Nobel Prize Pulitzer Prize

The Good Earth by Pearl Buck

The Good Earth  Source: Personal copy

Winner of 1932 Pulitzer Prize

Pearl Buck won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938

Five words from the blurb: China, farmer, changes, wealth, family

The Good Earth is set in pre-revolutionary China and shows how the fortune of farming families is dependent on the weather, good planning, and the whims of those in power. I’ve been wanting to read this book for a long time, but I presumed it would be difficult and so put it off for many years. When I finally started I was surprised to discover how readable it was. The accessibility of the writing is its main strength and I recommend this classic book to everyone.

The Good Earth tells the story of Wang, a farmer from a rural community who becomes rich through hard work and good investment. The vivid descriptions give a full picture the surroundings:

Pulling this rickety, wooden wagon on its two wheels behind him, it seemed to him that everyone looked at him for a fool. He was as awkward between its shafts as an ox yoked for the first time to the plow, and he could scarcely walk; yet must he run if he were to earn his living, for here and there and everywhere through the streets of this city men ran as they pulled other men in these. 

This book does not gloss over the darker side of life. Some people may find the descriptions of prostitution and child slavery too disturbing, and I suspect that many will object to the seemingly endless misery that the family is subjected to. This wasn’t a problem for me because I didn’t become emotionally attached to the characters. There was a fable-like quality to the writing which meant everything was kept at a distance. In fact, this was probably the biggest drawback of the book – it contained many fascinating bits of information about life in rural China, but I didn’t care what happened to Wang or any other member of his family.

Pearl Buck was an American citizen who spent much of her life in China. This means the book has a different feel from the Chinese books I’ve read. The mindset of the characters felt Westernised and the reader must bear this in mind when thinking about this book. I’m sure it is a fairly accurate portrayal of what happened to the people, but I think you need to read Chinese texts to really understand how they felt.

This book didn’t have the emotional power to become a personal favourite, but is deserving of its status as a classic. Recommended.



1930s Classics Pulitzer Prize Recommended books

The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

The Yearling Winner of the 1939 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

Five words from the blurb: Florida, swamp, dangerous, life, survival

The Yearling won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1939. I hadn’t heard of it until I stumbled across a mention of the author in a Florida guidebook, but as I always like to read books set in the places I’m staying I ordered a copy for my holiday.  I’m not sure if it is more famous in America, but it certainly deserves more attention than it currently gets.

The Yearling is a vivid portrayal of one family struggling to survive in the wilderness in a time before the luxury of electricity or running water. They are continually at risk of starvation, but they must also battle with the elements and the local wildlife. Rattlesnakes lurk in the undergrowth, wolves try to steal their animals, and bears occasionally come too close for comfort. The story was quite simple, but the adventure of their everyday lives captivated me.

The clearing itself was pleasant if the unweeded rows of young shafts of corn were not before him. The wild bees had found the chinaberry tree by the front gate. They burrowed into the fragile clusters of lavender bloom as greedily as though there were no other flowers in the scrub; as though they had forgotten the yellow jessamine of March; the sweet bay and the magnolias ahead of them in May. It occurred to him that he might follow the swift line of the flight of the black and gold bodies, and so find a bee-tree, full of amber honey. The winter’s cane syrup was gone and most of the jellies. Finding a bee-tree was nobler work than hoeing, and the corn could wait another day.

I loved everything about this book! The descriptions were vivid, bringing the swamps of Florida to life with an incredible accuracy. I may be biased because I read the book as I was visiting places similar to those mentioned, but that is the joy of picking perfect holiday reading material!

Me and my boys canoeing in the Florida wilderness

The characters were brilliantly drawn – I felt a deep emotional connection to them all and found myself involved in a rollercoaster of emotion as I willed them to survive. I was particularly impressed by the way the different generations were given their own set of values and characteristics. The interactions between them all felt incredibly realistic and I understood why they reacted differently to the situations they were presented with.

The ending was especially good. I won’t spoil anything, but the underlying messages were impressive and I will be thinking about them for a long time to come. The coming-of-age aspects of this book make it particularly good for teenagers and I think this would make a great addition to school reading lists.

There weren’t really any negatives for this book, but some people might find the scenes of hunting and animal butchery disturbing. I found them fascinating and loved the detailed descriptions of this almost-lost way of life.

Overall I can’t fault this book. It was perfectly paced, contained some of the most realistic characters I’ve ever come across and combined these with wonderful descriptions of the natural world. It’s the best book I’ve read so far this year. Highly recommended.


Have you read any books written by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings?

