whichever it is, The Sickness was shortlisted for The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. The story revolves around a father-son relationship in which both are doctors who have been committed to being open and forthright with their patients about their diagnoses and prognoses, but when the son receives confirmation of his father’s terminal lung cancer, his filial devotion turns into an open conflict with his medical ethics. It’s the moral ambiguities that make this novel interesting but lyrical turns of the prose that make it radiant.
- Barbara Meade
Lapham’s Quarterly - Spring 2012
Edited and published by Lewis H. Lapham, a former editor of Harper’s Magazine, Lapham’s Quarterly ($15) boasts a rich and historical retinue of essays, stories and poems, some written specifically for each volume and others added from thousands of years of the literary canon. Despite its relative youth in the world of magazine literature, Lapham’s Quarterly has already established a prestigious history (4 years in, it already possesses a nomination for the National Magazine Award, alongside such fantastic names like The Paris Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, and The Sun).
Its newest edition “Means of Communication,” does not disappoint. In Mr. Lapham’s Preamble, our editor recognizes that “new means of communication give rise to new structures of feeling and thoughts.” His inventory of contributors ranges from the Greek philosopher Lucretius to the contemporary novelist Toni Morrison.
-Anders T. Rosen
It is often said, half in jest, what separates humans from the rest of the Kingdom Animalia is not our vast and unmatched intellect, nor our ability to generate sarcasm, but the presence of a fifth appendage on each hand—the inimitable opposable thumb. In this reviewer’s opinion, the existence of numerous species of primates possessing that very same evolutionary gift suggests that the opposable thumb is a simple red herring in the search for humankind’s developmental leap. Rather, it is our unique and astonishing ability to use a vast arsenal of means of communication.
Not coincidentally, this is the theme to the Spring 2012 edition of Lapham’s Quarterly. Edited and published by Lewis H. Lapham, a former editor of Harper’s Magazine, Lapham’s Quarterly boasts a rich and historical retinue essays, stories and poems, some written specifically for each volume and others added in from thousands of years of literary canon. Indeed, despite it’s relative youth in the world of magazine literature, Lapham’s Quarterly has already established a prestigious history (4 years in, it already possesses a nomination for the National Magazine Award, alongside such fantastic names like The Paris Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, and The Sun).
Its newest edition “Means of Communication,” does not disappoint. From the very beginning in Mr. Lapham’s Preamble, our editor recognizes that “new means of communication give rise to new structures of feeling and thoughts,” and in a world with daily changes in the means of communication (MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Skype…telekinesis?), it is no wonder that many of us are questioning our place in the universe. We hardly have time to sit back and relax! The very path of communication’s history (and, wait for it…human history) has been turned on its head by the recent developments in the capability to communicate over immense distances at the click of a mouse.
Such immense and worldly postulations could make a lesser publication too heady and unapproachable. However, Mr. Lapham is generous in his inventory of contributors, which ranges from the Greek philosopher Lucretius to the contemporary novelist Toni Morrison. In between, you’ll find a plethora of artistic and photographic works dedicated to “Means of Communication,” for it was once so eloquently written in the Book of Changes (circa 350 BC), “Writing cannot express words fully; words cannot express thoughts fully.” Nevertheless, a mix of all the mediums can certainly try!
-Anders T. Rosen
What if the Reformation never happened, the Roman Catholic Church rules over the Western world, and all forms of technology save for steam engine are forbidden? Keith Roberts's Pavane (Old Earth Books, $17) depicts this alternative history through a series of six loosely interconnected stories, followed by a coda. The characters range from a heretic monk to a Lady who sets in motion a revolution. This 1968 science fiction classic has recently been reissued in a lovely deckle-edged edition and reviewed by Michael Dirda, who called it "one of the most thought-filled, a book with the glowing but somber majesty of a stained-glass window, constructed from the most disparate bits and fragments, from the tesserae of multiple lives." It is an exquisite work of fiction that transcends genre, and I would recommend it even if science fiction is not your usual fare. It is the book to read slowly, savor, and contemplate.
- Ellie Bogomazova
Hari Kunzru’s fourth novel, Gods Without Men (Knopf, $26.95), is set in the Mojave desert in a variety of times, from the seemingly eternal Native American mythic era to the high-tech 21st century. Kunzru shuffles a number of stories -- some extended narratives, others one-time glimpses -- and all of them are absorbing. This multi-layered structure enacts his thematic concern with pattern and the larger meaning -- or mystery -- available in coincidence and recurrence. The desert, after all, is where people go to search for truth, have visions, meet extra-terrestrials, do drugs, or just to get lost, the place they go when life is too much or too little. All of these scenarios are in play here, and Kunzru builds a stunning, moving novel out of a UFO cult, hippies, and a family cracking apart under the strain of caring for an autistic son, and then enduring the media spotlight when he disappears in the desert.
Ranging from historical to autobiographical fiction and modern tall tales, Nathan Englander’s stories are written with a ferocious, startling energy. They also pose difficult questions -- dilemmas requiring Solomonic wisdom to resolve -- and they don’t let anyone off the hook. Set in Israel and various parts of the U.S., the fiction of What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank: Stories (Knopf, $24.95) focuses on Jewish characters. But “it’s a delicate thing being Jewish”; what exactly is a Jew, anyway? How secular can one be and still be Jewish? How many dietary laws can one fudge and still claim to be observant? And, as the title suggests, how large should the Holocaust loom in 21st-century Jewish life? Englander masterfully concentrates a number of these matters into “what if” scenarios that use humor and gravitas to vividly dramatize ideas of obligation and sacrifice. Above all, this writer is after the truth, and he takes notions of transparency to ends both logical and absurd to make his characters—and his readers—bare their souls and see what’s there. It’s a cliché to say of powerful fiction that it will haunt you after you close the book, and though Englander steers clear of cliché, this one was true for his previous books and is for this one as well.
Baby Shower and Wedding Registries
The new P&P wishlist feature on our website is great for birthdays, school libraries, wedding registries, and baby showers. Or use it to keep track of a collection of books that you might like for a rainy day.
An "Add to Wish List" button now appears alongside the "Add to Cart" button on product pages and book lists on our website. When you are logged into your online P&P account, pressing this button will add the book to your wishlist.
- Users can email their wishlist to friends and family, along with a custom message.
- The wishlist supports product quantities - useful for schools or charitable organizations which might want more than one of each item on a list.
- When another user makes a purchase for you from your wishlist, your list is updated. The item is marked as "Fulfilled" on the list, and the add to cart button is removed.
- Users can search for wishlists by email address. Visit politics-prose.com/wishlist/searchto find a friend’s wishlist
Because this is the "Beta" format, we look forward to future updates:
- Google eBooks cannot be added to wishlists at this time. In the meantime, giving eBooks as gifts can be accomplished with a Politics & Prose Gift Card.
- Only 1 wishlist per user. (You do have the option of creating additional usernames and wishlists if you have multiple email addresses.)
- The "Add to Wish List" button will not appear in search results. You have to click the book from the search results to look at the detailed book page and then add it to your wishlist.
- You will not be notified when something is purchased from your list.
- Andrew Getman