Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Three-Way Tie for Bronze

David Foster Wallace's The Pale King, Karen Russell's Swamplandia, and Denis Johnson's Train Dreams: the three novels that almost but didn't quite win that Pulitzer.

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Is this the right place to talk about Life on Mars, the Pulitzer winner for poetry? Because I'm really excited about it!


@cuminafterall every place is the right place to talk about that!


@cuminafterall I've been meaning to read that for ages! Is it wonderful?


@Interrobanged Haven't read it yet, but poetry + David Bowie + the Hubble space telescope is a winning combination in my book.


This seem weird to anyone else?


@The Everpresent Wordsnatcher In order to win, one book must win a majority of votes. It can't just get more than the other two, it has to have a majority. So mostly what this means is that the judges liked the three finalists about equally.

There have been other years with really good boks where no fiction prize was awarded -- maybe 15 other years, if I remember correctly? It's not necessarily a condemnation of novels published in 2011.



Semi-related, was anyone else disappointed by The Pale King? It was complete enough that I had a sense of what the book might have been had DFW finished it and published it himself. But it was, of course, incomplete (being cobbled together after DFW's death from his notes and drafts), and it felt sort of painful to read. Like the whole time I was being haunted by what the book might have been. Does that even make sense?


@EternalFootwoman Yes, that makes perfect sense. I'm really interested in the phenomena of incomplete novels as they're essentially a product of audience demand and at the same time set up to disappoint that same audience because, as you said, how can you not be haunted by what the book MIGHT have been. I'm a long way off from being able to create my own curricula but one day I'd really like to teach a course on unfinished works.


@annepersand I used the incompleteness as an excuse not to even try to connect the dots (in a way that was impossible when I read Infinite Jest). I was able to enjoy it (despite the sadness) because I just let myself be taken on a ride. Maybe on a re-read I'll make more of an effort to figure it out.


@EternalFootwoman I don't think I've ever read a book that was based on a dead author's notes that didn't feel kind of weird and disjointed.


@boyofdestiny That probably would have been the better approach for me. Instead, I tried to read it like it was Infinite Jest, which did not work out.

Jenny Cox


Maybe Billy Budd after the first few attempts to publish it?


@EternalFootwoman The only thing that surprised me about DFW's suicide was that he did it before finishing his book.


@laurel I'm glad I'm not the only one who's thought about that. You'd think that battling lifelong depression myself would make me more sympathetic, but I honestly thought, "Jeez, could you have finished this book first?"


@EternalFootwoman My reaction was more like, 'Oh man, he must have had it bad.' 'Cause he was pretty invested in his fiction.


I have an irrational hatred for Wallace so I'm glad he didn't win it, but are they serious? No one deserved the prize? This can MAKE a writer's career. WTF?


@Slutface Exactly. Also I loved Swamplandia deeply, so this makes me very sad indeed.


I need to get my hands on Swamplandia. I have that fascination with reading about the state you're from.

They really couldn't find a book to win that prize? I don't even know how to react to this. It's just so--weird.


Good! Man Booker rules, Pulitzer drools.


@Exene Also, I was so not a fan of Swamplandia. We were going to read it for a book club and I got a quarter of the way through it and emailed everybody like, "Let's don't." Luckily I get veto power cuz I'm the book-club asshole who always procures and reads the book first. *sanctimonious harrumph*


@Exene Haha apparently Cousin Matthew from Downton Abbey is on the Booker jury this year. I guess he's, like, smart or something?


@Exene I didn't love Swamplandia! either. The pacing was really bad. Nothing happens for the first half of the book, then when something big and terrible finally does happen, there's essentially no resolution (not that I need a big, neat ending or anything, but still, something). I get it, the premise is cool, the prose is inventive, but I still wasn't sold on it.


@Interrobanged I think so. I know he has a magazine.

Tuna Surprise

I loved the first half and didn't like the 'action' at the back half much. I was so swept up with her description of Swamplandia. I've practically got the Bigtree Family Museum on my places to visit before I die.


@Tuna Surprise Yeah, the Family Museum was a strong point, I also liked Ava and Kiwi's parallel trajectories. I thought that was set up well. There was a lot to like in the book, but I'm just surprised it got so much universal praise.


@Exene No, the Booker is terrible terrible and I have arrived at this opinion after laboriously dragging myself through every tortured word of Midnight's Children. Booker of Bookers?!


@Decca Oh, another Booker fail is Hotel du Lac...whaaaat a stinkbomb! But cmon, The Remains of the Day, <3Kingsley<3, Peter Carey? So legit.


@Exene Hearty agreement here for Remains of the Day!

I'd say...

Excellent Booker winners: The Line of Beauty, Possession, Remains of the Day, Disgrace, Schindler's Ark.
Decent Booker winners: The Old Devils, The Gathering, The God of Small Things, The Sense of an Ending.
Nope!: Midnight's Children, White Tiger, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, The Blind Assassin, Life Of Pi.




@Exene I possibly need to reread it, because it's been ages since I picked it up. Plus, I read it during an intense bout of teenage Atwood worship and it just felt baggy and unfulfilling after say, Cat's Eye. I tend not to like it when Maggie goes all sci-fi.


