As you've no doubt heard, the Pulitzer Prize for fiction wasn't awarded this year, because apparently either the three nominees all sucked, or the jurors emerged from their deliberations with giant "L"s imprinted in red on their foreheads (I mean, really. If you're going to judge a contest, get with the program, people).
So I thought we should award our own: TOP is hereby accepting nominations for best fiction book of the year.
Like the Pulitzer, the book should be "distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life," and it must have been published in the U.S. in 2011.
Serious answers only please! Please qualify yourself as a nominator, on your honor: you must have read the book you nominate*, and you should be a person who reads...what would you say, 20 or more novels a year?** Fifteen? I guess you can decide for yourself if you're a "serious reader" or not.
I can't participate, because I read mainly nonfiction. So it's all you, TOP reader readers.
P.S. John Camp's vote counts double.
*The whole thing, through to the end.
**That's less than two books a month, which seems a reasonable cutoff to me. Serious readers read at least that much, right?
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Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by John Camp: "I'm a really bad person to ask about this, because I'm not much of a believer (any more) in 'serious' American fiction. Mostly because it doesn't seem very serious to me. I tried to read Swamplandia! and gave up. I didn't try to read David Foster Wallace's book for two reasons: 1) He has three names, and I don't read people who have three names (or much look at paintings or photographs by people who have three names); and 2), I read that it was about a guy who had a boring life. Why should I read about a guy who has a boring life? If you read a book like The Gulag Archipelago, you realize that vast stretches of time in the gulag were boring. Solzhenitsyn left those parts out. So: there are very large numbers of novels out there that deal with things like the gulag, colonialism, war, financial disaster, etc. They are important books. But, they are either 1) not American, or 2) thrillers. In fact, I propose a 'gulag' test: on a scale of one to ten, how does your 'serious' novel compare to The Gulag Archipelago, with one being 'it's a joke' and ten being, 'very comparable in importance.' I would suggest that no American novel in the past twenty-five years would score more than a 3....
"If you really wanted to know a lot about important issues in the U.S., you might want to read (God forgive me for saying this) Tom Clancy, John Grisham, Michael Connolly, Stephen King and so on. That's where serious issues are semi-engaged in fiction. "Serious" books tend to examine why college professors have affairs with students, and should they really? Or how do people get through their boring lives? But who cares? If your life is boring, join the Army and become a helicopter pilot. Stop whining about it.
"So, if there's little serious fiction anymore, where did it go? Two places. Non-fiction is one. I mostly read nonfiction, although I do read fifty or so novels every year, and I will say that it's one reason that I keep coming back to TOP—I probably buy and read ten or twelve non-fiction books a year from recommendations here, because somebody like Mike or Ken or David said something that piqued my interest, about photography or art, about the way the mind works, about economics or politics or society. 'Serious' fiction doesn't deal with that any more—most serious fiction is either fantasy/allegory, or is so psychological that no conclusions can be drawn about anything larger than the book's main character.
"The other place serious fiction has gone is the movies. If you both read and go to movies, I'll bet you can think of a dozen movies in the last few years that moved you, and may have changed the way you think about life; and not nearly so many novels, if you can think of any at all.
"So, I agree with the Pulitzer board. Most 'serious' fiction sucks; give the prize to Clancy.
"As a final thought, I leave you with this list:
A Visit From the Goon Squad;
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao;
The Known World;
"Those are the last ten winners for the Pulitzer in fiction. Which one changed your life? How many have you even heard of, other than The Road? And just between you and me, The Road was a SF thriller (much of which could have been lifted from Stephen King) disguised as 'serious' literature. (Though I admit it was beautifully written.)"
Mike replies: Interesting tidbit about The Gulag Archipelago: in the U.S., about 2.2 million copies of Volume 1 were sold. Sales of Volume 2 were about 500,000, and of Volume 3, about 100,000.
Featured Comment by Steve Rosenblum: "The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht. And I have to disagree with John Camp. A number of the books on his list of Pulitzer Prize winners of the last 10 years were really wonderful reads. Last year's A Visit from the Goon Squad changed my view of novels and how they should be written."
Featured Comment by Chris Crawford: "I've read all three volumes of The Gulag Archipelago. I don't think it;s a fair comparison here, because it is nonfiction. Perhaps One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich would be a better Solzhenitsyn work to use, as it's a fictionalized account of life in a Soviet labor camp. It also includes all the mundane, boring stuff that the prisoners experienced. In fact, Solzhenitsyn said that the book was meant to be a typical boring day. It didn't include anyone being executed or tortured, there were no prisoner revolts, no extraordinary things at all happened. Typical day, that's all."