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?