They interviewed one of the ladies on the jury selection committee on NPR this morning. Can you imagine being on that committee? Reading 300 books, narrowing it down to three, submitting them to the judges, and the judges saying "Yeah, we're just not gonna give that one out this year."??


Meanwhile, hooray for Sara Ganim!



@atipofthehat "8. She and "Girls" creator Lena Dunham are almost the same age — Dunham is 25"

That's some good SEO.

Judith Slutler

@atipofthehat Wow, no kidding. She's only 24? Damn!!!


@Emmanuelle Cunt Ugh. These 24-year-old wunderkinds. I just read a "The Tiger's Wife," which Tea Obreht wrote at age 24, too. I feel like I've accomplished nothing in my life.



“It is a sobering thought...that when Mozart was my age, he had been dead for two years.”

~Tom Lehrer

Judith Slutler

@travelmugs My boyfriend and I keep talking about this, especially because it seems like half our favorite new music is made by people younger than we are nowadays. Oh well, I'm sure we'll all be amazing late bloomers, right? And interviews with us will include charming anecdotes about the shitty jobs we took?


@Emmanuelle Cunt @atipofthehat Yes, late bloomers. Zadie Smith will be all washed up by the time my masterpiece hits those virtual bookstores in two decades.


@Emmanuelle Cunt As a Justin Bieber fan, I totally sympathize.


@atipofthehat I watched the video on their website of her finding out (here, scroll down for it ) and it made me cry. I'm so so delighted for her.



Thanks for that!

Daisy Razor

I haven't read Swamplandia yet, but I saw Karen Russell speak at a book festival, and she was so funny and charming that I'm sad for her.


In 1974, the Pulitzer board shot down Gravity's Rainbow, so I've long believed the judging process (post-selection committee) is full of it.


What kills me is releasing the names of the finalists. If it were me, I'd rather not know. It just adds insult to the lack of a selection. Like, here are the mediocre finalists! Enjoy yourself! I didn't like Swamplandia but I recognize that it was a great book. Pale King was unfinished and not good so it shouldn't have even been a finalist. Given the amazing books published in 2011, I don't even understand what's going on with the finalists but one of them should have won anyway.


@FoxyRoxy Yeah, but wouldn't you want to be able to put "Pulitzer Prize finalist" on your CV?


@Canard "Pulitzer Prize Finalist, 2012" "Oh, who won that year?" "No one"



And some writers claim they were "nominated for a Pulitzer Prize." When last I checked, that meant their publisher paid a nominal application fee and sent in copies for review.


@Canard Oh hell yes. I would just feel really bad about myself for losing to no one. Writers, our self esteem is fragile.


I guess I got from the article that it was something like an even split among the three books? Not that none were "good enough," more like they were all "equally good," and the panel couldn't choose.


@martinipie That was my impression. I feel like the jury should just be locked in a room and told, "Door gets unlocked when you pick a winner. Here are some sandwiches."

Judith Slutler

I also have to give props to Eli Sanders who won with his feature story "The Bravest Woman In Seattle". It's about a woman who survived rape & the murder of her longtime partner, and went on to testify about it in court. Tough reading but a truly amazing piece about an amazing person.


@Emmanuelle Cunt Visceral and gripping and incredibly hard to read, but worth doing. Here, for everyone who hasn't read it. Maybe make sure you're somewhere you can curl into a small ball and rock back and forth, though, because holy hell.

Judith Slutler

@anachronistique Oh yes, definitely not an article to casually read at work.

I just remembered that Jennifer Hopper also wrote her own piece after the trial, which is just... heartwrenching and incredible: http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/i-would-like-you-to-know-my-nam/Content?oid=9434642


@Emmanuelle Cunt Oh my God.


@Emmanuelle Cunt Ahh, I just casually read it at work! Don't do what I did! Great piece, but now my faith in humanity is shattered and there's still 6 hours left in the workplace. :/

sarah girl

@Emmanuelle Cunt I have tried several times to read this article, and I get to a certain point then just can't do it. The imagery is so graphic and intense, and I have a very vivid imagination... I absolutely admire her bravery (and the reporter for writing such a gripping and memorable summary), but I will have to admire from afar.


@Emmanuelle Cunt I just read this and ahhhh. Amazing journalism but gfdjdkh. I need to go outside. No, I need to stay in. WHERE IS MY PANIC ROOM?


@Emmanuelle Cunt Ahhhhhh I just read it at work, with the reasoning that it would be better to read it when it's nice and light out than when it's dark and I'm at home like these women were, don't know if it was the right choice. Now I want to read statistics about how incredibly unlikely this is to happen again - anybody have those on hand?


@Emmanuelle Cunt

You know how the word "haunting" gets tossed around in book blurbs even though it's essentially meaningless? (Like, is the ghost of The Art of Fielding rattling chalk bags around your home or something?) When I read that he won the Pulitzer for that article, I didn't even have to Google it (like I usually do) to remember which piece it was. I read that article and it's haunting in the sense that it'll sneak into my mind and remind me that This Happened and then I feel terrible about the world. Reading it made me physically uncomfortable. He absolutely deserved it.


Remember when Swamplandia was called Geek Love and didn't irritate me? Those were the days.

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