Are her others as good as this one?

Orange Prize Pulitzer Prize

Two Literary Prizes

The 2013 Women’s Fiction Prize Shortlist

The shortlist for the 2013 Women’s Fiction Prize was announced this morning. I wasn’t surprised to see any of the books on the list, as all are strong enough to justify their place, but I was sad that the list consisted of so many well-known authors.  Many of the longlisted books by lesser known authors were equally good, if not better, than those selected and it is a real shame that they don’t get a chance in the spotlight.

I was especially disappointed that The Marlowe Papers by Ros Barber didn’t make the cut as her novel, written entirely in verse, is an amazing achievement that deserves more recognition.

Here are the six lucky books that made the shortlist:

Where'd You Go, BernadetteNWMay We be Forgiven


Bring Up the BodiesFlight BehaviourLife After Life (Signed, Limited Edition)

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Five words from the blurb: genius, Microsoft, child, charismatic, comic
Wonderfully entertaining and quirky – I recommend this to anyone looking for something a little different.

NW by Zadie Smith

Five words from the blurb: Londoners, estate, moved, different, lives.
The writing in this book is fantastic, but its disjointed nature won’t be to everyone’s taste.

May We Be Forgiven by AM Homes

Five words from the blurb: quiet, life, family, strange, finding
Engaging book, packed with satire. Lots of people love this one, but I’m afraid the plot twists were a bit too unrealistic for me.

Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Five words from the blurb: Thomas Cromwell, rise, destruction, Anne Boleyn, Catholic
Over the years I’ve come to realise that Mantel isn’t for me, but it is no surprise to see her on the shortlist.

Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver

Five words from the blurb: Appalachian Mountains, mother, discovers, nature, miracle
Global warming is an important subject and this book has many fantastic passages, but I’m afraid it was a little preachy for me.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Five words from the blurb: turbulent, events, chances, past, moments
This is the book that everyone is raving about. It didn’t work for me, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it win the big prize. I think this is Atkinson’s year.

What do you think of the shortlist?


The 2013 Pulitzer Prize

The Orphan Master's Son

WINNER: The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

Five words from the blurb: North Korea, kidnapper, spy, glory, love

The first half of this book was outstanding, but unfortunately I found it became unrealistic and silly as it progressed. I’m surprised to see it winning the Pulitzer – especially since the prize is supposed to go to books dealing with American life. This ones seems far too rooted in North Korea to be eligible, but what do I know!?


The Snow Child

FINALIST: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Five words from the blurb: Alaskan, wilderness, snow, girl, magical

I loved this book. It was like a modern day fairy tale and was gripping throughout. I’m surprised to see it on this prize list though. I found it hugely entertaining, but didn’t think it had the depth to justify a Pulitzer. Those judges are doing strange things this year!


What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

FINALIST: What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander

Five words from the blurb: comic, dark, vision, universe, questions 

I’m not a fan of short stories so I haven’t tried this one, but I’ve heard lots of great things about it. Were the judges right to select it?

What do you think of the selection?

1920s Classics Pulitzer Prize

So Big by Edna Ferber

SO BIG By Ferber, Edna (Author) Paperback on 22-Aug-2000 Winner of 1924 Pulitzer Prize

Five words from the blurb: Chicago, society, Illinois, farmers, ideals

Selina Peake, the central character in So Big, is one of the strongest women in literature. After the death of her father, a gambler who always looked for the most exciting things life had to offer, Selina moves to Illinois to become a teacher. This rural community is very different from the high society life she led in Chicago and Selina must work hard to survive. Life isn’t good to Selina and she has a string of problems, but she copes with them all, despite the disapproval of a society who believe women should not work outside the home. Selina was a groundbreaking character for the time and nearly a century on it is still possible to admire her courage and resilience.

I wasn’t convinced I’d enjoy a story about Dutch farmers in Illinois, but Selina was an amazing character and I fell in love with her. The plot felt quite slow, but on reflection an amazing number of events occurred in Selina’s life. The writing was wonderful and apart from having to get the dictionary out a few too many times, I had no complaints.

The main theme of the book was encouraging people to live life to the full and that money does not bring happiness – topics which are just as relevant now as they were back then. I loved the advice given to others throughout this book:

“The more kinds of people you see, and the more things you do, and the more things that happen to you, the richer you are. Even if they’re not pleasant things. That’s living. Remember, no matter what happens, good or bad, it’s just so much” – he used the gambler’s term, unconsciously – “just so much velvet.”

