Which prize do you prefer – Pulitzer or Booker?

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I love reading prize winning books, and often try to compare them, to decide which prize produces the best novels.

The Pulitzer v. Booker prize is probably the most debated combination, and it has added rivalry of being American authors against Commonwealth ones.

 

There are many different ways to analyse the prizes, but I thought it would be interesting to compare the winners for each year. I have listed them for the past ten years, and highlighted my favourite of the two in bold. I have to admit that I haven’t read all twenty of the books below, so where I haven’t read both books I have awarded it to the one I think I’d prefer.

1999 – Michael Cunningham v. J.M. Coetzee
2000 – Jhumpa Lahiri v. Margaret Atwood
2001 – Michael Chabon v. Peter Carey
2002 – Richard Russo v. Yann Martel
2003 – Jeffrey Eugenides v. DBC Pierre
2004 – Edward P. Jones v. Alan Hollinghurst
2005 – Marilynne Robinson v. John Banville
2006 – Geraldine Brooks v. Kiran Desai
2007 – Cormac McCarthy v. Anne Enright
2008 – Junot Diaz v. Aravind Adiga

The results show that I prefer the Pulitzer in seven of the ten years, and in the three years that the Booker produced the best one, I think the result was so close, that if asked the same question on another day I might change my mind! Looking back further into the history of the awards it appears that the Pulitzer generally seems to be the more interesting book, although I have read less of them, so it is harder to tell.

I think the reason that I have found the Pulitzer prize winners so much better is that they tend to have more complex plots, and often a powerful social theme underlying them. It is this thought provoking moral message that often leads me to remember the book vividly months, or even years after I have finished reading it.

In many cases I have found the winner of the Booker prize to be very disappointing. The Bookers tend to be less plot driven, and more character based. The language appears to be given a higher priority than any storyline, so they often have beautiful sentences, but the book as a whole is disappointing, and instantly forgettable.

The main problem with all the prizes is that they are so subjective. Unless you find a prize where the judge has the same taste in books as you, and this judge doesn’t change each year, then you are always going to find that the winners will vary in how much you love them.

My favourite book is A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. This was short listed for the Booker prize in 1996, and I’d love to hear an explanation from the judges as to why it didn’t win. A Fine Balance did win the Giller Prize, but looking through the list I haven’t read any of the other Giller winners. Perhaps the Giller Prize is the best one out there, and it just hasn’t had enough publicity. I’ll have to read a few of them to find out!

Do you prefer the Booker or the Pulitzer prize?


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29 Comments

  1. Wendy says:

    Well, based on your list above, I would prefer the Pulitzers! Although I must admit, there are several Bookers which I have absolutely loved…so it is a mixed bag for me!

  2. Laura says:

    I haven’t done a side-by-side comparison, but I have rated more Pulitzer winners 5 stars than I have Booker winners. However, I discovered the Booker Prize at a significant point in my life, so it occupies a special place in my reading and my memories. I tend to “follow” this prize more — taking great interest in the longlist & shortlist — and I’m more committed to read all of the Bookers than I am to read all Pulitzers. So I guess I’d say “Booker” !!

  3. JoAnn says:

    I prefer the Pulitzers, although there have been some Bookers I really liked. There is a standing joke in my book club that if it’s won the Booker, it won’t be a good pick for us!
    A Fine Balance is one of my favorites, too.

  4. What a great post! Sadly, I am not well read enough to really make this comparison. Based on how you compared the two prizes though, I think I would probably agree with your feelings on the Pulitzer. Very interesting!

  5. Karen says:

    This is a really interesting decision to try and make! I would have thought that I would prefer the Booker but when I compare the results from the same list you have created I come out with similar results to you with the Pulitzer on top!

  6. Teddy says:

    I often don’t agree with awards. I love to see what has been short listed and what has won for many awards. It’s fun but I don’t think that a book will be better because it won an award. It’s so subjective.

    I especially love the Giller Awards. I live in Canada and the last couple years it has been televised and is fun.

  7. 3m says:

    For those listed, I would prefer the Pulitzer every time except for 2008, in which I really liked The White Tiger, which surprised me; possibly 2002 because I liked Life of Pi but have not read Empire Falls; and 2001, in which I haven’t read either.

    This was a great post, Jackie, and thanks so much for submitting it to the Bookworms Carnival!!

    http://1morechapter.com/carnival

  8. Jackie says:

    Laura – for some reason I’m more committed to reading all the Bookers than the Pulitzers too. It is really strange considering the result above. I have never even looked at a list of books short listed for the Pulizter prize, let alone tried to read them. Perhaps it’s because the Pulizters have next to no coverage here in the UK, or maybe it’s because there are so many more of them. I think I have have to read a few more of them. Is anyone trying to read all the Pulitzer short list?

  9. Jackie says:

    Teddy/anyone else – Which is the best book from the Giller awards? I’d love to try a few more of them, so would like to know the best place to start.

  10. Jackie says:

    Michelle – Thank you very much for publishing this post for the Bookworm carnival! The carnival looks really good – I’ll blog about it later today.

  11. Nymeth says:

    It’s Pulitzer all the way for me. There have been some great Booker winners, of course, but also some very disappointing ones.

