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Yes, yes, the Pulitzer Prize Board didn’t make an award for fiction this year. According to the Pulitzer website, “If in any year all the competitors in any category shall fall below the standard of excellence fixed by The Pulitzer Prize Board, the amount of such prize or prizes may be withheld.”
But you and I know that the board simply deadlocked and weren’t able to choose a winner from the three nominated books. And maybe that’s best. Maybe the concept that there’s one very best novel is childish. Which is the best novel, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice or Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations? Dostoyevsky’s The Brother’s Karamazov or Tolstoy’s War and Peace? Now, here are the three Pulitzer fiction finalists:
- Train Dreams, by Denis Johnson, a novella about a day laborer in the old American West, bearing witness to terrors and glories with compassionate, heartbreaking calm.
- Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, an adventure tale about an eccentric family adrift in its failing alligator-wrestling theme park, told by a 13-year-old heroine wise beyond her years.
- The Pale King, by the late David Foster Wallace, a posthumously completed novel, animated by grand ambition, that explores boredom and bureaucracy in the American workplace.
We suggest you go around to your local book store, check out the three nominated novels (go ahead, pick them up, read the jacket copy, look at the author’s photograph, read a few pages — you can do that in a real book store), then buy one of the books. Or maybe you’ll find something the Pulitzer people didn’t even notice. You’re the best critic of what you like to read.
You’ve stumbled onto the Critical Pages website. It’s taken us a while to set up this site, despite the assurances of our technically minded friends that this would be a cinch. We know something about writing but not so much about html code and nothing at all when it comes to manipulating the code through a machine that uses a relational database whose files look like nothing we’ve ever seen before. (We thought a relational database was what they used to match people who were hoping to find a significant other.)
The fellow pictured here with the open book is Saint Augustine. Augustine is generally portrayed with a book, perhaps because of the mystical words that inspired his conversion to Christianity, “Take up and read; Take up and read.” Or maybe because of his influential written works. This is the earliest known image of Augustine, a 6th century mural from the Lateran in Rome. In reading his autobiography,The Confessions of Saint Augustine, you may find him a not altogether loveable guy, but certainly one of the most original and influential philosophers. His speculations on time and memory could have been written today. We chose this picture simply because we like the phrase “Take up and read.” Of course there’s that other phrase, a prayer, that Augustine himself spoke: “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet” (da mihi castitatem et continentiam, sed noli modo). Maybe we should be careful what we pray for.