This is a wonderfully rich story that can also be taken as a guide to the important things in life. Recommended.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

Exquisitely crafted and lovingly plotted, it is story that is worthy of the Pulitzer.  Caribousmom

Selina is one of the most powerful and memorable characters I’ve ever read. The Book Nest

…infused with meaning not found in many books. Musings

2010 2011 Orange Prize Other Prizes Pulitzer Prize

A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan

A Visit From the Goon Squad

Winner of 2011 Pulitzer Prize
Longlisted for 2011 Orange Prize
Winner of 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award

Five words from the blurb: popular, humourous, lives, interact, loss

A Visit from the Goon Squad seems to have won more awards than any other book this year. There is no question that it is a groundbreaking novel (how many other books do you know containing an entire chapter written as a powerpoint presentation?), but I think this is going to be one of those books that divides opinion. Unfortunately I fall into neither camp – I’m going to sit on the fence for this one. For the best music related show and all simply go and check this.

A Visit from the Goon Squad shows an array of characters at various important moments in their lives. The book flips forwards and backwards in time and it is often hard to know who is narrating, let alone what period of time each character is in. Things do eventually fall into place, but a great deal of concentration is required to piece everything together.

The writing was easy to read and allowed an instant connection to be formed to each character, but I’m afraid I didn’t have any real interest in what the characters did. The music and PR industries have never interested me and so all the wonderful satire went over my head.

Very little actually happens in the book and although some of the scenes were fantastic I reached the end feeling a little bit let down. It all felt a bit too gimmicky for me.

Charlie doesn’t know herself. Four years from now, at eighteen, she’ll join a cult across the Mexican border whose charismatic leader promotes a diet of raw eggs; she’ll nearly die from salmonella poisoning before Lou rescues her. A cocaine habit will require partial reconstruction of her nose, changing her appearance, and a series of feckless, domineering men will leave her solitary in her late twenties, trying to broker peace between Rolph and Lou, who will have stopped speaking.

There was no real message behind the book and so I didn’t think the effort was worth it.

The best thing about this book is that it is impossible to read without forming an opinion on it – you’ll love it or hate it, or perhaps, like me, you’ll find you do both in equal measure.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

…it just might make your brain explode…but in a very pleasing way. The Book Lady’s Blog

I recognize the genius of what Egan is doing but my main reaction after many of the chapters was “Huh.” Life with Books

There is a very, very fine line between quirky, original, and ambitious and plain old annoying. I think that A Visit From the Goon Squad is firmly on the side of awesome. Amused, Bemused and Confused.

….it was a bitter disappointment. Always Cooking Up Something

1980s Chunkster Historical Fiction Pulitzer Prize

Lonesome Dove – Larry McMurtry

 Winner of the 1985 Pulitzer Prize

What an epic! I am really pleased that after nearly three months I finally made it to the end of this massive book. I originally started reading Lonesome Dove as part of Amy’s readalong, but unfortunately I failed to keep up with everyone else and so had to make do with reading their comments several weeks after I made it to the same spot.

Lonesome Dove is the first Western I’ve ever read. It contained all the elements that I was expecting in a Western (cattle, horses, guns and the big outdoors) but the atmosphere was very different. I was surprised by the gentle humor running all the way through it and, although several people were killed, it never felt dark. 

The story begins in Lonesome Dove, a small town in Texas, and follows a group of men who decide to take some cattle to Montana. We see the dangers that they face from both animals and other men, but also the complex relationships that they have with each other. Lonesome Dove crosses so many genres – it is a romance novel as well as a vivid piece of historical fiction. It is a shame that it is called a Western as I think the term is quite off-putting to some people.

The book started off very slowly – it took me about 300 pages to begin to engage with the characters, but once this happened I found them to be some of the most vivid I’ve ever read about. There was very little forward momentum anywhere in the book, so I never felt compelled to pick it up and start reading again. This made it feel much longer than its already imposing 940 pages.

The characters were very well developed, but there were many points when I wished that the book would stop fleshing out the characters and get on with the story. The plot picked up in the final section, but I was a bit frustrated by the number of loose ends left unresolved.

I’m really pleased that I made it to the end of this classic, but I wish it had more pace and a less meandering plot. There was a lot to enjoy and I do think that it is one of those books everyone should try at some point in their lives. Recommended.

Opinions are divided on this one:

…..both funnier and sadder than I’d ever anticipated. Whimpulsive

…life is too short to spend my reading time in the company of people I don’t like who are doing things I find repulsive. Semicolon

Lonesome Dove is on my all time favorites list. Capricious Reader

Can you recommend any Westerns which have a faster pace?