  12. Beth F says:

    Super post. I’m with you — Pulitzer! And I’d have likely gone for Russo and McCarthy, but as you say, it’s a close call. I haven’t read every book either, but I’m familiar enough with the authors to at least have an opinion!

  13. Jackie says:

    Beth – I have to admit that I haven’t read Empire Falls, and I have heard great things about it, but I loved the Life of Pi, so I have to award the win to Martel. It might all change once I’ve read Empire Falls though!

  14. 3m says:

    Jackie, the Pulizers are kind of unique in that they don’t announce a shortlist. They just announce the winner with two runner-ups. This year the winner will be announced April 20.

  15. 3m says:

    Also, two of the Gillers I want to read are Alias Grace and A Fine Balance.

    I have them listed here:

    http://bookawardschallenge.blogspot.com/2007/05/giller-prize.html

  16. Jackie says:

    Michelle – Thanks for letting me know – no wonder I’ve never seen a short list!

  17. Jackie says:

    Well it looks like a landslide victory to the Pulitzers! Any Booker lovers lurking out there want to try and change our minds?

  18. kim v says:

    I thinka Pulitzer is better.

    Kimspam66(at)yahoo(dot)com

  19. Sandy says:

    I’m not sure I’m qualified to say which I prefer. I really haven’t read enough of either, which is sad and pathetic! I’ve been reading all my life, so what the heck have I been focusing on? Obviously not quality literature!

  20. Jackie says:

    Sandy – it’s not sad and pathetic! I’m sure you’ve read just as many great books – you’re probably the sensible one – not relying on judges to tell you which are the best books!

  21. Alcott says:

    Hi Jackie, thanks for your message, glad you liked DBC Pierre as well! Thought your post was great, have never actually compared the two before like that. All I know is, with the Booker most of the time I think it’s a moronic choice when looking at the other books on the shortlist. The Pulitzer I find more interesting because it’s totally unpredictable- no shortlist and let’s face it- you never know what’s going to happen when Geraldine Brooks can win one year and McCarthy the next. That’s what I call completely erratic judging.

  22. Christina says:

    Lately, I’ve enjoyed Pulitzer winners over Booker prize winners. But I usually don’t pay attention to the prizes a book has one until I’ve finished it.

  23. Simon S says:

    I would have to say Pulitzer winners over Man Booker winners. I actually much prefer longlisted and shortlisted Man Booker books to the winner in general, probably why I will never be a Man Booker judge lol.

  24. Jackie says:

    Alcott + Simon – I agree, the shortlisted books are almost always better than the Booker winner – perhaps that’s the real reason I’ve commited to reading all the books short listed for the Booker prize!

    Christina – I think you’ve probably got the right attitude. I don’t think winning a prize tells you whether a book will be any good – it is best to stick to your instincts.

  25. Michelle says:

    According to that list, I think I’d probably prefer the Pulitzers, but I’m more aware of the Bookers. I’d probably be more interested in reading all of the Bookers and not so much the Pulitzers, though I’d probably find that interesting. I love this post though, thank you!

  26. Anton says:

    The simple answer is that Pulitzer prizes are awarded for American works (and I mean American spelling and grammar) and Booker Prizes for English. Ergo the best American list would include Pulitzers only and the best Bookers English only. They are not the same language. However, I agree that this is slightly akin to hair splitting and that Americans on the whole can appreciate English and English speakers can appreciate Daniel Webster’s language. Nonetheless there are some stories that are just not up to standard in both categories and any readers would recognise these. Jane Smiley’s King Lear crib – A Thousand Acres – is a classic example. It is not her story, she does nothing to the original to make the transatlantic transposition worth wasting time over and the characters are so boring it is hard to care what happens to them. But then this is true of so many novels in both languages which are written with lierary competition success in mind. Personally I await both prize lists eagerly every year and if they include a “first” novel I invariably avoid these like the plague for twelve months before reading them out of their limelight. Some have given me enjoyment but,in the past twenty years, very few.

  27. Jackie says:

    Anton – Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I agree that they are separated by the language, but I think the factors used to select the winners are also very different. The Booker seems to favour language/writing quality over plot, whereas the reverse seems to be true for the Pulitzers. I haven’t read A Thousand Acres yet, so I’m afraid I can’t comment on the quality of that book, but I find it interesting that you feel the quality has deteriorated in the last twenty years. I’ll have to make an effort to read more of the older winners, to see if I can see this for myself.

  28. What an interesting debate and a very thoughtful essay. I missed this when you first posted it, but I am glad I found it. I do love book lists!

    If you had asked me to decide off the top of my head, based on those I’ve read so far, I would have said that the Bookers are my favorites. But when I actually compare the lists, I think I give the nod to the Pulitzer winners.

    Maybe my next challenge will pit the Pulitzer against the Booker, instead of the current Pulitzer/National match up.

  29. Jackie says:

    Rose City Reader – I’m impressed with the number of Pulitzers that you have read. The more I read – the more impressed with them I become.

    I was interested in your challenge, but am not sure I’d be able to squeeze them in over the Summer. I may sign up if I think I can manage it, but I would ensure I signed up for any Booker v Pulitzer challenge.

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